Using GraphViz to describe configurations is relatively popular in the software and systems architecture world; the simple text-based format makes it quiet simple, and the directed graph (dot file) is a simple method to store a graph of information flow or component relationships. Puppet includes builtin support for generating dot graphs of its configuration resources and relationships (both those specified by the user, and all relationships including ones generated by Puppet itself).

One of the common uses for puppet’s graphs is to identify dependency cycles, as cyclic dependencies cause an error condition. However, Puppet’s own FAQ only mentions using the dot command to generate a PNG graphical representation of the the graph. When debugging a recent problem with puppet, I ended up with a message like:

Could not apply complete catalog: Found dependency cycles in the following relationships: Service[puppet] => File[/var/lib/puppet/yaml/foreman], File[/var/lib/puppet/yaml] => File[/var/lib/puppet/yaml/foreman], Service[puppet] => File[/etc/puppet/node.rb], File[fileserver.conf] => Service[apache], File[namespaceauth.conf] => Service[apache], File[puppet.conf] => Service[apache], File[puppet.conf] => Service[puppet], Service[puppet] => File[foreman-report.rb], File[/var/lib/puppet/yaml/foreman] => Package[puppet-server], Service[foreman-proxy] => Package[puppet-server], File[foreman-proxy-settings.yml] => Package[puppet-server], Package[foreman-proxy] => Package[puppet-server], User[foreman-proxy] => Package[puppet-server], File[/var/lib/puppet/yaml] => Package[puppet-server], File[foreman-report.rb] => Package[puppet-server], File[/etc/puppet/node.rb] => Package[puppet-server], File[/var/lib/puppet/yaml/foreman] => Exec[create_puppetmaster_certs], Service[foreman-proxy] => Exec[create_puppetmaster_certs], File[foreman-proxy-settings.yml] => Exec[create_puppetmaster_certs], Package[foreman-proxy] => Exec[create_puppetmaster_certs], User[foreman-proxy] => Exec[create_puppetmaster_certs], File[/var/lib/puppet/yaml] => Exec[create_puppetmaster_certs], File[foreman-report.rb] => Exec[create_puppetmaster_certs], File[/etc/puppet/node.rb] => Exec[create_puppetmaster_certs], File[/var/lib/puppet/yaml/foreman] => File[/etc/puppet/environments], Service[foreman-proxy] => File[/etc/puppet/environments], File[foreman-proxy-settings.yml] => File[/etc/puppet/environments], Package[foreman-proxy] => File[/etc/puppet/environments], User[foreman-proxy] => File[/etc/puppet/environments], File[/var/lib/puppet/yaml] => File[/etc/puppet/environments], File[foreman-report.rb] => File[/etc/puppet/environments], File[/etc/puppet/node.rb] => File[/etc/puppet/environments], File[foreman-proxy-settings.yml] => Service[foreman-proxy], Package[foreman-proxy] => Service[foreman-proxy], Service[puppet]

Not exactly easy to follow, or to pull much meaning out of, even if I did some slight reformatting by putting in some newlines. I then generated the png as described in the Puppet FAQs, but even scrolling back and forth on this for 20 minutes didn’t help: (note: link is to the original 14405x665px png)
dot file

With a little research, I managed to find the NetworkX package for Python; according to their site, “NetworkX is a Python language software package for the creation, manipulation, and study of the structure, dynamics, and functions of complex networks.” Among its features are the ability to read dot files using the pydot library, and the ability to find simple cycles within a graph. In about 20 minutes, I hacked together the dead-simple script below.

Given a dot file (of the type generated, for example, by Puppet), this will output all of the cycles found within the graph. I ran this script on the file from Puppet, which had 99 nodes (nodes on the graph, not puppet clients), and got the following output:

