Docker Compose vs Terraform: What are the differences?
Developers describe Docker Compose as "Define and run multi-container applications with Docker". With Compose, you define a multi-container application in a single file, then spin your application up in a single command which does everything that needs to be done to get it running. 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.
Docker Compose and Terraform are primarily classified as "Container" and "Infrastructure Build" tools respectively.
"Multi-container descriptor" is the top reason why over 111 developers like Docker Compose, while over 80 developers mention "Infrastructure as code" as the leading cause for choosing Terraform.
Docker Compose and Terraform are both open source tools. Terraform with 17.4K GitHub stars and 4.77K forks on GitHub appears to be more popular than Docker Compose with 16.4K GitHub stars and 2.52K GitHub forks.
StackShare, hike, and Harvest are some of the popular companies that use Docker Compose, whereas Terraform is used by Instacart, Slack, and Twitch. Docker Compose has a broader approval, being mentioned in 787 company stacks & 608 developers stacks; compared to Terraform, which is listed in 490 company stacks and 298 developer stacks.
Because Pulumi uses real programming languages, you can actually write abstractions for your infrastructure code, which is incredibly empowering. You still 'describe' your desired state, but by having a programming language at your fingers, you can factor out patterns, and package it up for easier consumption.
We use Terraform to manage AWS cloud environment for the project. It is pretty complex, largely static, security-focused, and constantly evolving.
Terraform provides descriptive (declarative) way of defining the target configuration, where it can work out the dependencies between configuration elements and apply differences without re-provisioning the entire cloud stack.Advantages
Terraform is vendor-neutral in a way that it is using a common configuration language (HCL) with plugins (providers) for multiple cloud and service providers.
Terraform keeps track of the previous state of the deployment and applies incremental changes, resulting in faster deployment times.
Terraform allows us to share reusable modules between projects. We have built an impressive library of modules internally, which makes it very easy to assemble a new project from pre-fabricated building blocks.Disadvantages
Software is imperfect, and Terraform is no exception. Occasionally we hit annoying bugs that we have to work around. The interaction with any underlying APIs is encapsulated inside 3rd party Terraform providers, and any bug fixes or new features require a provider release. Some providers have very poor coverage of the underlying APIs.
Terraform is not great for managing highly dynamic parts of cloud environments. That part is better delegated to other tools or scripts.
Terraform state may go out of sync with the target environment or with the source configuration, which often results in painful reconciliation.
I personally am not a huge fan of vendor lock in for multiple reasons:
- I've seen cost saving moves to the cloud end up costing a fortune and trapping companies due to over utilization of cloud specific features.
- I've seen S3 failures nearly take down half the internet.
- I've seen companies get stuck in the cloud because they aren't built cloud agnostic.
I choose to use terraform for my cloud provisioning for these reasons:
- It's cloud agnostic so I can use it no matter where I am.
- It isn't difficult to use and uses a relatively easy to read language.
- It tests infrastructure before running it, and enables me to see and keep changes up to date.
- It runs from the same CLI I do most of my CM work from.
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