Tag Archive modules

ByNigel Meakins

Terraform Modules and Code Structure

This entry is part [part not set] of 8 in the series Terraform on Azure

Applying Structure to your Resource Definitions

In this article I’ll be going over how best to structure your Terraform resource code into modules. This draws on the practices outlined in the site https://www.terraform-best-practices.com and the accompanying GitHub at https://github.com/antonbabenko/terraform-best-practices. It is intended to act as a summary of that content together with some of my own observations and suggestions thrown in for good measure. Although not technically Azure related, it is a subject central to your best Infrastructure as Code endeavours with Terraform.


Structuring your resource code into modules makes them reusable and easily maintainable. I guess you could say it makes them, well, modular. You can find out all about modules from the Terraform docs at https://www.terraform.io/docs/modules/composition.html so I won’t go into them too much here.


Modules become particularly powerful when you start to publish them centrally. Terraform supports a number of repositories for these, such as file shares, GitHub, BitBucket and Terraform Registry. Users can then reference the repository modules for use within their own deployments.

Module Definitions

How you determine what constitutes a module is really down to you. It will depend on how your deployments are structured and how you reuse resource definitions. Terraform recommend dividing into natural groupings such as networking, databases, virtual machines, etc. However you decide to chunk up your infrastructure deployment definitions, there are some guidelines on what to include.

Each module is contained in its own folder and should contain a file for each of the following:

  • The resource configuration definitions. This is typically named main.tf
  • The outputs to be consumed outside of the module. Again, no surprises at being called outputs.tf
  • The variables that are used within the module. Hardly surprisingly this is typically called variables.tf

Some teams go a little further and split up certain resource types within the module, such as security or network resources, into their own separate .tf files to be used as well as main.tf. This may make sense where the module contains a large number of resources, and managing them in a single main.tf file becomes unwieldy.

Module ‘Contracts’

In Object Oriented terms, you can loosely equate the variables to class method parameters required for the module. Similarly the Outputs are like the returns from methods and the main as the class itself. I’m sure there are plenty of purists that would point out floors in this comparison. However, conceptually it is good enough when thinking about how to encapsulate things (if you squint a bit). The variables and the outputs should form a sort of contract for use of the module. As such these definitions should try and remain relatively constant like the best library interfaces try to.

You can of course nest module folders within other module folders. However, generally speaking, it is not recommended to have very deep nested module hierarchies as this can make development difficult. Typically one level of modules, usually in a folder called ‘modules’ (again no prizes for originality here) is the accepted standard. You may of course opt for calling your folder ‘Bernard’, or ‘marzipan’ or whatever you like. Let’s face it though ‘modules’ is probably a lot more self-explanatory.

A basic module might look like the following:

module structure

Referencing Modules

With your modules nicely encapsulated for potential reuse and standards and all that loveliness, you need to make use of them. In your root module, being the top level entry point of your Terraform configuration code, you add references such as shown below:

module "sqldatabase-plan9" {
    source                    = "./modules/sqldatabase"

    resource_group_name             = "${azurerm_resource_group.martians.name}"

    sql_server_name                 = "${local.sql_server_alien_invasion}"
    sql_server_version              = "${var.sql_server_version}"

This then defines a resource using the module. Simply add your variable assignments that will be used within the module as required and you’re good to go.

Some teams like prefixes (mod-, m- etc.) on these files in order to distinguish them from resources that are standalone, single-file definitions (in turn perhaps prefixed res-, r-). I’m not a big fan of prefixing by subtypes (remember Hungarian Notation..?) as this tends to get in the way of writing code. For me, simple naming that aligns with other resource file naming makes more sense.

Variables Overload?

One area to be mindful of is to not introduce variables for every attribute of your module’s resources. If an attribute is not going to be subject to change then it won’t need a variable. Remembering the maintenance of your code is a key consideration of any good ‘Coding Citizen’. Too many variables will quickly overwhelm those not familiar.

There is of course a balance to be struck here. Too few variables and you can’t really reuse your module as it is too specific for others’ needs. It may make sense to have variations on modules that have various attributes preset for a specific workload. For example a certain Virtual Machine role type will ordinarily have a bunch of attributes that don’t differ. The standard advice of using your best judgement and a little forethought applies as with most things. Personally I’d rather work with two modules that are specific than one that is vague and requires supplying many more variables.

