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Cover image for Terraform: Infrastructure as code - Part I

Terraform: Infrastructure as code - Part I

cyberomin profile image Celestine Omin Originally published at cyberomin.github.io on ・1 min read

Introduction

In the last couple of months, I have been obsessed with automation, workflows and infrastructure as code. This obsession led me to explore tools like Ansible and a little bit of Chef and how to better apply them to my everyday work.

In the last few weeks, I have been experimenting with Harshicorp’s Terraform and I must say, I’m impressed. In this article, I will like to share my findings and also document what I have learnt for posterity.

PS: I’ve created a bootstrapped Vagrant box with Terraform provisioned. You can clone the repository here and follow along.

Terraform, like every other Harshicorp products have basic commands that can be run from the CLI. But the one most frequently used Terraform command is the terraform apply. This is the command that actually allows Terraform to run and communicate with our provider(more on this later). The terraform apply command goes out to our provider and provision the resources that we have declared in our Terraform files. In simple terms, it builds or changes our infrastructure.

While the terraform apply command is great, the problem is that it doesn’t give you an early feedback of what you’re doing, luckily, Terraform provides another command terraform plan which does just that. It allows us to see how infrastructure execution plan.

The Terraform Syntax - HCL

Terraform’s code is written in Harshicorp’s proprietary language called Hashicorp Configuration Language(HCL). HCL is a structured configuration language that is intended to be both machines friendly and human readable. It’s geared mostly towards DevOps, and in the case of Terraform, its syntax allows us to describe our infrastructure as code. All Terraform codes are written in a file with a .tf extension.

Before we use Terraform and explore its power, we will need to declare a provider. This is the entry point to every Terraform program. As at the time of this post, they are well over 10 different Terraform providers and they include; AWS, Digital Ocean, Google cloud, etc. For a complete and up to date list of providers, visit the Terraform providers documentation page.

Declaring a provider is simple, you start with the keyword provider and provide the name of the provider, e.g; aws, digitalocean, google, etc.

provider "digitalocean" {
    # todo
}

Code I

The code above is how a Terraform provider is declared. That simple. The declaration above by itself does nothing and has very limited use. In order to harness its power and begin communication with the Digital Ocean cloud, we will have to provide a valid Digital Ocean token. This is how Terraform will be able to communicate with our Digital Ocean cloud.

A token can be gotten from your Digital Ocean account, simply log in and generate one. Remember to also keep this token safe and secure as bad things could happen if it gets into the wrong hands. Insert picture of how to generate Digital Ocean token

We will extend our initial code, Code I, and add our DO token.

provider "digitalocean" {
    token = "xxxx-xxxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx"
}

Code II

Our work here isn’t done, we have only told Terraform we want to work with Digital Ocean and nothing more. This, by itself does nothing, we need to create some Digital Ocean droplets. Terraform has a concept of resource, a resource is typically a service offered by your cloud hosting service, a provider in Terraform’s parlance. These resources include but not limited to; VMs(EC2, droplets), Load balancers, database, cache, etc. To create a Digital Ocean droplet, we will declare a droplet resource and pass along arguments like image type—Ubuntu, CentOS, etc, name—hostname of the machine, region—the DO region where we want this resource created, size—size of the droplet.

provider "digitalocean" {
    token = "valid digital ocean token"
}

resource "digitalocean_droplet" "web" {
    image = "ubuntu-16-04-x64"
    name = "web-1"
    region = "lon1"
    size = "1gb"   
}

Code III

The human readable form of Code III declared above translates to “create a 64 bit Ubuntu 16.04 droplet in the London 1 region and give it a size of 1gb and a hostname of web-1.” It’s worthy of note that a few things in the resource declaration above are standard. The resource keyword is standard, digitalocean_droplet is standard, this is how Terraform represent’s Digital Ocean’s droplets—it varies for other cloud providers, for example, aws_instance for AWS’ EC2 and google_compute_instance for Google’s VM. The web word is arbitrary, it serves the purpose of an identifier in this declaration, as such, you can choose whatever name pleases you. The other declaration inside the curly braces are standard and required. For information on how it’s declared for other providers, please consult the Terraform documentation.

With the code above, we have successfully declared a valid Terraform provider and created an associated resource. To run this command see its effect, we will run terraform apply on our console. At this point, Terraform will initiate a communication link with Digital Ocean and if everything goes well, create us a valid and ready to use droplet. This is a rather simplistic way of doing things and we will be diving deeper in the course of this article.

Variables

In code II, we created a Digital Ocean provider and provided it with an API token. While this get’s the job done, it’s not entirely the best way to deal with this problem. This is where the concept of a variables comes in. Like many traditional programming languages, Terraform also has a concept of a variable, albeit declared differently.

In ES6 for insta\nce, a variable can be declared with either the const or the let keyword. For instance

const name = “Bob Jones”
let age = 70

Code IV

But things are a bit different in the Terraform land. Every variable is predicated with the keyword variable followed by the variable name and a set of parameters. Terraform’s variables comes in two different flavours; input and output variables. An input variable is used to send values into a Terraform while the output variable prints result from Terraform to the stdout. Input variables can be sent in a different format; command line, from a file and an environment variable.

To create an assign data to a variable we will start with the variable keyword as seen in Code V. variable “name” {} variable “token” { default = “DO API Token” } Code V.

