Language: Embedded Ruby (ERB) template syntax

ERB is a templating language based on Ruby. Puppet can evaluate ERB templates with the template and inline_template functions.

This page covers how to write ERB templates. See Templates for information about what templates are and how to evaluate them.

Note: If you’ve used ERB in other projects, it might have had different features enabled. This page describes how ERB works in Puppet.

ERB structure and syntax

<%# Non-printing tag ↓ -%>
<% if @keys_enable -%>
<%# Expression-printing tag ↓ -%>
keys <%= @keys_file %>
<% unless @keys_trusted.empty? -%>
trustedkey <%= @keys_trusted.join(' ') %>
<% end -%>
<% if @keys_requestkey != '' -%>
requestkey <%= @keys_requestkey %>
<% end -%>
<% if @keys_controlkey != '' -%>
controlkey <%= @keys_controlkey %>
<% end -%>

<% end -%>

An ERB template looks like a plain-text document interspersed with tags containing Ruby code. When evaluated, this tagged code can modify text in the template.

Puppet passes data to templates via special objects and variables, which you can use in the tagged Ruby code to control the templates’ output.


ERB has two tags for Ruby code, a tag for comments, and a way to escape tag delimiters.

  • <%= EXPRESSION %> — Inserts the value of an expression.
    • With -%> — Trims the following line break.
  • <% CODE %> — Executes code, but does not insert a value.
    • With <%- — Trims the preceding indentation.
    • With -%> — Trims the following line break.
  • <%# COMMENT %> — Removed from the final output.
    • With -%> — Trims the following line break.
  • <%% or %%> — A literal <% or %>, respectively.

Text outside a tag becomes literal text, but it is subject to any tagged Ruby code surrounding it. For example, text surrounded by a tagged if statement only appears in the output if the condition is true.

Expression-printing tags

<%= @fqdn %>

An expression-printing tag inserts values into the output. It starts with an opening tag delimiter and equals sign (<%=) and ends with a closing tag delimiter (%>). It must contain a snippet of Ruby code that resolves to a value; if the value isn’t a string, it will be automatically converted to a string using its to_s method.

For example, to insert the value of the $fqdn and $hostname facts in an Apache config file, you could do something like:

ServerName <%= @fqdn %>
ServerAlias <%= @hostname %>

Space trimming

You can trim line breaks after expression-printing tags by adding a hyphen to the closing tag delimiter.

  • -%> — If the tag ends a line, trim the following line break.

Non-printing tags

<% if @broadcastclient == true %> ...text... <% end %>

A non-printing tag executes the code it contains, but doesn’t insert a value into the output. It starts with an opening tag delimiter (<%) and ends with a closing tag delimiter (%>).

Non-printing tags that contain iterative or conditional expressions can affect the untagged text they surround.

For example, to insert text only if a certain variable was set, you could do something like:

    <% if @broadcastclient == true -%>
    <% end -%>

Non-printing code doesn’t have to resolve to a value or be a complete statement, but the tag must close at a place where it would be legal to write another statement. For example, you couldn’t write:

<%# Syntax error: %>
<% @servers.each -%>
# some server
<% do |server| %>server <%= server %>
<% end -%>

You must keep do |server| inside the first tag, because you can’t insert an arbitrary statement between a method call and its required block.

Space trimming

You can trim whitespace surrounding a non-printing tag by adding hyphens (-) to the tag delimiters.

  • <%- — If the tag is indented, trim the indentation.
  • -%> — If the tag ends a line, trim the following line break.

Comment tags

<%# This is a comment. %>

A comment tag’s contents do not appear in the template’s output. It starts with an opening tag delimiter and a hash sign (<%#) and ends with a closing tag delimiter (%>).

Space trimming

You can trim line breaks after comment tags by adding a hyphen to the closing tag delimiter.

  • -%> — If the tag ends a line, trim the following line break.

Literal tag delimiters

If you need the template’s final output to contain a literal <% or %>, you can escape them as <%% or %%>. The first literal tag is taken, and the rest of the line is treated as a literal. This means that <%% Test %%> in an ERB template would turn out as <% Test %%> not <% Test %>.

Accessing Puppet variables

Templates can access Puppet’s variables. This is the main source of data for templates.

An ERB template has its own local scope, and its parent scope is set to the class or defined type that evaluates the template. This means a template can use short names for variables from that class or type, but it can’t insert new variables into it.

There are two ways to access variables in an ERB template:

  • @variable
  • scope['variable'] (and its older equivalent, scope.lookupvar('variable'))


All variables in the current scope (including global variables) are passed to templates as Ruby instance variables, which begin with “at” signs (@). If you can access a variable by its short name in the surrounding manifest, you can access it in the template by replacing its $ sign with an @. So $os becomes @os, $trusted becomes @trusted, etc.

This is the most legible way to access variables, but it doesn’t support variables from other scopes. For that, you need to use the scope object.

scope['variable'] or scope.lookupvar('variable')

Puppet also passes templates an object called scope, which can access all variables (including out-of-scope ones) with a hash-style access expression. For example, to access $ntp::tinker you would use scope['ntp::tinker'].

There is also another way to use the scope object: you can call its lookupvar method and pass the variable’s name as its argument, like scope.lookupvar('ntp::tinker'). This is exactly equivalent to the above, but slightly less convenient. It predates the hash-style indexing, which was added in Puppet 3.0.

Puppet data types in Ruby

Puppet’s data types are converted to Ruby classes as follows:

Puppet type Ruby class
Boolean Boolean
Undef NilClass (value nil)
String String
Number subtype of Numeric
Array Array
Hash Hash
Default Symbol (value :default)
Regexp Regexp
Resource reference Puppet::Pops::Types::PResourceType, or Puppet::Pops::Types::PHostClassType
Lambda (code block) Puppet::Pops::Evaluator::Closure
Data type (Type) A type class under Puppet::Pops::Types, such as Puppet::Pops::Types::PIntegerType

Testing for undefined variables

If a Puppet variable was never defined, its value is undef, which means its value in a template will be nil.

