State System Layers

The Salt state system is comprised of multiple layers. While using Salt does not require an understanding of the state layers, a deeper understanding of how Salt compiles and manages states can be very beneficial.

Function Call

The lowest layer of functionality in the state system is the direct state function call. State executions are executions of single state functions at the core. These individual functions are defined in state modules and can be called directly via the state.single command.

salt '*' state.single pkg.installed name='vim'

Low Chunk

The low chunk is the bottom of the Salt state compiler. This is a data representation of a single function call. The low chunk is sent to the state caller and used to execute a single state function.

A single low chunk can be executed manually via the state.low command.

salt '*' state.low '{name: vim, state: pkg, fun: installed}'

The passed data reflects what the state execution system gets after compiling the data down from sls formulas.

Low State

The Low State layer is the list of low chunks "evaluated" in order. To see what the low state looks like for a highstate, run:

salt '*' state.show_lowstate

This will display the raw lowstate in the order which each low chunk will be evaluated. The order of evaluation is not necessarily the order of execution, since requisites are evaluated at runtime. Requisite execution and evaluation is finite; this means that the order of execution can be ascertained with 100% certainty based on the order of the low state.

High Data

High data is the data structure represented in YAML via SLS files. The High data structure is created by merging the data components rendered inside sls files (or other render systems). The High data can be easily viewed by executing the state.show_highstate or state.show_sls functions. Since this data is a somewhat complex data structure, it may be easier to read using the json, yaml, or pprint outputters:

salt '*' state.show_highstate --out yaml
salt '*' state.show_sls edit.vim --out pprint


Above "High Data", the logical layers are no longer technically required to be executed, or to be executed in a hierarchy. This means that how the High data is generated is optional and very flexible. The SLS layer allows for many mechanisms to be used to render sls data from files or to use the fileserver backend to generate sls and file data from external systems.

The SLS layer can be called directly to execute individual sls formulas.


SLS Formulas have historically been called "SLS files". This is because a single SLS was only constituted in a single file. Now the term "SLS Formula" better expresses how a compartmentalized SLS can be expressed in a much more dynamic way by combining pillar and other sources, and the SLS can be dynamically generated.

To call a single SLS formula named edit.vim, execute state.apply and pass edit.vim as an argument:

salt '*' state.apply edit.vim


Calling SLS directly logically assigns what states should be executed from the context of the calling minion. The Highstate layer is used to allow for full contextual assignment of what is executed where to be tied to groups of, or individual, minions entirely from the master. This means that the environment of a minion, and all associated execution data pertinent to said minion, can be assigned from the master without needing to execute or configure anything on the target minion. This also means that the minion can independently retrieve information about its complete configuration from the master.

To execute the highstate use state.apply:

salt '*' state.apply


The orchestrate layer expresses the highest functional layer of Salt's automated logic systems. The Overstate allows for stateful and functional orchestration of routines from the master. The orchestrate defines in data execution stages which minions should execute states, or functions, and in what order using requisite logic.