» Terraform 0.12 Compatibility for Providers

Terraform 0.12 introduced a new type system for the Terraform language, and with it some changes to the representations of configuration, state, and plans. To support these changes, Terraform 0.12 introduced a new protocol for Terraform Core to interact with providers.

The provider protocol is the physical mechanism by which Terraform Core launches a provider executable and directs it to take actions. Provider developers do not generally interact with the protocol directly, but rather implement against the Terraform SDK (as described elsewhere in the Extend section) which in turn implements the provider side of the protocol itself.

As a result, most of the work to support Terraform 0.12 comes just from upgrading to the latest Terraform SDK, which features support for both the old and new provider protocols.

Although the SDK aims to abstract over as many of the differences as possible, the changes to the Terraform language were significant and so in practice some small adjustments to provider code may be required to ensure the best possible compatibility with Terraform 0.12. The goal of this guide is to describe some common situations and how to address them.

» Upgrading to the latest Terraform SDK

At the time of the Terraform 0.12 release, the Terraform SDK is a set of sub-directories inside the Terraform Core repository. Therefore upgrading to the latest Terraform SDK involves upgrading all of the dependencies on Go packages with the prefix github.com/hashicorp/terraform/ to a version with support for the new provider protocol.

Terraform Core is now using Go Modules for dependency management and vendoring, so we strongly recommend using Go Modules for dependency management in provider codebases too, which allows the go tool to automatically understand transitive dependencies and upgrade other required packages accordingly. Once your provider codebase is a Go Module, you can use the following commands to upgrade for Terraform 0.12 compatibility:

go get github.com/hashicorp/terraform@v0.12.0-rc1
go mod tidy
go mod vendor

After all of these commands are complete, you should find your version control detects changes to the go.mod and go.sum files as well as various files in the vendor subdirectory. While vendoring is mot mandatory for providers, we still recommend using it to ensure dependencies remain consistent for now, until the Go team has finished deploying its new solutions for module distribution.

With the updated SDK and its dependencies installed, you should be able to run your provider's tests in the usual way to see how things are working. For simple providers, this is likely to be all of the work required! However, we'd still recommend reading the following sections to learn about some specific situations where additional changes may be helpful or required, particularly if you see unexpected new test failures after upgrading.

» Configuration Syntax Changes

If your provider follows the usual test patterns then there will be configuration snippets in your tests that will, after upgrading the SDK, be parsed using the new configuration language engine from Terraform 0.12. Although the new syntax is broadly compatible, there are some minor incompatibilities that arose from compromises made to resolve ambiguities in the language and improve usability.

If you see new configuration-related errors in your tests after upgrading, you may need to update the configuration snippets in similar ways to how an end-user might update their own configurations for compatibility. There are lots of details on the common situations in the v0.12 upgrade guide.

If you see an error you're not sure how to resolve, it may help to copy the configuration snippet into a separate .tf file in a new directory and use the terraform 0.12upgrade command to see what changes Terraform itself proposes.

One particular situation that we've seen crop up a lot in provider upgrades is in the difference between configuration attributes vs. blocks. Terraform uses some different behavior for an attribute which is defined in the SDK with an Elem of type *schema.Schema vs. *schema.Resource, but previously those differences were not obvious to the user. Terraform 0.12 now enforces using argument syntax (with an equals sign) for normal attributes and primitive-typed collections, and block syntax (with no equals sign) for collections with an element type of *schema.Resource.

The most common way this has arisen in existing providers is where an attribute is defined with a schema like this:

"example": &schema.Schema{
    Type: schema.TypeMap,
    // ...
    Elem: &schema.Schema{
        Type: schema.TypeString,

The canonical way to write this is with an equals sign to make it clear that we are assigning a map value rather than declaring a child object:

example = {
  "foo" = "bar"

However, Terraform 0.11 and earlier would also permit omitting the equals sign, making this appear as if it were a nested object.

If you see an error like the following from your tests after upgrading, adding the missing equals sign is usually the answer:

Error: Unsupported block type

Blocks of type "example" are not expected here. Did you mean to define
argument "example"? If so, use the equals sign to assign it a value.

The opposite situation is possible but less common: Terraform 0.11 and earlier permitted using an equals sign when declaring a nested resource, but that is no longer allowed in Terraform 0.12.

The intent of this new stricter configuration handling is to help users predict what behavior they can expect for a particular name. Nested resources have fixed attribute names defined by the provider and can mix attributes defined by the user with attributes filled in by the provider itself, while simple arguments are always either entirely defined by the user or entirely defined by the provider, never a mixture. Think of a nested resource as being conceptually a separate object that happens to be nested, whereas an argument is simply a property of the main object.

» Inaccurate Plans

The intended contract for Terraform's plan phase is that the provider should produce as accurate as possible a description of what each resource object will look like after the apply operation is completed. Any attribute value that is not set in configuration and whose default cannot be predicted until apply time is marked as "unknown", as a placeholder for the final value.

In Terraform 0.11 and prior, Terraform Core did not enforce that the final result be consistent with what was planned. If a provider produced a final result that disagreed with any known attribute in the plan, Terraform would just accept it and save it, most of the time letting that inconsistency go unnoticed.

