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Guidelines on Structuring and Testing the Terraform Configuration


When creating an infrastructure configuration, it is important to follow a consistent and organized structure to ensure maintainability, scalability and reusability of the code. The goal of this section is to briefly describe how to structure your Terraform configuration in order to achieve this.

Structuring the Terraform configuration

The recommended structure is as follows:

  1. Place each component you want to configure in its own module folder. Analyze your infrastructure code and identify the logical components that can be separated into reusable modules. This will give you a clear separation of concerns and will make it straight forward to include new resources, update existing ones or reuse them in the future. For more details on modules and when to use them, see the Terraform guidance.

  2. Place the .tf module files at the root of each folder and make sure to include a README file in a markdown format which can be automatically generated based on the module code. It's recommended to follow this approach as this file structure will be automatically picked up by the Terraform Registry.

  3. Use a consistent set of files to structure your modules. While this can vary depending on the specific needs of the project, one good example can be the following:
    • defines the list of providers according to the plugins used
    • defines information read from different data sources
    • defines the infrastructure objects needed for your configuration (e.g. resource group, role assignment, container registry)
    • backend configuration file
    • defines structured data that is exported
    • defines static, reusable values
  4. Include in each module sub folders for documentation, examples and tests. The documentation includes basic information about the module: what is it installing, what are the options, an example use case and so on. You can also add here any other relevant details you might have. The example folder can include one or more examples of how to use the module, each example having the same set of configuration files decided on the previous step. It's recommended to also include a README providing a clear understanding of how it can be used in practice. The tests folder includes one or more files to test the example module together with a documentation file with instructions on how these tests can be executed.
  5. Place the root module in a separate folder called main: this is the primary entry point for the configuration. Like for the other modules, it will contain its corresponding configuration files.

An example configuration structure obtained using the guidelines above is:

├── mlops
│   ├── doc
│   ├── example
│   ├── test
│   ├──
│   ├──
│   ├──
│   ├──
│   ├──
│   ├──
│   ├──
├── common
├── main

Testing the configuration

To test Terraform configurations, the Terratest library is utilized. A comprehensive guide to best practices with Terratest, including unit tests, integration tests, and end-to-end tests, is available for reference here.

Types of tests

  • Unit Test for Module / Resource: Write unit tests for individual modules / resources to ensure that each module behaves as expected in isolation. They are particularly valuable in larger, more complex Terraform configurations where individual modules can be reused and are generally quicker in terms of execution time.
  • Integration Test: These tests verify that the different modules and resources work together as intended.

For simple Terraform configurations, extensive unit testing might be overkill. Integration tests might be sufficient in such cases. However, as the complexity grows, unit tests become more valuable.

Key aspects to consider

  • Syntax and validation: Use terraform fmt and terraform validate to check the syntax and validate the Terraform configuration during development or in the deployment script / pipeline. This ensures that the configuration is correctly formatted and free of syntax errors.
  • Deployment and existence: Terraform providers, like the Azure provider, perform certain checks during the execution of terraform apply. If Terraform successfully applies a configuration, it typically means that the specified resources were created or modified as expected. In your code you can skip this validation and focus on particular resource configurations that are more critical, described in the next points.
  • Resource properties that can break the functionality: The expectation here is that we're not interested in testing each property of a resource, but to identify the ones that could cause an issue in the system if they are changed, such as access or network policies, service principal permissions and others.
  • Validation of Key Vault contents: Ensuring the presence of necessary keys, certificates, or secrets in the Azure Key Vault that are stored as part of resource configuration.
  • Properties that can influence the cost or location: This can be achieved by asserting the locations, service tiers, storage settings, depending on the properties available for the resources.

Naming convention

When naming Terraform variables, it's essential to use clear and consistent naming conventions that are easy to understand and follow. The general convention is to use lowercase letters and numbers, with underscores instead of dashes, for example: "azurerm_resource_group". When naming resources, start with the provider's name, followed by the target resource, separated by underscores. For instance, "azurerm_postgresql_server" is an appropriate name for an Azure provider resource. When it comes to data sources, use a similar naming convention, but make sure to use plural names for lists of items. For example, "azurerm_resource_groups" is a good name for a data source that represents a list of resource groups. Variable and output names should be descriptive and reflect the purpose or use of the variable. It's also helpful to group related items together using a common prefix. For example, all variables related to storage accounts could start with "storage_". Keep in mind that outputs should be understandable outside of their scope. A useful naming pattern to follow is "{name}_{attribute}", where "name" represents a resource or data source name, and "attribute" is the attribute returned by the output. For example, "storage_primary_connection_string" could be a valid output name.

Make sure you include a description for outputs and variables, as well as marking the values as 'default' or 'sensitive' when the case. This information will be captured in the generated documentation.

Generating the documentation

The documentation can be automatically generated based on the configuration code in your modules with the help of terraform-docs. To generate the Terraform module documentation, go to the module folder and enter this command:

terraform-docs markdown table --output-file --output-mode inject .

Then, the documentation will be generated inside the component root directory.


The approach presented in this section is designed to be flexible and easy to use, making it straight forward to add new resources or update existing ones. The separation of concerns also makes it easy to reuse existing components in other projects, with all the information (modules, examples, documentation and tests) located in one place.

References and Further Reading

Last update: January 24, 2024