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Terraform Cheat Sheet – 23 Terraform CLI Commands & Examples

Terraform Cheat Sheet

Sometimes you just want to get straight to the commands you need to use with a particular tool, without having to trawl through all the documentation. In this post, I’ll highlight the commonly used commands used on the Terraform CLI so you can get straight into the action without the pain! You will also find here a Terraform Cheat Sheet PDF version to download.

This Terraform command reference guide was written using the latest version of Terraform v.1.3.7. New commands and subcommands can be added and depreciated over time with different versions, but should not change too dramatically. You can get the latest version of Terraform here.

Note: New versions of Terraform will be placed under the BUSL license, but everything created before version 1.5.x stays open-source. OpenTofu is an open-source version of Terraform that will expand on Terraform’s existing concepts and offerings. It is a viable alternative to HashiCorp’s Terraform, being forked from Terraform version 1.5.6. OpenTofu retained all the features and functionalities that had made Terraform popular among developers while also introducing improvements and enhancements. OpenTofu works with your existing Terraform state file, so you won’t have any issues when you are migrating to it. 

Terraform Commands Cheat Sheet:

Get Help

terraform -help — Get a list of available commands for execution with descriptions. Can be used with any other subcommand to get more information.

terraform fmt -help — Display help options for the fmt command.

Show Your Terraform Version

terraform version — Show the current version of your Terraform and notifies you if there is a newer version available for download.

Format Your Terraform Code

This should be the first command you run after creating your configuration files to ensure your code is formatted using the HCL standards. This makes it easier to follow and aids collaboration.

terraform fmt — Format your Terraform configuration files using the HCL language standard.

terraform fmt --recursive — Also format files in subdirectories

terraform fmt --diff — Display differences between original configuration files and formatting changes.

terraform fmt --check — Useful in automation CI/CD pipelines, the check flag can be used to ensure the configuration files are formatted correctly, if not the exit status will be non-zero. If files are formatted correctly, the exit status will be zero.

Initialize Your Directory

terraform init — In order to prepare the working directory for use with Terraform, the terraform init command performs Backend Initialization, Child Module Installation, and Plugin Installation.

terraform init -get-plugins=false — Initialize the working directory, do not download plugins.

terraform init -lock=false — Initialize the working directory, don’t hold a state lock during backend migration.

terraform init -input=false — Initialize the working directory, and disable interactive prompts.

terraform init -migrate-state — Reconfigure a backend, and attempt to migrate any existing state.

terraform init -verify-plugins=false — Initialize the working directory, do not verify plugins for Hashicorp signature

See our detailed rundown of the terraform init command!

Download and Install Modules

Note this is usually not required as this is part of the terraform init command.

terraform get — Download and installs modules needed for the configuration.

terraform get -update — Check the versions of the already installed modules against the available modules and installs the newer versions if available.

Validate Your Terraform Code

terraform validate — Validate the configuration files in your directory and does not access any remote state or services. terraform init should be run before this command.

terraform validate -json — To see easier the number of errors and warnings that you have.

Learn how to validate your configuration locally.

Plan Your Infrastructure

terraform plan — Plan will generate an execution plan, showing you what actions will be taken without actually performing the planned actions.

terraform plan -out=<path> — Save the plan file to a given path. Can then be passed to the terraform apply command.

terraform plan -destroy — Create a plan to destroy all objects rather than the usual actions.

Deploy Your Infrastructure

terraform apply — Create or update infrastructure depending on the configuration files. By default, a plan will be generated first and will need to be approved before it is applied.

terraform apply -auto-approve — Apply changes without having to interactively type ‘yes’ to the plan. Useful in automation CI/CD pipelines.

terraform apply <planfilename> — Provide the file generated using the terraform plan -out command. If provided, Terraform will take the actions in the plan without any confirmation prompts.

terraform apply -lock=false — Do not hold a state lock during the Terraform apply operation. Use with caution if other engineers might run concurrent commands against the same workspace.

terraform apply -parallelism=<n> — Specify the number of operations run in parallel.

terraform apply -var="environment=dev" — Pass in a variable value.

terraform apply -var-file="varfile.tfvars" — Pass in variables contained in a file.

terraform apply -target=”module.appgw.0" — Apply changes only to the targeted resource.

Destroy Your Infrastructure

terraform destroy — Destroy the infrastructure managed by Terraform.

terraform destroy -target=”module.appgw.0" — Destroy only the targeted resource.

terraform destroy --auto-approve — Destroy the infrastructure without having to interactively type ‘yes’ to the plan. Useful in automation CI/CD pipelines.

terraform destroy -target="module.appgw.resource[\"key\"]" — Destroy an instance of a resource created with for_each.

‘Taint’ or ‘Untaint’ Your Resources

Use the taint command to mark a resource as not fully functional. It will be deleted and re-created.

terraform taint vm1.name — Taint a specified resource instance.

terraform untaint vm1.name — Untaint the already tainted resource instance.

Refresh the State File

terraform refresh — Modify the state file with updated metadata containing information on the resources being managed in Terraform. Will not modify your infrastructure.

View Your State File

terraform show — Show the state file in a human-readable format.

terraform show <path to statefile> — If you want to read a specific state file, you can provide the path to it. If no path is provided, the current state file is shown.

