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21 Apr
min read

Crossplane vs Terraform: Which IaC Tool Is Better for Your Needs?

Crossplane vs Terraform: a battle of the IaC. Discover each tool to determine which one aligns best with your infrastructure management goals.

Jack Dwyer

Platform Engineering + DevOps

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Overview of Infrastructure as Code (IaC)

lines of code - Crossplane Vs Terraform

IaC Significance in Modern Software Development and Operations

What Is Terraform and IaC? Infrastructure as code (IaC) is the ability to provision and support your computing infrastructure using code instead of manual processes and settings. Any application environment requires many infrastructure components like operating systems, database connections, and storage. Developers have to regularly set up, update, and maintain the infrastructure to develop, test, and deploy applications.

Challenges of Manual Infrastructure Management

Manual infrastructure management is time-consuming and prone to error—especially when you manage applications at scale. Infrastructure as code lets you define your infrastructure's desired state without including all the steps to get to that state. 

It automates infrastructure management so developers can focus on building and improving applications instead of managing environments. Organizations use infrastructure as code to control costs, reduce risks, and respond with speed to new business opportunities.

Advantages of Adopting IaC Practices

Increased Efficiency

IaC automates infrastructure management, allowing developers to focus on building and improving applications instead of managing environments.


IaC provides a common language for both developers and operations, ensuring consistently reproducible configurations between environments.


IaC integrates seamlessly with cloud providers and efficiently scales infrastructure resources based on demand

Enhanced Collaboration

IaC fosters better collaboration in a DevOps environment, enabling changes to be reviewed transparently.

Role of IaC in DevOps

DevOps is the process of improving collaboration between software development and IT operations teams with the goal of shortening the application development lifecycle and providing continuous delivery of high-quality software. DevOps teams integrate operations activities with developer tools and code commits to achieve extremely rapid release cycles. 

A key goal of DevOps is to automate infrastructure tasks across the development process, which can be achieved by integrating infrastructure as code (IaC) into continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines.

Purpose of IaC in DevOps

Quick Environment Setup

DevOps teams can quickly set up complete environments, from development to production, using IaC.

Reproducible Configurations

IaC helps ensure consistently reproducible configurations between environments

Seamless Integration with Cloud Providers

IaC integrates seamlessly with cloud providers and efficiently scales infrastructure resources based on demand.

Enhanced Collaboration

IaC provides a common language for both developers and operations, fostering better collaboration in a DevOps environment where changes can be reviewed transparently.

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What is Crossplane?

workings of Crossplane Vs Terraform

Crossplane is a modern control plane that connects any Kubernetes cluster to external, non-Kubernetes resources such as storage, networking, and computers. When Crossplane is installed on a Kubernetes cluster, users need not worry about external resources, as Crossplane does everything for them. It uses custom resource definitions (CRDs) to represent the external resources as native Kubernetes objects, which enables you to use standard Kubernetes commands.

The Crossplane architecture has four different components

1. Providers

Providers are the external entities that offer different resources such as storage, compute, DNS, networking, and so on. Some major cloud providers include AWS, Azure, and GCP. These providers are not part of the cluster, but Crossplane connects them with Kubernetes clusters to use their resources.

2. Managed resources

Providers offer various resources that applications can use. When a resource is created and monitored through Crossplane, it’s considered a managed resource. Crossplane introduces this real-world infrastructure into the control plane to make it available as an extension to the Kubernetes API. 

A unique managed resource is created using the provider’s CRD. For instance, Crossplane builds a bucket-managed resource inside the Kubernetes cluster connected to an Amazon S3 storage bucket using the AWS provider’s bucket CRD.

3. Composite resources

A set of provisioned managed resources creates a composite resource. A unique abstraction or API is created by composing various resources, configurations, and policies together. This API is then made available to developers for self-service access to infrastructure. As composite resources are cluster-scoped, they are usually available to all cluster namespaces.

4. Claims

Claims are the means through which a user interacts with Crossplane. When the user requires infrastructure for their application, they create a claim, and Crossplane works to provision that infrastructure for them.

Comparison of Licensing and Community Support

Crossplane is an open-source tool released under the Apache License Version 2.0. You’re free to use the tool for any personal or organizational purpose without any restrictions or boundaries. Still, it’s a good idea to read the full terms and conditions of the license before using Crossplane.

Compared to Terraform, Crossplane is still a new technology. It has an active and growing community supporting and contributing to the project’s development. Crossplane’s source code is hosted on GitHub, which allows for strong collaboration. Apart from this, the Crossplane community has a dedicated Slack channel where users can engage in discussions. Crossplane also provides good documentation and tutorials to get started.

Vendor Support and CI/CD Integration

Crossplane supports a variety of cloud vendors and infrastructure providers. The project is designed to be vendor-agnostic, allowing users to manage resources across a wide range of cloud providers and infrastructure platforms. Some of the well-known vendors are AWS, Azure, GCP, VMware, and Alibaba Cloud.

