Project background for sake, a task runner for servers

I usually make a project background document for my personal projects, it documents what I'm trying to solve, the core design decisions that will guide the code architecture and comparisons to other software. This is the one I made for sake, a task runner for servers.

To configure servers, all you need is bash scripting, environment variables, and some know-how.

sake came about because I needed a simple tool to manage my servers. There's tons of software in this category, Ansible, Puppet, Chef, Salt, Sup, and probably many more. However, most of them are geared towards enterprise server management and are often not the most ergonomic. So, sake was born, an ergonomic CLI tool to configure servers.


The premise is you have a bunch of servers and want the following:

  1. A central place for your servers, containing name, host, and a small description of the servers
  2. Ability to run ad-hoc commands (perhaps hostnamectl to see system hostname) on 1, a subset, or all of the servers
  3. Ability to run defined tasks on 1, a subset, or all of the servers
  4. Ability to get an overview of 1, a subset, or all of the servers and tasks


sake prioritizes simplicity and flexibility, principles that are at odds with each other at times:

  1. Simplicity - both the implementation and the UX is designed to be simple. However, this rule can be bent to some degree if the reward is substantial
  2. Flexibility - provide the user with the ability to shape sake to their user case, instead of providing an opinionated setup

With these principles in mind, I've elected not to create a complex DSL (see Terraform, Puppet, Ansible, etc.), but instead just add a few primitives and let the user leverage their existing sysadmin knowledge to create their ideal setup. This results in not forcing users to learn yet another DSL, avoiding continuous lookup of sake commands, and updating sake to get new features.

It does, however, push complexity onto the user, for instance, there's no built-in primitive to download files and the user must define a task to do so. It would be foolish for me to aim for feature parity with 3rd party software like rsync for downloading files (there are over 150 flags for rsync). In this sense, sake follows the Unix principle:

  • Write programs that do one thing and do it well - run commands on multiple servers
  • Write programs to work together - invoke other programs to do your bidding (rsync)
  • Write programs to handle text streams - output of all sake commands is just text


A lot of the alternatives to sake are meant to be used in large teams, which often results in:

  1. Opinionated and implicit file structure that the user is required to know
  2. Some of them are not daemon-less, there's a background process keeping track of application state (see Kubernetes, Chef, Puppet), which increases complexity and debuggability
  3. Lots of boilerplate (with Ansible there are more than 8 directories/files per role that you can use to customize roles: tasks, handlers, templates, files, vars, defaults, meta, module_utils, lookup_plugins, library, etc.)

For DIY hobby projects, where you're only interested in:

  1. Connecting to a machine
  2. Installing some software
  3. Starting a service
  4. Querying some data (uptime, disk size, etc.)
  5. Uploading/Downloading files

the alternatives are overkill.

In terms of features, sake mostly resembles Sup, an excellent deployment tool, which sake has drawn inspiration from. There are however some notable differences:

  • sake has a more extensive and easy to use filtering system
  • sake provides both text and table output
  • sake has auto-completion
  • sake has a sub-command to easily ssh into servers
  • sake supports tasks
  • sake has native import capability (in Sup you're left with manually invoking the Sup binary, which is by design as they want to keep it as close to make as possible it seems)
  • sup is not maintained anymore
  • Better CLI ergonomics in my opinion, sake run <task> -s server-1 versus sup <network> <task> (I often forget which one comes first, network or task)


So, if you want to learn more about sake, checkout the following links:

And here's a small demo:

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