» Input Variables

You now have enough Terraform knowledge to create useful configurations, but we're still hard-coding access keys, AMIs, etc. To become truly shareable and version controlled, we need to parameterize the configurations. This page introduces input variables as a way to do this.

» Defining Variables

Let's first extract our access key, secret key, and region into a few variables. Create another file variables.tf with the following contents.

variable "access_key" {}
variable "secret_key" {}
variable "region" {
  default = "us-east-1"

This defines three variables within your Terraform configuration. The first two have empty blocks {}. The third sets a default. If a default value is set, the variable is optional. Otherwise, the variable is required. If you run terraform plan now, Terraform will prompt you for the values for unset string variables.

» Using Variables in Configuration

Next, replace the AWS provider configuration with the following:

provider "aws" {
  access_key = "${var.access_key}"
  secret_key = "${var.secret_key}"
  region     = "${var.region}"

This uses more interpolations, this time prefixed with var.. This tells Terraform that you're accessing variables. This configures the AWS provider with the given variables.

» Assigning Variables

There are multiple ways to assign variables. Below is also the order in which variable values are chosen. The following is the descending order of precedence in which variables are considered.

» Command-line flags

You can set variables directly on the command-line with the -var flag. Any command in Terraform that inspects the configuration accepts this flag, such as apply, plan, and refresh:

$ terraform apply \
  -var 'access_key=foo' \
  -var 'secret_key=bar'
# ...

Once again, setting variables this way will not save them, and they'll have to be input repeatedly as commands are executed.

» From a file

To persist variable values, create a file and assign variables within this file. Create a file named terraform.tfvars with the following contents:

access_key = "foo"
secret_key = "bar"

For all files which match terraform.tfvars or *.auto.tfvars present in the current directory, Terraform automatically loads them to populate variables. If the file is named something else, you can use the -var-file flag directly to specify a file. These files are the same syntax as Terraform configuration files. And like Terraform configuration files, these files can also be JSON.

We don't recommend saving usernames and password to version control, but you can create a local secret variables file and use -var-file to load it.

You can use multiple -var-file arguments in a single command, with some checked in to version control and others not checked in. For example:

$ terraform apply \
  -var-file="secret.tfvars" \

» From environment variables

Terraform will read environment variables in the form of TF_VAR_name to find the value for a variable. For example, the TF_VAR_access_key variable can be set to set the access_key variable.

» UI Input

If you execute terraform apply with certain variables unspecified, Terraform will ask you to input their values interactively. These values are not saved, but this provides a convenient workflow when getting started with Terraform. UI Input is not recommended for everyday use of Terraform.

» Variable Defaults

If no value is assigned to a variable via any of these methods and the variable has a default key in its declaration, that value will be used for the variable.

» Lists

Lists are defined either explicitly or implicitly

# implicitly by using brackets [...]
variable "cidrs" { default = [] }

# explicitly
variable "cidrs" { type = "list" }

You can specify lists in a terraform.tfvars file:

cidrs = [ "", "" ]

» Maps

We've replaced our sensitive strings with variables, but we still are hard-coding AMIs. Unfortunately, AMIs are specific to the region that is in use. One option is to just ask the user to input the proper AMI for the region, but Terraform can do better than that with maps.

Maps are a way to create variables that are lookup tables. An example will show this best. Let's extract our AMIs into a map and add support for the us-west-2 region as well:

variable "amis" {
  type = "map"
  default = {
    "us-east-1" = "ami-b374d5a5"
    "us-west-2" = "ami-4b32be2b"

A variable can have a map type assigned explicitly, or it can be implicitly declared as a map by specifying a default value that is a map. The above demonstrates both.

Then, replace the aws_instance with the following:

resource "aws_instance" "example" {
  ami           = "${lookup(var.amis, var.region)}"
  instance_type = "t2.micro"

This introduces a new type of interpolation: a function call. The lookup function does a dynamic lookup in a map for a key. The key is var.region, which specifies that the value of the region variables is the key.

While we don't use it in our example, it is worth noting that you can also do a static lookup of a map directly with ${var.amis["us-east-1"]}.

» Assigning Maps

We set defaults above, but maps can also be set using the -var and -var-file values. For example:

$ terraform apply -var 'amis={ us-east-1 = "foo", us-west-2 = "bar" }'
# ...

Here is an example of setting a map's keys from a file. Starting with these variable definitions:

variable "region" {}
variable "amis" {
  type = "map"

You can specify keys in a terraform.tfvars file:

amis = {
  "us-east-1" = "ami-abc123"
  "us-west-2" = "ami-def456"

And access them via lookup():

output "ami" {
  value = "${lookup(var.amis, var.region)}"

Like so:

$ terraform apply -var region=us-west-2

Apply complete! Resources: 0 added, 0 changed, 0 destroyed.


  ami = ami-def456

» Next

Terraform provides variables for parameterizing your configurations. Maps let you build lookup tables in cases where that makes sense. Setting and using variables is uniform throughout your configurations.

In the next section, we'll take a look at output variables as a mechanism to expose certain values more prominently to the Terraform operator.