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28 Mar
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The Ultimate Terraform Workflow Guide (2024)

Mastering the Terraform workflow is essential for successful infrastructure provisioning. Discover this guide to Terraform workflows.

Jack Dwyer

Platform Engineering + DevOps

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Are you ready to optimize your Terraform workflow? Discover what is Terraform and how to make the most of its capabilities. Dive into best practices and tips to streamline your infrastructure management. Let's make Terraform work for you!

What Is a Terraform Workflow?

a flow chart for Terraform Workflow

Terraform is a tool designed for building, changing, and versioning infrastructure safely and efficiently. Terraform is a powerful tool for infrastructure as code (IaC), a practice of defining and managing infrastructure as code in machine-readable configuration files. Terraform lets you define infrastructure resources in human-readable configuration files that you can version, reuse, and share. This means you can use a consistent workflow to safely and efficiently provision and manage your infrastructure throughout its lifecycle.

With IaC and Terraform, you can manage your infrastructure more effectively than with manual processes. Rather than have manual instructions for how to provision, change, and destroy resources, you can define your infrastructure in a Terraform configuration file. You can then safely and predictably create or make changes to your infrastructure. 

What Is The Core Terraform Workflow?

team working together on Terraform Workflow

1. Write

When building infrastructure as code, the first step is to write the configuration. Much like coding applications, this process involves creating the code that will define the resources you want to provision. Terraform configurations are written in a human-readable language that describes the desired state of the infrastructure. It is a vital step in the process as it lays the foundation for the infrastructure to be created.

2. Plan

After writing the configuration, the next step is to plan the execution. The plan command in Terraform generates an execution plan that describes what Terraform will do to implement your desired infrastructure. This step allows you to see what changes Terraform will make before making them, giving you the opportunity to catch any errors or unintended consequences. The plan command is crucial for understanding the potential impact of the infrastructure changes before they are applied.

3. Apply

The final step in the Terraform workflow is to apply the changes. The apply command is used to create or modify the infrastructure as defined in the Terraform configuration files. This step provisions the actual infrastructure resources based on the defined configuration. Applying the changes ensures that the infrastructure is created in a reproducible manner, giving you confidence in the consistency and reliability of the infrastructure.

In essence, the Terraform workflow of Write, Plan, and Apply creates a loop that enables efficient infrastructure management. Through these three steps, you can author infrastructure as code, preview changes before applying them, and provision reproducible infrastructure. This iterative process is similar to working on application code, providing a familiar workflow for developers transitioning to managing infrastructure.

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How Do You Collaborate In a Terraform Workflow?

team working together on Terraform Workflow

In a Terraform project, team collaboration is crucial for ensuring smooth and efficient infrastructure management. As team members work on the Terraform configuration, they make changes in their preferred editor and save them to version control branches to avoid conflicts. 

By working in branches, the team members can resolve conflicting infrastructure changes using their regular merge conflict workflow. This method allows multiple team members to work on the project simultaneously without stepping on each other's toes, minimizing errors and ensuring consistency across configurations.

Version Control, Branching Strategies, and Continuous Integration in Terraform

Version control plays a critical role in Terraform projects, providing a structured approach to managing configuration changes. By saving changes to version control branches, team members can work on different aspects of the infrastructure without interfering with each other's progress. This practice enables team members to resolve conflicting changes seamlessly while maintaining a clear record of each modification.

When it comes to branching strategies, teams often adopt a feature branch workflow to enhance collaboration efficiency. Each team member can create a branch for a specific feature or bug fix, allowing them to work independently on their assigned tasks. This strategy promotes parallel development, streamlines the review process, and ensures that each change is thoroughly tested before being merged into the main branch.

Continuous Integration (CI) plays a crucial role in managing Terraform projects in a team setting

Instead of running Terraform operations locally, many teams opt to execute these operations in a shared CI environment. This approach minimizes the burden of managing sensitive input variables locally and enhances security by centralizing the execution of Terraform commands. By leveraging CI tools, teams can automate the testing and deployment of infrastructure changes, streamlining the development workflow and promoting consistency across environments.

Emphasizing the importance of teamwork

Terraform projects thrive when individuals work together seamlessly. By leveraging version control, branching strategies, and continuous integration, teams can collaborate effectively, manage infrastructure changes efficiently, and mitigate potential risks associated with configuration updates.

Get seamless cloud deployments

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. 

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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How To Manage A Terraform Workflow At Scale

scaling of a software - Terraform Workflow

As the number of users and complexity of projects increase, the Terraform workflow must adapt to accommodate these changes. A key concept in scaling Terraform usage is the use of workspaces. Workspaces allow organizations to hierarchically decompose their infrastructure into smaller, more manageable units. This breakdown enables teams to work independently on different parts of the infrastructure while maintaining a cohesive whole.

Organizing Infrastructure with Workspaces

Workspaces enable the organization to categorize infrastructure resources into logical groupings. This grouping allows for better organization and management of numerous infrastructure resources. By organizing infrastructure resources into meaningful groups, teams can maintain clean and manageable configurations, state data, and variables.

Enhanced Infrastructure Management

Terraform Cloud takes this concept further by managing infrastructure collections with workspaces instead of directories. Each workspace contains all the necessary information that Terraform needs to manage a specific collection of infrastructure. As a result, separate workspaces function as entirely separate working directories, enhancing scalability and manageability.

Utilizing the Workspace Features

When working with Terraform Cloud, users have access to a range of workspace features that enhance the scalability of the workflow. These features include the ability to list and filter workspaces based on various criteria. Filters such as project, run status, tags, status, health, and column sorting allow users to narrow down their search and focus on specific workspaces of interest.