From the definition in Code V, if we run the Terraform code using terraform apply, Terraform will prompt us to enter a value for the name variable and wouldn’t do same for the second one, token. This is because, in the second declaration, we have provided a default value for the variable which is our Digital Ocean API token as such, Terraform picks it from there.

If we need to use this variable anywhere, we will have to invoke it like this “${var.token}”, so going back to Code II, we can modify the declaration to this format: provider “digitalocean” { token = “${var.token}” } Code VI

The advantage here is that we can use this variable in multiple locations without necessarily repeating the API token itself in multiple location. This provides tremendous power as to how we manage our code.

The output variables follow the same pattern with the input variable with the only distinction being that the output variables uses value in place of default. Below is a sample declaration of the output variable. output “ip” { value = “${digitalocean_droplet.web.ipv4_address}” } Code VII.

The declaration in Code VII tells Terraform to print the IPV4 address of our droplet to the console. So far, we have been able to create a Digital Ocean droplet, which is good, but the problem now is that we can’t ssh into our newly minted machine, which is a major issue and will definitely pose a problem for us as we go. To fix this issue, we will need to add our SSH public key to our droplet. Terraform provides us with an SSH resource aptly named digital ocean_ssh_key. To use this resource we declare it as below:

resource "digitalocean_ssh_key" "default" {
    name = "SSH Key Credential"
    public_key = "${file("/home/vagrant/.ssh/id_rsa.pub")}"
}

Code VIII

With the introduction of the SSH key resource, we will need to link it to our droplet. That way, we can SSH in using our private key. For this to happen, we will have to modify our code in Code III. The code in Code VIII uploads allows SSH public key to our droplet. Also, notice that we didn’t copy and paste our SSH key here, instead, we used a Terraform built-in function called file. The file function lets us read a file from a path. It has a basic syntax of ${file(“path/to/file")}.

If you are using the Vagrant box I provided in this article, I strongly advise that you generate a new SSH key as this box comes without one. Generating an SSH key is simple, simply run this command on your terminal ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096 -C “your email” and follow the on-screen information. I’ll strongly advise that you don’t set a passphrase for your SSH key.

provider "digitalocean" {
    token = "xxxx-xxxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx"
}

resource "digitalocean_droplet" "web" {
    image = "ubuntu-16-04-x64"
    name = "web-1"
    region = "lon1"
    size = "1gb"
    ssh_keys = ["${digitalocean_ssh_key.default.id}"]
}

Code IX

Pulling all everything together, we will have something like this:

variable "token" {
    default = "xxxx-xxxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx"
}

provider "digitalocean" {
    token = "${var.token}"
}

resource "digitalocean_ssh_key" "default" {
    name = "SSH Key Credential"
    public_key = "${file("/home/vagrant/.ssh/id_rsa.pub")}"
}

resource "digitalocean_droplet" "web" {
    image = "ubuntu-16-04-x64"
    name = "web-1"
    region = "lon1"
    size = "1gb"
    ssh_keys = ["${digitalocean_ssh_key.default.id}"]
}

output "ip" {
    value = "${digitalocean_droplet.web.ipv4_address}"
}

Code X

If we run terraform apply again, we will have an output similar to this

...

Apply complete! Resources: 1 added, 0 changed, 0 destroyed.

Outputs:

    ip = 46.XX.XXX.XXX

Control and Conditional

Unlike procedural languages, Terraform use a declarative language pattern. If you wanted to create a resource say three times, you will wrap them in a for loop, but in terraform, you will use a meta-parameter like count

It’s important to note that the count parameter available to every terraform resource has a zero-based index, similar to arrays in a traditional programming language. So if you had resource declaration like

resource "digitalocean_droplet" "web" {
    count = 4
    image = "ubuntu-16-04-x64"
    name = "web.${count.index}"
}

Code XI

From Code XI above, we will have 3 web servers created with names; web.0, web.1, web.2, web.3. Note that the names argument makes use of interpolation syntax.

If we wanted to check the truthy of something before using it, we could use another conditional which is similar to the itinerary operator in a regular programming language. It follows the pattern condition ? trueval : falseval. Let’s declare a resource that will only be available if a certain condition is met.

resource "digitalocean_loadbalancer" "pubic" {
    count = "${var.env == "production" ? 1 : 0}"
}

Code XII

From the declaration in Code XII, the DO load balancer will only exist if the environment is a production environment. Terraform also support operations like !=, >, <, >=, <= && || !.

Disclaimer

While following the examples outlined in this article, please bear in mind that there’s a cost attached to it. When you run terraform apply and create a real resource at your provider’s end, they start billing you almost immediately. As a word of caution and this apply only in a non-production environment, always try to clean after yourself. For this purpose, Terraform offers us a really handy command called terraform destroy. The terraform destroy command literally goes back to your provider and delete/destroy every single resource that you have created. This is a one-way command and cannot be undone, so I strongly advise you do this in your personal or experimental environment.

This post was originally published on cyberomin.github.io

Discussion

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Ben Halpern

Thanks a lot for this. Looking forward to reading parts 2 and on.

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Andrey Ramnikov

Very good tutorial

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Daniel Kraus

From Code XI above, we will have 3 web servers created with names; web.0, web.1, web.2, web.3.

You probably mean 4 web servers. However, nice post!