AWS CloudFormation
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AWS CloudFormation vs Terraform: What are the differences?

Developers describe AWS CloudFormation as "Create and manage a collection of related AWS resources". You can use AWS CloudFormation’s sample templates or create your own templates to describe the AWS resources, and any associated dependencies or runtime parameters, required to run your application. You don’t need to figure out the order in which AWS services need to be provisioned or the subtleties of how to make those dependencies work. On the other hand, Terraform is detailed as "Describe your complete infrastructure as code and build resources across providers". With Terraform, you describe your complete infrastructure as code, even as it spans multiple service providers. Your servers may come from AWS, your DNS may come from CloudFlare, and your database may come from Heroku. Terraform will build all these resources across all these providers in parallel.

AWS CloudFormation and Terraform belong to "Infrastructure Build Tools" category of the tech stack.

Some of the features offered by AWS CloudFormation are:

  • AWS CloudFormation comes with the following ready-to-run sample templates: WordPress (blog),Tracks (project tracking), Gollum (wiki used by GitHub), Drupal (content management), Joomla (content management), Insoshi (social apps), Redmine (project mgmt)
  • No Need to Reinvent the Wheel – A template can be used repeatedly to create identical copies of the same stack (or to use as a foundation to start a new stack)
  • Transparent and Open – Templates are simple JSON formatted text files that can be placed under your normal source control mechanisms, stored in private or public locations such as Amazon S3 and exchanged via email.

On the other hand, Terraform provides the following key features:

  • Infrastructure as Code: Infrastructure is described using a high-level configuration syntax. This allows a blueprint of your datacenter to be versioned and treated as you would any other code. Additionally, infrastructure can be shared and re-used.
  • Execution Plans: Terraform has a "planning" step where it generates an execution plan. The execution plan shows what Terraform will do when you call apply. This lets you avoid any surprises when Terraform manipulates infrastructure.
  • Resource Graph: Terraform builds a graph of all your resources, and parallelizes the creation and modification of any non-dependent resources. Because of this, Terraform builds infrastructure as efficiently as possible, and operators get insight into dependencies in their infrastructure.

"Automates infrastructure deployments" is the primary reason why developers consider AWS CloudFormation over the competitors, whereas "Infrastructure as code" was stated as the key factor in picking Terraform.

Terraform is an open source tool with 17.4K GitHub stars and 4.77K GitHub forks. Here's a link to Terraform's open source repository on GitHub.

Instacart, Slack, and Twitch are some of the popular companies that use Terraform, whereas AWS CloudFormation is used by TimeHop, Custora, and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Terraform has a broader approval, being mentioned in 490 company stacks & 298 developers stacks; compared to AWS CloudFormation, which is listed in 195 company stacks and 75 developer stacks.

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What is AWS CloudFormation?

You can use AWS CloudFormation’s sample templates or create your own templates to describe the AWS resources, and any associated dependencies or runtime parameters, required to run your application. You don’t need to figure out the order in which AWS services need to be provisioned or the subtleties of how to make those dependencies work.

What is Terraform?

With Terraform, you describe your complete infrastructure as code, even as it spans multiple service providers. Your servers may come from AWS, your DNS may come from CloudFlare, and your database may come from Heroku. Terraform will build all these resources across all these providers in parallel.

Want advice about which of these to choose?Ask the StackShare community!

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    What are some alternatives to AWS CloudFormation and Terraform?
    AWS CodeDeploy
    AWS CodeDeploy is a service that automates code deployments to Amazon EC2 instances. AWS CodeDeploy makes it easier for you to rapidly release new features, helps you avoid downtime during deployment, and handles the complexity of updating your applications.
    Chef
    Chef enables you to manage and scale cloud infrastructure with no downtime or interruptions. Freely move applications and configurations from one cloud to another. Chef is integrated with all major cloud providers including Amazon EC2, VMWare, IBM Smartcloud, Rackspace, OpenStack, Windows Azure, HP Cloud, Google Compute Engine, Joyent Cloud and others.
    AWS Elastic Beanstalk
    Once you upload your application, Elastic Beanstalk automatically handles the deployment details of capacity provisioning, load balancing, auto-scaling, and application health monitoring.
    Packer
    Packer automates the creation of any type of machine image. It embraces modern configuration management by encouraging you to use automated scripts to install and configure the software within your Packer-made images.
    GeoEngineer
    GeoEngineer uses Terraform to plan and execute changes, so the DSL to describe resources is similar to Terraform's. GeoEngineer's DSL also provides programming and object oriented features like inheritance, abstraction, branching and looping.
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    Decisions about AWS CloudFormation and Terraform
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    How developers use AWS CloudFormation and Terraform
    Avatar of CloudRepo
    CloudRepo uses AWS CloudFormationAWS CloudFormation

    Manually clicking around the AWS UI or scripting AWS CLI calls can be both a slow and brittle process.

    We needed to be able to reconstruct CloudRepo's infrastructure in case of disaster or moving to another AWS Region.

    Setting up our infrastructure with CloudFormation allows us to update it easily as well as duplicate or recreate things when the need arises.

    Avatar of Opstax Ltd
    Opstax Ltd uses AWS CloudFormationAWS CloudFormation

    Opstax uses CloudFormation for anything infrastructure related! CloudFormation allows us to use infrastructure-as-code as a constant blueprint/map of our environment. It means we can accurately and efficiently deploy replicated or new infrastructure with no time wasted clicking around and no human error.

    Avatar of Royal Icing
    Royal Icing uses TerraformTerraform

    Terraform makes it so easy to deploy AWS and Google Cloud services, with the declarative approach avoiding so many headaches of manual work and possible mistakes.

    Avatar of Flux Work
    Flux Work uses AWS CloudFormationAWS CloudFormation

    Manage infrastructure as codes. Native AWS solution so it has better support to AWS resources than Terraform, also can leverage AWS Business Support.

    Avatar of Bùi Thanh
    Bùi Thanh uses TerraformTerraform
    • Infrastructure as Code.
    • Central tool to deploy all infratructure: AWS, CloudFlare, StatusCake
    Avatar of Prime Technologies
    Prime Technologies uses TerraformTerraform

    The entire AWS environments is described and setup using Terraform.

    Avatar of Binded
    Binded uses TerraformTerraform

    All of our infrastructure is stored as code thanks to Terraform.

    Avatar of Razorpay
    Razorpay uses TerraformTerraform

    We orchestrate our AWS infrastructure using Terraform.

    Avatar of Endource
    Endource uses AWS CloudFormationAWS CloudFormation

    Manages the infrastructure for core website

    Avatar of Patty R
    Patty R uses AWS CloudFormationAWS CloudFormation

    Deploys and maintains the infrastructure.

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