CloudFormation vs Terraform

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Managing environment and resources in the context of cloud computing environmental management is paramount. Automated systems, especially for creating and configuring infrastructure, have become apparent in supporting these; thus, Cloudformation and Terraform have become the most contenders for Infrastructure as Code (IaC). 

However, the features offered by the two are similar concerning the jobs they are likely to accomplish; it may, sometimes, be challenging to define the most appropriate tool.

Understanding Infrastructure as Code (IaC) and Its Benefits

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is an organizational style of handling infrastructure in the same manner as software, in a coded manner. This approach to accessing information differs from traditional methods involving using hands. It differs from other manual processes of configuring servers, networks, and storage in that IaC uses configuration files containing information about the infrastructure's target state. By adopting IaC, organizations can reap several benefits:

Increased efficiency and automation:-

It also means that effects like mistakes made during manual deployment or repetitive activities that can be time-consuming are eradicated with IaC.

Consistency and repeatability:-

Templates simplify the infrastructure creation process since the architecture remains standardized across various environments and minimizes configuration changes.

Version control and collaboration:-

IaC files are versioned, which makes it easier to change a branch, revert to a previous version if there is a problem, or share your work with other team members.

An Overview of CloudFormation and Terraform


Cloudformation from Amazon Web Service is a dedicated Infrastructure as a Code tool created and maintained by AWS. It has a JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) templating format to describe infrastructure components and their wanted state. CloudFormation supports governance, comprehensible control, and visibility of AWS resources and is tightly integrated with the Amazon ecosystem.


The Terraform tool from HashiCorp allows you to configure different cloud infrastructures via code. With it, one can quickly launch virtual servers across various providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud Platform, among others, using its unique programming language HCL, which implies what suppliers offer up-to-date online resource allocation.  

Comparison of CloudFormation vsTerraform




Multi-Cloud vs. AWS-specific

CloudFormation is specifically dedicated to AWS and has several enhancements to work effectively in the AWS environments only.Terraform linguists are versatile in cloud infrastructure management, especially for organizations that use multiple cloud-computing approaches, including hybrid and mutli-clouds.

Templating languages

CloudFormation uses JSON templates, which most developers are used to working with and are quite popular. However, it can have large columns of code and may need to be more flexible compared to some programming languages like JSON.Terraform’s HCL, albeit with the need for more familiarization than JSON, provides better readability and modularity and even supports features such as conditionals and loops when handling extremely intricate configurations of an infrastructure.

State management

CloudFormation manages the state internally, which is easier but may obscure it and give those building upon it less flexibility or ownership.An external state helps Terraform have an external state file, which is more maintainable and flexible to maintain and use across different environments or teams.

Modularity and reusability

CloudFormation could be more modular. It can only be somewhat modularized using nested stacks, which makes it difficult for large-scale and complicated infrastructure where patterns are repetitive.Terraform also shines with powerful features called modules. These reusable building blocks can wrap or encapsulate infrastructure components, enhancing code coherence, management, and reusability across different projects.

Community and support

CloudFormation, being a product, mostly utilizes documentation accessible via the AWS website and AWS support.As an open-source, Terraform’s strength lies in its large and actively developing community, which is made valuable by plentiful guidelines, tutorials, and easily accessible help materials available online. 

Error handling and troubleshooting

CloudFormation has improved error handling, it can sometimes provide less granular error messages, making troubleshooting more challenging. Terraform provides detailed error messages and troubleshooting information, aiding in identifying and resolving issues. It also offers features like an apply-plan to preview changes before applying them. 


Choosing the Right Tool (CloudFormation vs Terraform)

apply planCloudFormation and Terraform are great examples of infrastructure tools, such as code. Testing both and weighing their benefits against the drawbacks in light of your usage scenarios would be more beneficial in making the right decision. 

Further, some factors are given upon which you can decide which IaC tool will best support your infrastructure management endeavor.

Cloud environment:-

If your application is mostly within AWS and if you prefer native integration and managed state, then CloudFormation will prove useful.

Multi-cloud strategy:-

In particular, the support for working with multiple providers and a hybrid cloud infrastructure model is one of the key advantages of using Terraform.

Team expertise and preference:-

Pre-existing CloudFormation JSON or Terraform HCL experience from existing teams will impact the initial learning and adoption of the technology.

Complexity and scale:-

Terraform’s structural design and state management could offer finer calibration and more options in large and intricate architectures.

Learning curve:-

Considering the strengths and weaknesses of each tool, CloudFormation might outpace initial investment- JSON templates and internal state management are easier to dig than HCL and the external state of Terraform.

