» Provider Plugins

A provider in Terraform is responsible for the lifecycle of a resource: create, read, update, delete. An example of a provider is AWS, which can manage resources of type aws_instance, aws_eip, aws_elb, etc.

The primary reasons to care about provider plugins are:

  • You want to add a new resource type to an existing provider.

  • You want to write a completely new provider for managing resource types in a system not yet supported.

  • You want to write a completely new provider for custom, internal systems such as a private inventory management system.

If you're interested in provider development, then read on. The remainder of this page will assume you're familiar with plugin basics and that you already have a basic development environment setup.

» Provider Plugin Codebases

Provider plugins live outside of the Terraform core codebase in their own source code repositories. The official set of provider plugins released by HashiCorp (developed by both HashiCorp staff and community contributors) all live in repositories in the terraform-providers organization on GitHub, but third-party plugins can be maintained in any source code repository.

When developing a provider plugin, it is recommended to use a common GOPATH that includes both the core Terraform repository and the repositories of any providers being changed. This makes it easier to use a locally-built terraform executable and a set of locally-built provider plugins together without further configuration.

For example, to download both Terraform and the template provider into GOPATH:

$ go get github.com/hashicorp/terraform
$ go get github.com/terraform-providers/terraform-provider-template

These two packages are both "main" packages that can be built into separate executables with go install:

$ go install github.com/hashicorp/terraform
$ go install github.com/terraform-providers/terraform-provider-template

After running the above commands, both Terraform core and the template provider will both be installed in the current GOPATH and $GOPATH/bin will contain both terraform and terraform-provider-template executables. This terraform executable will find and use the template provider plugin alongside it in the bin directory in preference to downloading and installing an official release.

When constructing a new provider from scratch, it's recommended to follow a similar repository structure as for the existing providers, with the main package in the repository root and a library package in a subdirectory named after the provider. For more information, see the custom providers guide.

When making changes only to files within the provider repository, it is not necessary to re-build the main Terraform executable. Note that some packages from the Terraform repository are used as library dependencies by providers, such as github.com/hashicorp/terraform/helper/schema; it is recommended to use govendor to create a local vendor copy of the relevant packages in the provider repository, as can be seen in the repositories within the terraform-providers GitHub organization.

» Low-Level Interface

The interface you must implement for providers is ResourceProvider.

This interface is extremely low level, however, and we don't recommend you implement it directly. Implementing the interface directly is error prone, complicated, and difficult.

Instead, we've developed some higher level libraries to help you out with developing providers. These are the same libraries we use in our own core providers.

» helper/schema

The helper/schema library is a framework we've built to make creating providers extremely easy. This is the same library we use to build most of the core providers.

To give you an idea of how productive you can become with this framework: we implemented the Google Cloud provider in about 6 hours of coding work. This isn't a simple provider, and we did have knowledge of the framework beforehand, but it goes to show how expressive the framework can be.

The GoDoc for helper/schema can be found here. This is API-level documentation but will be extremely important for you going forward.

» Provider

The first thing to do in your plugin is to create the schema.Provider structure. This structure implements the ResourceProvider interface. We recommend creating this structure in a function to make testing easier later. Example:

func Provider() *schema.Provider {
    return &schema.Provider{

Within the schema.Provider, you should initialize all the fields. They are documented within the godoc, but a brief overview is here as well:

  • Schema - This is the configuration schema for the provider itself. You should define any API keys, etc. here. Schemas are covered below.

  • ResourcesMap - The map of resources that this provider supports. All keys are resource names and the values are the schema.Resource structures implementing this resource.

  • ConfigureFunc - This function callback is used to configure the provider. This function should do things such as initialize any API clients, validate API keys, etc. The interface{} return value of this function is the meta parameter that will be passed into all resource CRUD functions. In general, the returned value is a configuration structure or a client.

As part of the unit tests, you should call InternalValidate. This is used to verify the structure of the provider and all of the resources, and reports an error if it is invalid. An example test is shown below:

func TestProvider(t *testing.T) {
    if err := Provider().(*schema.Provider).InternalValidate(); err != nil {
        t.Fatalf("err: %s", err)

Having this unit test will catch a lot of beginner mistakes as you build your provider.