Manipulate Your State File

terraform state — One of the following subcommands must be used with this command in order to manipulate the state file.

terraform state list — Lists out all the resources that are tracked in the current state file.

terraform state mv — Move an item in the state, for example, this is useful when you need to tell Terraform that an item has been renamed, e.g. terraform state mv vm1.oldname vm1.newname

terraform state pull > state.tfstate — Get the current state and outputs it to a local file.

terraform state push — Update remote state from the local state file.

terraform state replace-provider hashicorp/azurerm customproviderregistry/azurerm — Replace a provider, useful when switching to using a custom provider registry.

terraform state rm — Remove the specified instance from the state file. Useful when a resource has been manually deleted outside of Terraform.

terraform state show <resourcename> — Show the specified resource in the state file.

Import Existing Infrastructure into Your Terraform State

terraform import vm1.name -i id123 — Import a VM with id123 into the configuration defined in the configuration files under vm1.name.

See our terraform import tutorial for more details.

Btw. We created a comprehensive pdf version of Terraform Cheatsheet dedicated to those who want to learn and remember the key Terraform commands and have a quick reference guide in pdf form. You can get it below. 

Download Terraform Cheat Sheet for Free


Get Provider Information

terraform providers — Display a tree of providers used in the configuration files and their requirements.

Manage Your Workspaces

terraform workspace — One of the following subcommands must be used with the workspace command. Workspaces can be useful when an engineer wants to test a slightly different version of the code. It is not recommended to use Workspaces to isolate or separate the same infrastructure between different development stages, e.g. Dev / UAT / Production, or different internal teams.

terraform workspace show — Show the name of the current workspace.

terraform workspace list — List your workspaces.

terraform workspace select <workspace name> — Select a specified workspace.

terraform workspace new <workspace name> — Create a new workspace with a specified name.

terraform workspace delete <workspace name> — Delete a specified workspace.

View Your Outputs

terraform output — List all the outputs currently held in your state file. These are displayed by default at the end of a terraform apply, this command can be useful if you want to view them independently.

terraform output -state=<path to state file> — List the outputs held in the specified state file. -state option is ignored when the remote state is used.

terraform output -json — List the outputs held in your state file in JSON format to make them machine-readable.

terraform output vm1_public_ip — List a specific output held in your state file.

Release a Lock on Your Workspace

terraform force-unlock <lock_id> — Remove the lock with the specified lock ID from your workspace. Useful when a lock has become ‘stuck’, usually after an incomplete Terraform run.

Log In and Out to a Remote Host (Terraform Cloud)

terraform login — Grab an API token for Terraform cloud (app.terraform.io) using your browser.

terraform login <hostname> — Log in to a specified host.

terraform logout — Remove the credentials that are stored locally after logging in, by default for Terraform Cloud (app.terraform.io).

terraform logout <hostname> — Remove the credentials that are stored locally after logging in for the specified hostname.

Produce a Dependency Diagram

terraform graph — Produce a graph in DOT language showing the dependencies between objects in the state file. This can then be rendered by a program called Graphwiz (amongst others).

terraform graph -plan=tfplan — Produce a dependency graph using a specified plan file (generated using terraform plan -out=tfplan).

terraform graph -type=plan — Specify the type of graph to output, either plan, plan-refresh-only, plan-destroy, or apply.

terraform graph -draw-cycles — You can see if there are any dependency cycles between the resources.

Test Your Expressions

terraform console — Allow testing and exploration of expressions on the interactive console using the command line. e.g. 1+2 🙂

With the terraform console command, you have the ability to test different pieces of code. All you have to do is write terraform console, and then you can write HCL code.

terraform console

# The below command will merge list elements into a string, separating them with commas.
> join(",",["foo","bar"])

# The below command will do math operations
> 1 + 5

# You can use resource parameters to get details about them. With the below command, we will get the public ip of an ec2 instance called my_ec2
> aws_instance.my_ec2.public_ip

Switch Working Directory

You also have the ability to run Terraform from another directory if the need arises. This is particularly useful when you are using different automations and you don’t want to change directory. This is done by:

terraform -chdir=”../dev” apply

Shell Tab-completion

Terraform also comes with an optional Shell Tab-completion. It can be useful if you are just starting out with Terraform. However, Terraform CLI is pretty lightweight, and you won’t usually reach very long commands.

To install the Shell Tab-completion you will need to first run:

terraform -install-autocomplete

After that you will need to resource your profile. This is done by either closing and opening the terminal, or by running source path_to_your_profile.

What is Terraform?

Terraform is an infrastructure as code (IaC) tool developed by HashiCorp, which was initially open-source but recently switched to a BSL. It uses a declarative language called HashiCorp Configuration Language (HCL) to define infrastructure resources. Terraform supports a wide variety of cloud providers such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, or Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, but it can also be used with Kubernetes, Helm, and many others. It is stateful, keeping track of the deployed infrastructure using a state file.

What is Terraform CLI?

The Terraform Command Line Interface (CLI), is a command-line tool that provides a simple way for users to interact with the infrastructure components defined in the Terraform configuration. It offers multiple commands, from initializing your terraform directory to planning, applying, and destroying infrastructure resources. With the Terraform CLI, you also have the ability to check outputs, do state-related operations, and even test different expressions.

Why use Spacelift with Terraform?

Working in a team of Terraform developers can be challenging. Spacelift is built to provide a great CI/CD experience concerning IaC. It can be used for version control of the code, state management, and much more. Spacelift lets you customize the entire infrastructure life-cycle management by providing the ability to run pre and post commands at every stage, which can be very useful in keeping track of things. If you are interested in trying it, create your free trial account.

Key Points

This guide should help you get straight to the command you need when using the Terraform CLI!

If you need more help with Terraform, I encourage you to check the following blog posts: How to Automate Terraform Deployments, and 12 Terraform Best Practices.

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Terraform CLI Commands Cheatsheet

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