Security and compliance:-

Both tools provide advanced security settings and align perfectly with commonly accepted cloud industry security standards.


Terraform’s ability to operate in multiple clouds makes it future-proof for changing cloud strategies, while CloudFormation provides numerous benefits for utilizing AWS services.

Performance Comparison of CloudFormation vs Terraform

Speed of DeploymentGenerally slower due to its verbosityTypically faster with optimized modules
State ManagementManages state nativelyRequires a backend (e.g., S3, Consul)
Error HandlingDetailed error messagesClear but less detailed error messages
Complexity HandlingBetter for AWS-specific complexitiesHandles multi-cloud environments well
Resource AvailabilityImmediate for new AWS featuresThere is a slight delay until the provider update
Community SupportStrong AWS communityExtensive multi-cloud community
Learning CurveSteeper due to AWS-specific syntaxEasier with HCL (HashiCorp Configuration Language)

Useful Commands of AWS Cloud Formation

aws cloudformation create-stack
Creates a new stack using a template
aws cloudformation delete-stack
Deletes an existing stack
aws cloudformation update-stack
Updates an existing stack with changes to the template or parameters
aws cloudformation describe-stacks
Retrieves information about one or more stacks
aws cloudformation validate-template
Checks whether a CloudFormation template is valid syntax
aws cloudformation list-stacks
Lists all stacks in the account
Ref, Fn::GetAtt, Fn::ImportValue
Intrinsic functions to reference resources and attributes in templates
Outputs sectionDefines values that can be returned from a stack after it's created
Parameters sectionAllows input parameters to be passed into templates during stack creation
Mappings sectionDefines conditional mappings for template parameters based on region or environment
Resources sectionLists AWS resources and their configurations to be created or updated
Metadata sectionProvides additional information about the template or resources

Useful Commands of Terraform

terraform init
Initializes a Terraform working directory by downloading necessary providers and modules specified in the configuration.
terraform plan
Generates an execution plan
terraform apply
Applies the changes required to reach the desired state of the configuration.
terraform destroy
Destroys the Terraform-managed infrastructure
terraform validate
Validates the configuration files in the current directory, checking for syntax errors and other issues.
terraform refresh
Updates the state file with the real infrastructure data obtained from providers.
terraform show
Outputs the current state or a specific resource's state.
terraform state
Advanced command for managing Terraform state.
terraform fmt
Rewritethe  configuration files to a canonical format.
terraform import
Imports existing infrastructure into your Terraform state.
terraform workspace
Manages Terraform workspaces, allowing multiple environments to be managed separately.
data blockRetrieves data from a separate source or provider to use in Terraform configurations.
variable blockDefines input variables that can be used throughout the Terraform configuration.
output blockDefines output values that are displayed when Terraform applies a configuration.

Pricing of Cloud Formation and Terraform

Feature/AspectAWS CloudFormationTerraform
Service CostNo additional cost for using CloudFormation.No direct cost from HashiCorp for using Terraform.
Infrastructure CostCharges apply for AWS resources provisioned by CloudFormation.Charges apply for resources provisioned in cloud providers.
Support CostsIncluded as part of AWS support plans.Support plans are available from HashiCorp.
Training and CertificationAWS offers training and certification paths for CloudFormation.Terraform offers community resources and third-party training.
Integration and EcosystemIntegrates deeply with AWS services and management tools.Supports multiple cloud providers and third-party integrations.
Open SourceNot open source.Open source, with extensive community support.

Cerification of Cloud Formation and Terraform

CertificationAWS CloudFormationTerraform
AWS Certified DevOps Engineer - ProfessionalIncludes coverage of AWS CloudFormation for infrastructure automation and management.Not directly covered and focuses on broader AWS services and DevOps practices.
AWS Certified Solutions Architect - ProfessionalIncludes knowledge of AWS CloudFormation for designing and deploying scalable, cost-effective, and secure applications on AWS.Not directly covered and focuses on designing AWS solutions.
AWS Certified Developer - AssociateCovers basic understanding of CloudFormation templates and how they integrate with AWS services.focuses on AWS development and deployment best practices.
HashiCorp Certified: Terraform AssociateFocuses specifically on Terraform's capabilities, best practices, and practical use cases for provisioning infrastructure as code.Knowledge of Terraform CLI commands, configuration files, state management, and provisioning strategies.

Optimizing your cloud infrastructure journey

When choosing between Terraform or CloudFormation, you need to take into account various options which comprise but are not limited to your cloud environment and your team’s capabilities, in order to determine the amount of infrastructure management required for your project or organization. In the end, it is possible that the optimal solution would be the continued use of both tools or the transition to other offerings, such as CDK, depending on the configurations of demands and preferences. 

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