» Resources

Next, you'll want to create the resources that the provider can manage. These resources are put into the ResourcesMap field of the provider structure. Again, we recommend creating functions to instantiate these. An example is shown below.

func resourceComputeAddress() *schema.Resource {
    return &schema.Resource {

Resources are described using the schema.Resource structure. This structure has the following fields:

  • Schema - The configuration schema for this resource. Schemas are covered in more detail below.

  • Create, Read, Update, and Delete - These are the callback functions that implement CRUD operations for the resource. The only optional field is Update. If your resource doesn't support update, then you may keep that field nil.

  • Importer - If this is non-nil, then this resource is importable. It is recommended to implement this.

The CRUD operations in more detail, along with their contracts:

  • Create - This is called to create a new instance of the resource. Terraform guarantees that an existing ID is not set on the resource data. That is, you're working with a new resource. Therefore, you are responsible for calling SetId on your schema.ResourceData using a value suitable for your resource. This ensures whatever resource state you set on schema.ResourceData will be persisted in local state. If you neglect to SetId, no resource state will be persisted.

  • Read - This is called to resync the local state with the remote state. Terraform guarantees that an existing ID will be set. This ID should be used to look up the resource. Any remote data should be updated into the local data. No changes to the remote resource are to be made.

  • Update - This is called to update properties of an existing resource. Terraform guarantees that an existing ID will be set. Additionally, the only changed attributes are guaranteed to be those that support update, as specified by the schema. Be careful to read about partial states below.

  • Delete - This is called to delete the resource. Terraform guarantees an existing ID will be set.

  • Exists - This is called to verify a resource still exists. It is called prior to Read, and lowers the burden of Read to be able to assume the resource exists. If the resource is no longer present in remote state, calling SetId with an empty string will signal its removal.

» Schemas

Both providers and resources require a schema to be specified. The schema is used to define the structure of the configuration, the types, etc. It is very important to get correct.

In both provider and resource, the schema is a map[string]*schema.Schema. The key of this map is the configuration key, and the value is a schema for the value of that key.

Schemas are incredibly powerful, so this documentation page won't attempt to cover the full power of them. Instead, the API docs should be referenced which cover all available settings.

We recommend viewing schemas of existing or similar providers to learn best practices. A good starting place is the core Terraform providers.

» Resource Data

The parameter to provider configuration as well as all the CRUD operations on a resource is a schema.ResourceData. This structure is used to query configurations as well as to set information about the resource such as its ID, connection information, and computed attributes.

The API documentation covers ResourceData well, as well as the core providers in Terraform.

Partial state deserves a special mention. Occasionally in Terraform, create or update operations are not atomic; they can fail halfway through. As an example, when creating an AWS security group, creating the group may succeed, but creating all the initial rules may fail. In this case, it is incredibly important that Terraform record the correct partial state so that a subsequent terraform apply fixes this resource.

Most of the time, partial state is not required. When it is, it must be specifically enabled. An example is shown below:

func resourceUpdate(d *schema.ResourceData, meta interface{}) error {
    // Enable partial state mode

    if d.HasChange("tags") {
        // If an error occurs, return with an error,
        // we didn't finish updating
        if err := updateTags(d, meta); err != nil {
            return err


    if d.HasChange("name") {
        if err := updateName(d, meta); err != nil {
            return err


    // We succeeded, disable partial mode

    return nil

In the example above, it is possible that setting the tags succeeds, but setting the name fails. In this scenario, we want to make sure that only the state of the tags is updated. To do this the Partial and SetPartial functions are used.

Partial toggles partial-state mode. When disabled, all changes are merged into the state upon result of the operation. When enabled, only changes enabled with SetPartial are merged in.

SetPartial tells Terraform what state changes to adopt upon completion of an operation. You should call SetPartial with every key that is safe to merge into the state. The parameter to SetPartial is a prefix, so if you have a nested structure and want to accept the whole thing, you can just specify the prefix.