» Configuration Language

For a hands-on tutorial, try the Get Started track on HashiCorp Learn.

Terraform uses its own configuration language, designed to allow concise descriptions of infrastructure. The Terraform language is declarative, describing an intended goal rather than the steps to reach that goal.

» Resources and Modules

The main purpose of the Terraform language is declaring resources. All other language features exist only to make the definition of resources more flexible and convenient.

A group of resources can be gathered into a module, which creates a larger unit of configuration. A resource describes a single infrastructure object, while a module might describe a set of objects and the necessary relationships between them in order to create a higher-level system.

A Terraform configuration consists of a root module, where evaluation begins, along with a tree of child modules created when one module calls another.

» Arguments, Blocks, and Expressions

The syntax of the Terraform language consists of only a few basic elements:

resource "aws_vpc" "main" {
  cidr_block = var.base_cidr_block

  # Block body
  • Blocks are containers for other content and usually represent the configuration of some kind of object, like a resource. Blocks have a block type, can have zero or more labels, and have a body that contains any number of arguments and nested blocks. Most of Terraform's features are controlled by top-level blocks in a configuration file.
  • Arguments assign a value to a name. They appear within blocks.
  • Expressions represent a value, either literally or by referencing and combining other values. They appear as values for arguments, or within other expressions.

For full details about Terraform's syntax, see:

» Code Organization

The Terraform language uses configuration files that are named with the .tf file extension. There is also a JSON-based variant of the language that is named with the .tf.json file extension.

Configuration files must always use UTF-8 encoding, and by convention are usually maintained with Unix-style line endings (LF) rather than Windows-style line endings (CRLF), though both are accepted.

A module is a collection of .tf or .tf.json files kept together in a directory. The root module is built from the configuration files in the current working directory when Terraform is run, and this module may reference child modules in other directories, which can in turn reference other modules, etc.

The simplest Terraform configuration is a single root module containing only a single .tf file. A configuration can grow gradually as more resources are added, either by creating new configuration files within the root module or by organizing sets of resources into child modules.

» Configuration Ordering

Because Terraform's configuration language is declarative, the ordering of blocks is generally not significant. (The order of provisioner blocks within a resource is the only major feature where block order matters.)

Terraform automatically processes resources in the correct order based on relationships defined between them in configuration, and so you can organize resources into source files in whatever way makes sense for your infrastructure.

» Terraform CLI vs. Providers

The Terraform command line interface (CLI) is a general engine for evaluating and applying Terraform configurations. It defines the Terraform language syntax and overall structure, and coordinates sequences of changes that must be made to make remote infrastructure match the given configuration.

This general engine has no knowledge about specific types of infrastructure objects. Instead, Terraform uses plugins called providers that each define and manage a set of resource types. Most providers are associated with a particular cloud or on-premises infrastructure service, allowing Terraform to manage infrastructure objects within that service.

Terraform doesn't have a concept of platform-independent resource types — resources are always tied to a provider, since the features of similar resources can vary greatly from provider to provider. But Terraform CLI's shared configuration engine ensures that the same language constructs and syntax are available across all services and allows resource types from different services to be combined as needed.

» Example

The following simple example describes a simple network topology for Amazon Web Services, just to give a sense of the overall structure and syntax of the Terraform language. Similar configurations can be created for other virtual network services, using resource types defined by other providers, and a practical network configuration will often contain additional elements not shown here.

terraform {
  required_providers {
    aws = {
      source  = "hashicorp/aws"
      version = "~> 1.0.4"

variable "aws_region" {}

variable "base_cidr_block" {
  description = "A /16 CIDR range definition, such as, that the VPC will use"
  default = ""

variable "availability_zones" {
  description = "A list of availability zones in which to create subnets"
  type = list(string)

provider "aws" {
  region = var.aws_region

resource "aws_vpc" "main" {
  # Referencing the base_cidr_block variable allows the network address
  # to be changed without modifying the configuration.
  cidr_block = var.base_cidr_block

resource "aws_subnet" "az" {
  # Create one subnet for each given availability zone.
  count = length(var.availability_zones)

  # For each subnet, use one of the specified availability zones.
  availability_zone = var.availability_zones[count.index]

  # By referencing the aws_vpc.main object, Terraform knows that the subnet
  # must be created only after the VPC is created.
  vpc_id = aws_vpc.main.id

  # Built-in functions and operators can be used for simple transformations of
  # values, such as computing a subnet address. Here we create a /20 prefix for
  # each subnet, using consecutive addresses for each availability zone,
  # such as .
  cidr_block = cidrsubnet(aws_vpc.main.cidr_block, 4, count.index+1)

For more information on the configuration elements shown here, use the site navigation to explore the Terraform language documentation sub-sections. To start, see Resource Configuration.