Summing Up

So that just about covers the main points I have to share on Terraform modules and resource code structure. I hope this has provided some insight and guidance of value based on my adventures in Terraform module land. They’re definitely worth getting familiar with early on to simplify and structure your efforts. As your organisation’s deployments grow, maturity in this area will soon pay off for all involved.

The last post in this series (I know, gutting right?) coming up soon will cover Tips and Tricks with Terraform and Azure DevOps that I’ve picked up on my travels. Thanks for reading and stay safe.

ByNigel Meakins

Modularisation of Terraform and ARM Templates

This entry is part [part not set] of 8 in the series Terraform on Azure

Modularised Deployment Definition

When it comes to code, everyone loves reuse. DRY is a great principle to follow for any elements of your work and IaC is no exception. Having a modularised deployment definition for resources that is centrally managed, parameterised to allow amending for different deployment scenarios/environments provides massive benefits. So let’s take a quick look at how we achieve modularisation of ARM Templates and Terraform.

Nested ARM Templates

ARM Templates

Linked/Nested Templates

ARM allows the calling of templates within templates, using links to other templates within a parent template. This means we can use a modularised deployment definition by separating out across multiple files for ease of maintenance and reuse. There is one rather annoying requirement for this however, and this is that the linked file needs to be accessible from Azure’s deployment executor at the time of deployment. This means storing the templates in a location accessible from within Azure, such as a blob storage account. If we are to use linked templates, we then need to manage the deployment of the files to this location as a prerequisite to the deployment execution. We also can’t ‘peak’ into these files to validate any content or leverage any intellisense from within tools.

Close Coupled Parameter Files

The close coupling of ARM Template parameters with parameter files that we mentioned in the post Deployments with Terraform and ARM Templates does provide some challenges when it comes to centralising definitions across a complete deployment. As previously mentioned, we can include only those parameters within the file that are expected by the respective ARM template. This prevents us from using a single file for all parameters should we desire to do so.

Template Outputs

ARM does allow us to define outputs from linked/nested templates that can be passed back to parent templates. This is useful for items such as Resource IDs and other deployment time values.


Terraform Modules

Terraform .tf files can be directly referenced from other modules. You can defined one or more .tf files within a directory, with an associated variable definition file if desired. A simple example of referencing one module from another is shown below.

module "network" {
  source = "./modules/vpn-network"

  address_space = ""

Here we are setting an argument for the referenced resource (an ‘azurerm_virtual_network’) address_space as required from within the referencing module. We can also pass in the values for any predefined variables using the same syntax as we have done above for the resource argument, using the variable name rather than the name of a resource argument.

The module references can done using relative local paths, git/GitHub repositories, centralised Terraform registries (public or private), HTTP urls and Azure storage/Amazon S3/GCS Buckets. This offers pretty much any solution to centralised storage that administrators might want to leverage. It also provides a more flexible modularised approach to deployment definition than that offered by ARM templates. Any required modules are acquired as required by the Terraform executor machine within the initialisation stage using the ‘Terraform Init’ action.

The management of these modules is no more complex than managing any code artifacts within your organisation. No concerns over missing redeployment of linked files, and a great selection of options for centralised management. For me this is a big benefit for deployments that involve anything beyond the most basic of resources.

Deployment-Wide Variable Files

Terraform allows variable files to contain all variables required by the deployment with no issues for redundant entries. Variables can be passed in to other Terraform modules as required allowing you to practice concepts such as ‘dependency inversion’, whereby the called module accepts input from the calling module and has no care for what the calling module passes.

Module Outputs

Each Terraform module can also supply outputs, thereby allowing passing back of resultant items such as Resource IDs and the like (as with ARM templates), for use in the calling module.


The modularisation of Terraform and ARM Templates use different approaches that provide varying levels of reuse and centralised management. The linked/nested templates provided by ARM Templates lack the flexibility of referencing and storing that are provided by Terraform. The additional steps required to ensure that the linked files are in place when needed does present a source of potential deployment failure. Terraform’s ability to retrieve modules from pretty much any repository type offers considerable advantages. When coupled with the less restrictive use of variables compared to ARM parameters, Terraform comes out clearly on top in this area.

You can find a great guide on IaC best practices using Terraform and Azure from Julien Corioland of Microsoft at https://github.com/jcorioland/terraform-azure-reference.