Enhanced Workspace Navigation with Filters

The project filter enables users to view only the workspaces within a selected project, streamlining the workspace list for easier navigation. Quick filter buttons for run statuses such as Needs Attention, Errored, Running, On Hold, and Applied provide a convenient way to group workspaces based on their current status.

Granular Workspace Filtering Options

The tag filter, status filter, and health filter offer users more granular control over the workspace list, allowing them to focus on specific groups of workspaces. The workspace search bar provides a quick and efficient way to find workspaces by name, further enhancing the user experience.

By utilizing these workspace features, organizations can effectively scale their Terraform usage, manage numerous infrastructure collections, and streamline their workflow for increased productivity and efficiency.

Fundamentals Of A Secure Terraform Workflow

woman creating a secure Terraform Workflow

1: Safely Managing Secrets in Terraform

To securely manage secrets such as API keys, passwords, and certificates within Terraform, I recommend using strategies like leveraging environment variables, encrypted secrets management services, and Terraform's built-in functions. These approaches help avoid hard-coding sensitive information in Terraform files, which can enhance the overall security posture of your infrastructure.

2: Utilizing Terraform Modules with Security in Mind

When utilizing modules from the Terraform Registry or third-party sources, it's crucial to consider their impact on security. To ensure security, vet these modules for any potential vulnerabilities, understand their maintenance and update policies, and assess their trustworthiness. By carefully evaluating modules, you can reduce the risk of introducing security issues into your infrastructure.

3: Implementing Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) with Terraform

Implementing Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) with tools like Terraform Cloud or Terraform Enterprise helps control who can access and perform operations on your Terraform infrastructure. By setting up policies that limit access based on the principle of least privilege, you can enhance your infrastructure's security and reduce the risk of unauthorized access or malicious activity.

4: Auditing and Compliance in a Secure Terraform Workflow

Auditing and compliance play a crucial role in maintaining a secure Terraform workflow. Tools like Terraform Cloud's audit logs and policy-as-code frameworks such as Sentinel can help enforce security policies and ensure compliance with industry standards and regulations. By regularly auditing and ensuring compliance, you can mitigate potential security risks and maintain a secure infrastructure.

5: Continuous Security Monitoring in Terraform

Integrating continuous monitoring tools into your Terraform workflow is essential for detecting and responding to security threats in real-time. By leveraging security scanning tools that can analyze Terraform plans and identify potential security issues before deployment, you can proactively address security vulnerabilities and maintain a secure infrastructure.

Optimizing Cloud and Kubernetes Investments with Zeet

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. 

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.

Customizing and Extending Your Terraform Workflow

extending and customizing Terraform Workflow

Terraform's open-source nature allows for a high degree of customization and extensibility, making it a versatile tool for infrastructure management. This flexibility is one of Terraform's core strengths, enabling users to adapt the tool to their specific needs. Users can create their own providers and modules to support unique resources or use cases not covered by existing ones. This adaptability empowers users to tailor Terraform to their infrastructure requirements, creating a highly customized environment.

Role of Plugins in Terraform

Plugins play a crucial role in extending Terraform's functionality, providing additional features and capabilities beyond the core toolset. These plugins enhance Terraform's utility by offering solutions to specific use cases and challenges faced by users. 

Various plugins are available that cater to distinct needs, such as security, cost estimation, documentation generation, resource imports, IAM permissions, and multi-stack management. These plugins enhance the efficiency, security, and manageability of Terraform workflows, contributing to a more streamlined and effective infrastructure management process.

Examples of Popular Plugins and Scenarios

1. Checkmarx Kics

Helps in identifying vulnerabilities, compliance issues, and infrastructure misconfigurations early in the development cycle, making it suitable for enhancing the security posture of your Terraform code.

2. Snyk

A security platform that aids developers in finding and fixing vulnerabilities in their dependencies, including Terraform, ideal for projects relying on open-source components.

3. Driftctl

Detects resources that have drifted from your desired state, crucial for maintaining consistency and compliance in cloud environments.

4. Infracost

Provides cost estimates for Terraform projects, assisting in budget management and cost optimization before deployment.

5. Terraformer

Scans your cloud environment and generates Terraform code for existing resources, facilitating the transition from manual cloud setups to Infrastructure as Code (IaC).

6. Pike

Analyzes Terraform resources to generate necessary IAM permissions, streamlining the setup of secure access control for cloud deployments.

7. Terracognita

Imports existing cloud resources into Terraform code, supporting AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, and VMware VSphere, ideal for organizations transitioning to IaC.

8. Yor

Automatically adds informative and consistent tags across IaC tools, aiding in resource traceability and governance.

9. Terraform Docs

Automatically generates documentation from Terraform configuration files, simplifying the documentation process for Terraform projects.

10. TFSwitch

A utility for managing multiple Terraform versions, essential for projects needing to switch between Terraform versions with ease.

11. Terramate

Helps manage large Terraform deployments by breaking the code into "stacks" with separate states, optimizing for large-scale and multi-environment deployments.

12. Terragrunt

Enhances Terraform's DRY principles and management of multiple stacks, suitable for complex Terraform setups across multiple cloud accounts and modules.

13. Tenv

Specialized version manager for managing multiple versions of Terraform and Terragrunt, beneficial for development workflows across multiple project environments.

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Zeet helps you get more from your cloud, Kubernetes, and Terraform investment. Our CI/CD & deployment platform will help your engineering team become strong individual contributors. With Zeet, your team will have the tools and resources needed to become a top-performing engineering team. 

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