Similar to Terraform, Crossplane can also be integrated with CI/CD pipelines. Crossplane features a set of long-lived, always-on control planes that continuously observe the application’s infrastructure and make the necessary changes to achieve the desired state of infrastructure. Various CI/CD platforms provide plugins and integrations for Kubernetes, making it easier to incorporate Crossplane into your existing workflows. Unlike Terraform, you don’t need to manually invoke Crossplane. Instead, it will automatically trigger when used with Argo CD whenever needed.

Zeet Terraform and Helm Product Overview

What is Terraform?

woman understanding Crossplane Vs Terraform

Terraform is an open-source infrastructure as code tool that lets you define both cloud and on-prem resources in human-readable configuration files that you can version, reuse, and share. Terraform creates and manages resources on cloud platforms and other services through their application programming interfaces (APIs).

How Terraform Works

Terraform uses providers to interact with cloud providers, SaaS providers, and other APIs. A state file is required to keep track of infrastructure. Terraform configuration files are declarative, making infrastructure provisioning more consistent and reliable. Terraform also supports reusable configuration components called modules to save time and encourage best practices. 

Terraform Architecture

Terraform consists of Terraform Core, Providers, and a state file. Terraform Core handles parsing configuration files, execution planning, provisioning resources, and state management. Providers interact with various cloud services and APIs. The state file maps physical resources to configurations to efficiently manage infrastructure.

Features and Benefits of Terraform

Terraform helps manage any infrastructure, track your infrastructure, automate changes, standardize configurations, and collaborate across teams. Declarative configuration files, resource graph determination, and parallel resource provisioning enable efficient infrastructure management.

Maximizing Cloud and Kubernetes Investments

Zeet helps you get more from your cloud, Kubernetes, and Terraform investments and helps your engineering team become strong individual contributors through our CI/CD & deployment platform. 

Contact Zeet to learn more about how Zeet helps you get seamless cloud deployments every time, and helps your team to become a top-performing engineering team.

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In-Depth Crossplane vs Terraform Comparison

person working from office - Crossplane Vs Terraform

Core Features and Configuration Language

Terraform uses HCL/JSON for configuration language, while Crossplane uses YAML/JSON. Both tools offer similar functionality for defining infrastructure as code, but the syntax and structure differ between them. Mastering these language nuances will be crucial when deciding which tool is right for you. 

State Management

Terraform uses a central state management system that gets synchronized with remote backends supporting locking. Crossplane uses a controller-based continuous reconciliation model. The difference between Terraform’s item potency plan and apply is that plan can only be used to generate an execution plan. 

Multi-Cloud Support

Both tools support multiple cloud providers, but their capabilities here are quite different. Terraform has extensive support for providers, while Crossplane's multi-cloud support is mostly centered around Kubernetes workloads. 

Management Models

Terraform is procedural in nature. The Terraform workflow includes initializing a Terraform configuration directory, running Terraform plan, and then running Terraform apply to make the changes to the infrastructure. On the other hand, Crossplane is declarative. 

When you create a Crossplane infrastructure configuration, that state is constantly reconciled against the target state, so there is no need to explicitly declare which actions need to be taken to revert drift back to the desired state. Crossplane will continuously reconcile the state of your infrastructure against your desired state, making it easier to manage complex infrastructure configurations. 

Use Cases and Practical Applications for Crossplane and Terraform

woman looking at use cases - Crossplane Vs Terraform

Crossplane Use Cases

Crossplane is ideal for Kubernetes-native environments where real-time configuration and orchestration are crucial. It allows unified management of both infrastructure and applications for users heavily invested in Kubernetes, providing a seamless approach. Using Crossplane, the management and reconciliation of cloud resources are performed based on configured settings. 

Terraform Use Cases

Terraform is best suited for scenarios requiring multi-cloud deployments or complex cloud infrastructure setups. With a vast ecosystem supporting numerous providers, Terraform is a mature tool that is easy to set up, use, and learn. It offers fine-grained control over infrastructure creation and management, enhancing efficiency and minimizing errors through its planning mechanism.

Overlapping Functionality

In some situations, Crossplane and Terraform can be used together to maximize their benefits. Crossplane can be utilized for real-time configuration and orchestration of Kubernetes-native environments, while Terraform can handle complex multi-cloud deployments. By leveraging both tools, users can optimize their infrastructure management and deployment strategies by combining the strengths of each tool where they are most proficient.

Can Terraform and Crossplane Be Used Together?

Combining Strengths of Crossplane and Terraform

By combining their strengths, you can leverage the broad provider ecosystem and robust infrastructure provisioning capabilities of Terraform, along with the declarative Kubernetes-native management capabilities of Crossplane. 

Combining the two can bring benefits like infrastructure provisioning flexibility, Kubernetes-native resource management, IaC practices, ease of use in multicloud and hybrid environments, and improvements to automation and continuous delivery.

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Get Control of Your Releases With Zeet's CI/CD & Deployment Platform for Kubernetes and Terraform

Zeet helps you to get more from your cloud, Kubernetes, and Terraform investments and helps your engineering team become strong individual contributors through our CI/CD & deployment platform. 

With Zeet, you can get seamless cloud deployments every time and elevate your engineering team to become a top-performing group. Contact Zeet to learn more about how Zeet can elevate your cloud deployments and help your engineering team perform at their best.

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