Language: Node Definitions

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A node definition or node statement is a block of Puppet code that will only be included in one node’s catalog. This feature allows you to assign specific configurations to specific nodes.

Node statements are an optional feature of Puppet. They can be replaced by or combined with an external node classifier, or you can eschew both and use conditional statements with facts to classify nodes.

Unlike more general conditional structures, node statements only match nodes by name. By default, the name of a node is its certname (which defaults to the node’s fully qualified domain name).


Node definitions should go in the site manifest (site.pp).

Alternately, you can store node definitions in any number of manifest files which are imported into site.pp:

    # /etc/puppetlabs/puppet/manifests/site.pp

    # Import every file in /etc/puppetlabs/puppet/manifests/nodes/
    # (Usually, each file contains one node definition.)
    import 'nodes/*.pp'

    # Import several nodes from a single file
    import 'extra_nodes.pp'

This is one of the only recommended use cases for import. Note that using import will require you to restart the puppet master if you change the node manifests and that importing many files will slow down Puppet’s compilation time. See the documentation of import for details.

Node statements should never be put in modules. The behavior of a node statement in an autoloaded manifest is undefined.


    # /etc/puppetlabs/puppet/manifests/site.pp
    node '' {
      include common
      include apache
      include squid
    node '' {
      include common
      include mysql

In the example above, only would receive the apache and squid classes, and only would receive the mysql class.

Node definitions look like class definitions. The general form of a node definition is:

  • The node keyword
  • The name(s) of the node(s)
  • Optionally, the inherits keyword followed by the name of another node definition
  • An opening curly brace
  • Any mixture of class declarations, variables, resource declarations, collectors, conditional statements, chaining relationships, and functions
  • A closing curly brace

Aside: Best Practices

Although node statements can contain almost any Puppet code, we recommend that you only use them to set variables and declare classes. Avoid using resource declarations, collectors, conditional statements, chaining relationships, and functions in them; all of these belong in classes or defined types.

This will make it easier to switch between node definitions and an ENC.


Node statements match nodes by name. A node’s name is its unique identifier; by default, this is its certname setting, which in turn resolves to the node’s fully qualified domain name.

Notes on Node Names

  • The set of characters allowed in a node name is undefined in this version of Puppet. For best future compatibility, you should limit node names to letters, numbers, periods, underscores, and dashes.
  • Although it is possible to configure Puppet to use something other than the certname as a node name, this is not generally recommended.

A node statement’s name must be one of the following:

You may not create two node statements with the same name.

Multiple Names

You can use a comma-separated list of names to create a group of nodes with a single node statement:

    node '', '', '' {
      include common
      include apache, squid

This example creates three identical nodes:,, and

The Default Node

The name default (without quotes) is a special value for node names. If no node statement matching a given node can be found, the default node will be used. See Behavior below.

Regular Expression Names

Regular expressions (regexes) can be used as node names. This is another method for writing a single node statement that matches multiple nodes.

    node /^www\d+$/ {
      include common

The above example would match www1, www13, and any other node whose name consisted of www and one or more digits.

    node /^(foo|bar)\.example\.com$/ {
      include common

The above example would match and, but no other nodes.

Make sure that node regexes do not overlap. If more than one regex statement matches a given node, the one it gets will be parse-order dependent.


If site.pp contains at least one node definition, it must have one for every node; compilation for a node will fail if one cannot be found. (Hence the usefulness of the default node.) If site.pp contains no node definitions, this requirement is dropped.


A given node will only get the contents of one node definition, even if two node statements could match a node’s name. Puppet will do the following checks in order when deciding which definition to use:

  1. If there is a node definition with the node’s exact name, Puppet will use it.
  2. If there is at least one regular expression node statement that matches the node’s whole name, Puppet will use the first one it finds.
  3. If the node’s name looks like a fully qualified domain name (i.e. multiple period-separated groups of letters, numbers, underscores and dashes), Puppet will chop off the final group and start again at step 1. (That is, if a definition for isn’t found, Puppet will look for a definition matching www01.example.)
  4. Puppet will use the default node.

Thus, for the node, Puppet would try the following, in order:

  • The first regex matching
  • www01.example
  • The first regex matching www01.example
  • www01
  • The first regex matching www01
  • default

You can turn off this fuzzy name matching by changing the puppet master’s strict_hostname_checking setting to true. This will cause Puppet to skip step 3 and only use the node’s full name before resorting to default.

Regex Capture Variables

Regex node definitions will set numbered regex capture variables ($1, $2, etc.) within the body of the node definition. This is similar to the behavior of conditional statements that use regexes.

Code Outside Node Statements

Puppet code that is outside any node statement will be compiled for every node. That is, a given node will get both the code in its node definition and the code outside any node definition.

Node Scope

Node definitions create a new anonymous scope that can override variables and defaults from top scope. See the section on node scope for details.

Merging With ENC Data

Node definitions and external node classifiers can co-exist. Puppet merges their data as follows:

  • Variables from an ENC are set at top scope and can thus be overridden by variables in a node definition.
  • Classes from an ENC are declared at node scope, which means they will be affected by any variables set in the node definition.

Although ENCs and node definitions can work together, we recommend that most users pick one or the other.


Nodes can inherit from other nodes using the inherits keyword. Inheritance works identically to class inheritance. This feature is not recommended; see the aside below.


    node 'common' {
      $ntpserver = ''
      include common
    node '' inherits 'common' {
      include ntp
      include apache
      include squid

In the above example, would receive the common, ntp, apache, and squid classes, and would have an $ntpserver of

Aside: Best Practices

You should almost certainly avoid using node inheritance. Many users attempt to do the following:

    node 'common' {
      $ntpserver = ''
      include common
      include ntp
    node '' inherits 'common' {
      # Override default NTP server:
      $ntpserver = ''

This will have the opposite of the intended effect, because Puppet treats node definitions like classes. It does not mash the two together and then compile the mix; instead, it compiles the base class, then compiles the derived class, which gets a parent scope and special permission to modify resource attributes from the base class.

In the example above, this means that by the time node has set its own value for $ntpserver, the ntp class has already received the value it needed and is no longer interested in that variable. For the derived node to override that variable for classes in the base node, it would have to be complied before the base node, and there is no way for Puppet’s current implementation to do that.

Alternatives to Node Inheritance

  • Most users who need hierarchical data should keep it in an external source and have their manifests look it up. The best solution right now is Hiera, which is available by default in Puppet 3 and later. See our Hiera guides for more information about using it.
  • ENCs can look up data from any arbitrary source, and return it to Puppet as top-scope variables.
  • If you have node-specific data in an external CMDB, you can easily write custom Puppet functions to query it.
  • For very small numbers of nodes, you can copy and paste to make complete node definitions for special-case nodes.
  • With discipline, you can use node inheritance only for data lookup. The safest approach is to only set variables in the base nodes, then declare all classes in the derived nodes. This is less terse than the mix-and-match that most users try first, but is completely reliable.

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