Some basic Ruby for ERB templates

To manipulate and print data in ERB templates, you’ll need to know a small amount of Ruby. We can’t teach that on this page, but we can give a brief look at some of the things you’re likely to use.

if statements

Ruby’s if ... end statement lets you write conditional text. You’ll want to put the control statements in non-printing tags, and the conditional text between the tags. (Like <% if <CONDITION> %> text goes here <% end %>.)

<% if @broadcast != "NONE" %>broadcast <%= @broadcast %><% end %>

The general format of an if statement is:

  ... code ...
  ... other code ...


Ruby lets you iterate over arrays and hashes with the each method. This method takes a block of code, and executes it once for each element in the array or hash. In a template, un-tagged text is treated as part of the code that gets repeated. (It might help to think of literal text as an instruction, telling the evaluator to insert that text into the final output.)

To write a block of code in Ruby, use either do |arguments| ... end or {|arguments| ... }. Note that this is different from Puppet’s lambdas — but they work similarly.

<% @values.each do |val| -%>
Some stuff with <%= val %>
<% end -%>

If $values was set to ['one', 'two'], this example would produce:

Some stuff with one
Some stuff with two

This example also trims line breaks for the non-printing tags, so they won’t appear as blank lines in the output.

Manipulating data

Usually, your templates will use data from Puppet variables. These values will almost always be strings, numbers, arrays, and hashes.

These will become the equivalent Ruby objects when you access them from an ERB template. For information about the ways you can transform these objects, see the Ruby documentation for:

Also, note that Puppet’s special undef value becomes Ruby’s special nil value in ERB templates.

Calling Puppet functions from templates

You can use Puppet functions inside templates with the scope.call_function(<NAME>, <ARGS>) method. This method takes two arguments:

  • The name of the function, as a string.
  • All arguments to the function, as an array. (This must be an array even for one argument or zero arguments.)

For example, to evaluate one template inside another:

<%= scope.call_function('template', ["my_module/template2.erb"]) %>

To log a warning using Puppet’s own logging system, so that it will appear in reports:

<%= scope.call_function('warning', ["Template was missing some data; this config file might be malformed."]) %>

Note: Previous versions of Puppet handled this by creating a function_<NAME> method on the scope object for each function; these could be called with an arguments array, like <%= scope.function_template(["my_module/template2.erb"]) %>

That still works in this version of Puppet, but the call_function method is better. The auto-generated methods don’t support the modern function APIs, which are now used by the majority of built-in functions.

scope.call_function was added in Puppet 4.2.

Example template

This example template is taken from the puppetlabs/ntp module.

# ntp.conf: Managed by puppet.
<% if @tinker == true and (@panic or @stepout) -%>
# Enable next tinker options:
# panic - keep ntpd from panicking in the event of a large clock skew
# when a VM guest is suspended and resumed;
# stepout - allow ntpd change offset faster
tinker<% if @panic -%> panic <%= @panic %><% end %><% if @stepout -%> stepout <%= @stepout %><% end %>
<% end -%>

<% if @disable_monitor == true -%>
disable monitor
<% end -%>
<% if @disable_auth == true -%>
disable auth
<% end -%>

<% if @restrict != [] -%>
# Permit time synchronization with our time source, but do not
# permit the source to query or modify the service on this system.
<% @restrict.flatten.each do |restrict| -%>
restrict <%= restrict %>
<% end -%>
<% end -%>

<% if @interfaces != [] -%>
# Ignore wildcard interface and only listen on the following specified
# interfaces
interface ignore wildcard
<% @interfaces.flatten.each do |interface| -%>
interface listen <%= interface %>
<% end -%>
<% end -%>

<% if @broadcastclient == true -%>
<% end -%>

# Set up servers for ntpd with next options:
# server - IP address or DNS name of upstream NTP server
# iburst - allow send sync packages faster if upstream unavailable
# prefer - select preferrable server
# minpoll - set minimal update frequency
# maxpoll - set maximal update frequency
<% [@servers].flatten.each do |server| -%>
server <%= server %><% if @iburst_enable == true -%> iburst<% end %><% if @preferred_servers.include?(server) -%> prefer<% end %><% if @minpoll -%> minpoll <%= @minpoll %><% end %><% if @maxpoll -%> maxpoll <%= @maxpoll %><% end %>
<% end -%>

<% if @udlc -%>
# Undisciplined Local Clock. This is a fake driver intended for backup
# and when no outside source of synchronized time is available.
fudge stratum <%= @udlc_stratum %>
<% end -%>

# Driftfile.
driftfile <%= @driftfile %>

<% unless @logfile.nil? -%>
# Logfile
logfile <%= @logfile %>
<% end -%>

<% unless @peers.empty? -%>
# Peers
<% [@peers].flatten.each do |peer| -%>
peer <%= peer %>
<% end -%>
<% end -%>

<% if @keys_enable -%>
keys <%= @keys_file %>
<% unless @keys_trusted.empty? -%>
trustedkey <%= @keys_trusted.join(' ') %>
<% end -%>
<% if @keys_requestkey != '' -%>
requestkey <%= @keys_requestkey %>
<% end -%>
<% if @keys_controlkey != '' -%>
controlkey <%= @keys_controlkey %>
<% end -%>

<% end -%>
<% [@fudge].flatten.each do |entry| -%>
fudge <%= entry %>
<% end -%>

<% unless @leapfile.nil? -%>
# Leapfile
leapfile <%= @leapfile %>
<% end -%>