Terraform vs CloudFormation – Complete Guide

Terraform vs CloudFormation – Complete Guide

Terraform and CloudFormation are two of the most popular Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tools used by developers and DevOps teams today. They enable the provisioning, updating, and tearing down of resources in a cloud environment using code, allowing for automated and efficient management of infrastructure. In this post, we'll dive deep into the differences between Terraform and AWS CloudFormation, exploring their features, use cases, and drawbacks. This comprehensive guide aims to help you decide which tool is the best fit for your needs.

Introduction to Terraform

Terraform is an open-source IaC tool developed by HashiCorp. It uses a declarative language called HashiCorp Configuration Language (HCL) to define and manage resources across various cloud providers, including AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. Terraform's primary selling point is its provider-agnostic approach, allowing you to manage resources across multiple cloud providers using a single tool.

Key Features of Terraform

  1. Multi-Cloud Support: Terraform's ability to work across different cloud providers makes it a versatile choice for organizations using a multi-cloud strategy.
  2. Modular Infrastructure: Terraform allows you to create reusable modules for your infrastructure, promoting the DRY (Don't Repeat Yourself) principle and making it easier to manage complex environments.
  3. State Management: Terraform stores the state of your infrastructure in a state file, enabling you to track changes and maintain a consistent environment across deployments.
  4. Immutable Infrastructure: Terraform follows the principle of immutable infrastructure, meaning that resources are replaced rather than updated, ensuring a consistent and predictable environment.

Introduction to AWS CloudFormation

AWS CloudFormation is a native IaC tool provided by Amazon Web Services. It uses JSON or YAML templates to define and manage AWS resources. As a native AWS service, CloudFormation is tightly integrated with the AWS ecosystem, providing seamless support for AWS services and resources.

Key Features of CloudFormation

  1. AWS Native Support: As an AWS-native tool, CloudFormation provides thorough and seamless support for AWS resources and services.
  2. Automatic Rollback: In case of a deployment failure, CloudFormation can automatically roll back to the previous stable state, minimizing the risk of downtime or errors.
  3. Change Sets: CloudFormation allows you to preview and analyze the impact of changes in your infrastructure before applying them, reducing the risk of unintended consequences.
  4. Stack Management: CloudFormation organizes resources into stacks, making it easier to manage, update, and delete multiple related resources simultaneously.

Comparing Terraform and CloudFormation

Now that we have introduced both Terraform and CloudFormation, let's dive into a detailed comparison of their features, use cases, and drawbacks.

Language and Syntax

Terraform uses its declarative language, HCL. HCL is designed for readability and simplicity, making it easy for developers to create and manage infrastructure as code. Here's an example of HCL code for creating an AWS S3 bucket:

resource "aws_s3_bucket" "example" { bucket = "my-bucket" acl = "private" }

CloudFormation uses JSON or YAML for defining infrastructure templates. Both formats are widely used and well understood by developers. Here's an example of CloudFormation YAML code for creating an AWS S3 bucket:

Resources: ExampleBucket: Type: "AWS::S3::Bucket" Properties: BucketName: "my-bucket" AccessControl: "Private"

Multi-Cloud Support

Terraform's support for multiple cloud providers is one of its most significant advantages over CloudFormation. With Terraform, you can manage resources across AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, and other providers using a single tool and codebase. This can be especially useful for organizations with a multi-cloud strategy.

On the other hand, CloudFormation is limited to AWS resources and services. If you are using a multi-cloud setup, you may need to use additional IaC tools to manage non-AWS infrastructure.

Integration with AWS Services

While Terraform provides support for AWS resources, it may lag behind in supporting new AWS services and features compared to CloudFormation. As a native AWS service, CloudFormation is tightly integrated with the AWS ecosystem and offers seamless support for new AWS services as soon as they are released.

Community and Ecosystem

Terraform has a large and active community, which contributes to its extensive library of modules and providers. This can make it easier to find pre-built solutions and examples for managing your infrastructure.

CloudFormation, being an AWS-native service, benefits from the extensive AWS ecosystem and its resources, such as documentation, support, and AWS-specific tools.


Q: Can I use Terraform and CloudFormation together?

A: Yes, you can use Terraform and CloudFormation together. Terraform has a aws_cloudformation_stack resource that allows you to manage CloudFormation stacks within your Terraform configuration. This can be useful for managing AWS resources that are not yet supported by Terraform or for leveraging existing CloudFormation templates.

Q: Is Terraform or CloudFormation better for managing AWS infrastructure?

A: The choice between Terraform and CloudFormation largely depends on your specific use case and requirements. If you need multi-cloud support and prefer a more human-readable language, Terraform may be the better choice. However, if you are primarily working within the AWS ecosystem and value tight integration with AWS services, CloudFormation may be more suitable.

Q: How do I migrate from CloudFormation to Terraform?

A: Migrating from CloudFormation to Terraform can be a complex process, depending on the size and complexity of your infrastructure. One approach is to use the terraform import command to import existing AWS resources into your Terraform state file. You will also need to translate your CloudFormation templates into Terraform configuration files.

In conclusion, both Terraform and AWS CloudFormation have their unique strengths and drawbacks. Your choice depends on your specific needs, cloud strategy, and familiarity with the tools. If you are looking for a multi-cloud solution with a simple, human-readable language, Terraform is a great choice. On the other hand, if you are deeply invested in the AWS ecosystem and prefer a native AWS tool, CloudFormation is an excellent choice.

Sharing is caring

Did you like what Rishabh Rao wrote? Thank them for their work by sharing it on social media.


No comments so far