However, along with violating user expectations this would also tend to lead to errors on downstream resources including the message "diffs didn't match during apply". When Terraform 0.11 and prior returns this error, it is saying that when it re-ran the resource plan during the apply phase to incorporate values learned so far, the new plan had attribute values that were not equal to what was originally planned. This is because the downstream resource plan was derived from a predicted result from elsewhere, but the final result did not match the plan and thus the new plan is different.

Terraform 0.12 includes a new safety check to detect when a provider produces a result that is inconsistent with what was planned. The error message text in that case will be similar to the following:

Error: Provider produced inconsistent result after apply

When applying changes to null_resource.example, provider "null" produced an
unexpected new value for .triggers["foo"]: was cty.StringVal("a"), but now

This is a bug in the provider, which should be reported in the provider's
own issue tracker.

Because such inconsistencies turned out to be quite common in existing provider implementations (a result of this not being enforced before), Terraform 0.12 does not enforce this as a hard error for providers using the current version of the SDK, and so such problems will for now continue to return the new equivalent of the "diffs didn't match during apply" message, which has the following structure:

Error: Provider produced inconsistent final plan

When expanding the plan for null_resource.downstream to include new values
learned so far during apply, provider "null" produced an invalid new value for
.triggers["from_other"]: was cty.StringVal("a"), but now cty.StringVal("b").

This is a bug in the provider, which should be reported in the provider's own
issue tracker.

This other error is reported from the perspective of the downstream resource that null_resource.example.triggers["foo"] was interpolated into, rather than the resource that caused the problem: null_resource.example.

If you see either of these errors, the remedy is the same: implement CustomizeDiff for the resource type that is causing the problem, and write logic to more accurately predict the outcome of any changes to Computed attributes. If you can predict the exact new value then that is preferable, but if you know only that it will change and can't predict what it will change to, you can explicitly set it to unknown to reflect that.

For example, if your resource type has a version attribute that changes each time certain other attributes are updated, you can use the customdiff.ComputedIf helper to reflect that in the plan:

    CustomizeDiff: customdiff.ComputedIf("version", func(d *schema.ResourceDiff, meta interface{}) bool {
        return d.HasChange("content") || d.HasChange("content_type")

With the above rule in place, references to the version attribute elsewhere in the configuration will correctly reflect that the value isn't known (in SDK terminology, "is computed") during the plan phase, so downstream resources know that the value won't be known until apply time.

» Computed Resource Attributes

The original intent of Computed: true in a schema was to say that a particular attribute has a default value but that default value won't be known until after the object is created.

Because Terraform 0.11 and earlier did not make the strong distinction described above between argument vs. nested object syntax, it was inadvertently possible to set Computed: true for a whole collection of nested objects, which some providers have used as a way to distinguish between two user intents: to ignore the nested objects of a particular type altogether or to force there to be none of them.

Terraform v0.12 does not support using Computed with a collection of sub-resources, but to avoid breaking existing uses of that mechanism for the reason described above, we introduced a compromise which you can read more about from the end-user perspective in Attributes as Blocks.

If you have an existing Computed attribute that has Elem: *schema.Resource and which expects to treat explicit assignment of an empty list differently than no blocks at all, you may need to opt in to this mechanism to preserve compatibility.

To activate this special behavior, add to your attribute's schema the new ConfigMode field, set to schema.SchemaConfigModeAttr. For example:

"example": &schema.Schema{
    // This special mode is never needed unless Optional and Computed are set
    // together, because otherwise there is no need to distinguish unset from
    // empty.
    Optional: true,
    Computed: true,

    // Activate the "Attributes as Blocks" processing mode
    ConfigMode: schema.SchemaConfigModeAttr,

    // This special mode only applies to lists or sets whose Elem is
    // a nested resource object.
    Type: schema.TypeList,
    Elem: &schema.Resource{
        // ...

Only activate this mode if your provider has existing functionality that is depending on the ability to distinguish unset vs. explicitly empty for a nested resource collection. Turning it on has some implications for the handling of JSON syntax input (as described in the user-facing documentation linked above), so any schema attribute with it enabled will not behave exactly how the JSON syntax documentation suggests, and so we recommend keeping its usage to a minimum to avoid that confusion.

For any new functionality added in future, we recommend separating the idea of defining nested objects from the idea of ignoring existing objects defined outside of the resource configuration. For example, you could add a separate boolean attribute, defaulting to false, which can be explicitly set to true to indicate that any additional objects not already tracked in the state should be ignored by the Read function, thus making it explicit in the user's configuration that there may be other objects present that are tracked somewhere else. For example:

  disk {
    # ...
  disk {
    # ...

  ignore_other_disks = true

» Releasing the Updated Provider

Once you consider your provider ready to release with v0.12 compatibility, if your provider is distributed by HashiCorp (that is, available for installation with terraform init) you must be sure to be explicit about the v0.12 compatibility when requesting a release from the Terraform team at HashiCorp, so the release can be marked with appropriate metadata.

A new release with v0.12 compatibility is considered an enhancement, so it should increment the minor release portion of the version number unless it is grouped in with some unrelated breaking changes.

If you maintain a community provider that is not distributed by HashiCorp, you can build and package your release archives as you usually would. The archives themselves have not changed in structure compared to previous releases. Be sure to note which release introduced Terraform v0.12 compatibility in your release notes.