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Terraform Cheatsheet

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PPA Install  

The following chained commands will install the Hashicorp GPG key, add their PPA, and use that to install Terraform.

curl -fsSL | sudo apt-key add - \
  && sudo apt-add-repository "deb [arch=amd64] $(lsb_release -cs) main" \
  && sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install terraform -y

This will install Terraform version 1.0.0 at the time of updating this post.

Snap Install  

You can install the the terraform CLI tool con Ubuntu 20.04 by running:

sudo snap install terraform

... however, this will install Terraform v0.11.11 which will not work with some of the examples I provide, which need 0.12+.


File Extension  

Terraform files should have the .tf extension


Terraform will create the following files/folders that you may wish to add to your .gitignore file.

  • .terraform
  • .tfstate
  • .tfstate.backup


Please refer here instead.

AWS Authentication  

To use terraform with AWS, you will need to provide it with your access key and secret. You can do this by running:

export AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID=yourKeyId
export AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY=yourKeySecret

Basic Example  

The following terraform file will deploy a basic webserver (in London) that runs on port 8080 and will just respond with "Hello World". To "run" it, execute terraform apply.

provider "aws" {
  region = "eu-west-2"

# Create security group to allow port 8080
resource "aws_security_group" "instance" {
  name = "terraform-example-instance"

  ingress {
    from_port   = 8080
    to_port     = 8080
    protocol    = "tcp"
    cidr_blocks = [""]

# Create the ubuntu 20.04 EC2 webserver resource 
# that uses the above security group
resource "aws_instance" "example" {
  ami                    = "ami-05c424d59413a2876"
  instance_type          = "t2.micro"
  vpc_security_group_ids = []

  user_data = <<-EOF
              /usr/bin/sleep 10
              /usr/bin/echo "Hello, World" > index.html
              /usr/bin/nohup /usr/bin/busybox httpd -f -p 8080 &

  tags = {
    Name = "terraform-example"

If you wish to change the region, you will also need to change the AMI ID as AMIs are tied to regions.

After executing that successfully, log into your amazon web console, find the instance to find its IP address and go to that in your browser with :8080 on the end.

You should see "Hello World" in your browser. If it doesn't appear, just wait a bit. It takes quite a while before its ready, especially after I had to put in a sleep to make the script work.


Variables can be defined like so:

variable "aws_region" {
    type = string
    description = "The region to deploy to. E.g. eu-west-2 for London."
    default = "eu-west-2"

You don't have to provide a default or description. They just help when it comes to someone specifying the values.


  • string
  • number
  • bool
  • list - a sequence of values, like ["us-west-1a", "us-west-1c"]. Elements in a list or tuple are identified by consecutive whole numbers, starting with zero.
  • tuple (alias of list)
  • map - a group of values identified by named labels. E.g. {name = "Mabel", age = 52}
  • object - alias of map

Set Values In File

To automatically provide the values for the variables, it is good to create a file with the .tfvars extension, with values for the variables. E.g.


Be sure to add these .tfvars files to your .gitignore files.

Multi-line Variable

If you need to provide a multi-line string for a variable, when using a .tfvars file, one can just make use of heredoc strings like so:

example = <<-EOT
-----END PUBLIC KEY-----

If not using a .tfvars file, then refer to this StackOverflow post.


After you create resources using Terraform, you will likely need to know their names/identifiers to then start using them. E.g. you need to know the IP address of the EC2 server you just deployed. You do this by declaring an output block. E.g.

output "my_ec2_ip" {
    value = aws_eip.my_elastic_ip.public_ip

This will cause them to be printed out out at the end of performing a terraform apply operation.

Show Outputs  

You can run the command:

terraform output

... which will just print out the outputs.

You can also use the command:

terraform show

... which will print out more, with the outputs at the very end.

Sensitive Outputs  

You can mark some outputs as sensitive so that they will be hidden from the output. Some attributes, like AWS IAM credentials have to be marked as sensitive in order to have them as an output, otherwise terraform apply won't even run.


You may notice that the sensitive outputs are hidden (showing myOutputName = <sensitive>) when you run the commands to show outputs.

In order to be able to retrieve these sensitive values, you can just add the -json flag like so:

terraform output -json


terraform show -json

That will output a massive JSON from which you would have to find your sensitive values.

If you just want a specific output you can just specify it, and it will not be hidden.

terraform output mySensitiveOutputName

If using terraform show you can save yourself a lot of effort trying to find the needle with the help of jq like so:

terraform show -json | jq  '.values.outputs.name_of_my_output'

E.g. if the name of your output was my_super_secret_thing, then you would need:

terraform show -json | jq  '.values.outputs.my_super_secret_thing'

... or if you just want to see all of the outputs, you can use:

terraform show -json | jq  '.values.outputs'

String Substitution  

This is best demonstrated with an example. Below, I am creating the value by using both a dynamic resource ID, and an input variable, with fixed/known string content

output "ecr_registry" {
    value = "${aws_ecr_repository.compute_engine_ecr.registry_id}.dkr.ecr.${var.aws_region}"


The Terraform language doesn't support user-defined functions, but has a number of built-in functions that can be used in expressions to transform and combine values.

For example, the merge command is very commonly useful:

tags = merge({Name = "NameForMyThing"}, local.common_tags)

To see the full list of functions, refer to the docs functions page, and look to the pane on the left for the various types.


Refer to: Terraform Locals: What Are They, How to Use Them [Examples]



The "language" is called HCL (Hashicorp Configuration language).


Packer is HashiCorp's (the makers of Terraform) open-source tool for creating machine images from source configuration. You can configure Packer images with an operating system and software for your specific use-case.


Last updated: 2nd February 2024
First published: 24th September 2020