» Remote State

By default, Terraform stores state locally in a file named terraform.tfstate. When working with Terraform in a team, use of a local file makes Terraform usage complicated because each user must make sure they always have the latest state data before running Terraform and make sure that nobody else runs Terraform at the same time.

With remote state, Terraform writes the state data to a remote data store, which can then be shared between all members of a team. Terraform supports storing state in Terraform Enterprise, HashiCorp Consul, Amazon S3, and more.

Remote state is a feature of backends. Configuring and using remote backends is easy and you can get started with remote state quickly. If you then want to migrate back to using local state, backends make that easy as well.

» Delegation and Teamwork

Remote state gives you more than just easier version control and safer storage. It also allows you to delegate the outputs to other teams. This allows your infrastructure to be more easily broken down into components that multiple teams can access.

Put another way, remote state also allows teams to share infrastructure resources in a read-only way without relying on any additional configuration store.

For example, a core infrastructure team can handle building the core machines, networking, etc. and can expose some information to other teams to run their own infrastructure. As a more specific example with AWS: you can expose things such as VPC IDs, subnets, NAT instance IDs, etc. through remote state and have other Terraform states consume that.

For example usage, see the terraform_remote_state data source.

While remote state is a convenient, built-in mechanism for sharing data between configurations, it is also possible to use more general stores to pass settings both to other configurations and to other consumers. For example, if your environment has HashiCorp Consul then you can have one Terraform configuration that writes to Consul using consul_key_prefix and then another that consumes those values using the consul_keys data source.

» Locking and Teamwork

For fully-featured remote backends, Terraform can also use state locking to prevent concurrent runs of Terraform against the same state.

Terraform Enterprise by HashiCorp is a commercial offering that supports an even stronger locking concept that can also detect attempts to create a new plan when an existing plan is already awaiting approval, by queuing Terraform operations in a central location. This allows teams to more easily coordinate and communicate about changes to infrastructure.