['File[foreman-report.rb]', 'File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'File[foreman-report.rb]']
['File[foreman-report.rb]', 'Package[puppet-server]', 'File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'File[foreman-report.rb]']
['Package[puppet-server]', 'File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'Service[foreman-proxy]', 'Package[puppet-server]']
['Package[puppet-server]', 'File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'File[/etc/puppet/node.rb]', 'Package[puppet-server]']
['Package[puppet-server]', 'File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'File[foreman-proxy-settings.yml]', 'Service[foreman-proxy]', 'Package[puppet-server]']
['Package[puppet-server]', 'File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'File[foreman-proxy-settings.yml]', 'Package[puppet-server]']
['Package[puppet-server]', 'File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'User[foreman-proxy]', 'File[/etc/puppet/node.rb]', 'Package[puppet-server]']
['Package[puppet-server]', 'File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'User[foreman-proxy]', 'Package[puppet-server]']
['Package[puppet-server]', 'File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'Package[foreman-proxy]', 'Service[foreman-proxy]', 'Package[puppet-server]']
['Package[puppet-server]', 'File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'Package[foreman-proxy]', 'File[foreman-proxy-settings.yml]', 'Service[foreman-proxy]', 'Package[puppet-server]']
['Package[puppet-server]', 'File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'Package[foreman-proxy]', 'File[foreman-proxy-settings.yml]', 'Package[puppet-server]']
['Package[puppet-server]', 'File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'Package[foreman-proxy]', 'Package[puppet-server]']
['Package[puppet-server]', 'File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'File[/var/lib/puppet/yaml/foreman]', 'Package[puppet-server]']
['File[/etc/puppet/node.rb]', 'File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'File[/etc/puppet/node.rb]']
['File[/etc/puppet/node.rb]', 'File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'User[foreman-proxy]', 'File[/etc/puppet/node.rb]']
['File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'Service[foreman-proxy]', 'File[puppet.conf]']
['File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'Package[foreman-proxy]', 'Service[foreman-proxy]', 'File[puppet.conf]']
['File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'Package[foreman-proxy]', 'File[puppet.conf]']
['File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'Package[foreman-proxy]', 'File[foreman-proxy-settings.yml]', 'Service[foreman-proxy]', 'File[puppet.conf]']
['File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'Package[foreman-proxy]', 'File[foreman-proxy-settings.yml]', 'File[puppet.conf]']
['File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'File[/var/lib/puppet/yaml/foreman]', 'File[puppet.conf]']
['File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'File[foreman-proxy-settings.yml]', 'Service[foreman-proxy]', 'File[puppet.conf]']
['File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'File[foreman-proxy-settings.yml]', 'File[puppet.conf]']
['File[puppet.conf]', 'Service[puppet]', 'User[foreman-proxy]', 'File[puppet.conf]']

It probably would have taken me hours to come up with that by hand, let alone realize that Service[puppet] is the common item in all of them, and hence the problem. With that little tidbit of information, I managed to track down an extraneous “require puppet” that this all originated from. I sincerely hope that this script will save someone else at least as much time as it took me to write (I know it will for me…).

You can always obtain the latest version of this script from my github repository It’s free for use and distribution, provided that you leave my copyright/attribution and source URL notice intact, update the changelog, and send any features/fixes back to me. The script is written in Python, and depends on the python-networkx, graphviz-python, and pydot packages (all of which are available as packages in the default repos of Fedora and CentOS at least). For Puppet purposes, I’d recommend running this on to get the full information.

#!/usr/bin/env python

""" - uses Pydot and NetworkX to find cycles in a dot file directed graph.

Very helpful for 

By Jason Antman  2012.

Free for all use, provided that you send any changes you make back to me, update the changelog, and keep this comment intact.

python-networkx - 
graphviz-python - 
pydot - 
(all of these are available as native packages at least on CentOS)

USAGE: /path/to/

The canonical source of this script can always be found from:

$HeadURL: $
$LastChangedRevision: 33 $

    Wednesday 2012-03-28 Jason Antman :
        - initial script creation

import sys
from os import path, access, R_OK
import networkx as nx

def usage():
    sys.stderr.write(" by Jason Antman \n")
    sys.stderr.write("  finds cycles in dot file graphs, such as those from Puppet\n\n")
    sys.stderr.write("USAGE: /path/to/\n")

def main():

    path = ""
    if (len(sys.argv) > 1):
        path = sys.argv[1]

        fh = open(path)
    except IOError as e:
        sys.stderr.write("ERROR: could not read file " + path + "\n")

    # read in the specified file, create a networkx DiGraph
    G = nx.DiGraph(nx.read_dot(path))

    C = nx.simple_cycles(G)
    if(len(C) < 1):
    for i in C:
        print i

# Run
if __name__ == "__main__":


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