This one liner uses the knife exec sub-command to iterate over all the node objects on the Chef Server, and print out their ohai_time attribute in a human readable format.

knife exec -E 'nodes.all {|n| puts "#{} #{[:ohai_time])}"}'

Let’s break this up a little.

knife exec -E

The exec plugin for knife executes a script or the given string of Ruby code in the same context as chef-shell (or shef in Chef 10 and earlier) if you start it up in it’s “main” context. Since it is knife, it will also use your .chef/knife.rb settings, so it knows about your user, key and Chef Server.


The chef-shell main context has helper methods to access the corresponding endpoints in the Chef Server API. Clearly we’re working with “nodes” here, and the #all method returns all the node objects from the Chef Server. This differs from search in that there’s a commit delay between the time when data is saved to the server, and the data is indexed by Solr. This is usually a few seconds, but depending on various factors like the hardware you’re using, how many nodes are converging, etc, it can take longer.

Anyway, we can pass a block to nodes.all and do something with each node object. The example above is a oneliner, so let’s make it more readable.

nodes.all do |n|
  puts "#{} #{[:ohai_time])}"

We’re simply going to use n as the iterator for each node object, and we’ll print a string about the node. The #{}’s in the string to print with puts is Ruby string interpolation. That is, everything inside the braces is a Ruby expression. First, the Chef::Node object has a method, #name, that returns the node’s name. This is usually the FQDN, but depending on your configuration (node_name in /etc/chef/client.rb or using the -N option for chef-client), it could be something else. Then, we’re going to use the node’s ohai_time attribute. Every time Chef runs and it gathers data about the node with Ohai, it generates the ohai_time attribute, which is the Unix epoch of the timestamp when Ohai ran. When Chef saves the node data at the end of the run, we know approximately the last time the node ran Chef. In this particular string, we’re converting the Unix epoch, like 1358962351.444405 to a human readable timestamp like 2013-01-23 10:32:31 -0700.

Of course, you can get similar data from the Chef Server by using knife status:

knife status

The ohai_time attribute will be displayed as a relative time, e.g., “585 hours ago.” It will include some more data about the nodes like IP’s. This uses Chef’s search feature, so you can also pass in a query:

knife status "role:webserver"

The knife exec example is simple, but you can get a lot more data about the nodes than what knife status reports.

In either case, ohai_time isn’t 100% accurate, since it is generated at the beginning of the run, and depending on what you’re doing with Chef on your systems, it can take a long time before the node data is saved. However, it’s close enough for many use cases.

If more detailed or completely accurate information about the Chef run is required for your purposes, you should use a report handler, which does have more data about the run available, including whether the run was successful or not.