12 Cloud Commandments: Applying 12 Factor App Principles to Master Terraform

12 Cloud Commandments: Applying 12 Factor App Principles to Master Terraform

Remember the days when deploying a new app meant wrestling with servers, deciphering cryptic configuration files, and hoping you didn't trigger a rogue hamster on the wheel powering your infrastructure? Those days, thankfully, are fading faster than a Snapchat filter. Modern cloud architecture and DevOps practices have evolved into a sleek, efficient dance between code and infrastructure. We're talking automation, standardisation, and a whole lot less server-induced sweat.

But amidst this technological tango, one set of principles still shines brightly: the 12 Factor App. These timeless guidelines, born in the early days of the cloud, remain as relevant as ever. They're like the secret sauce that keeps your applications scalable, reliable, and deployable with the click of a button.

So, buckle up, because, in this blog post, we're about to do something pretty cool: we're going to marry the power of Terraform, an open-source Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tool, with the wisdom of the 12 Factor App principles. Think of it as a match made in DevOps heaven. We'll show you how each principle can be applied within the context of Terraform, creating an infrastructure that's as nimble and adaptable as your code itself.

12 Factor App Principles

The twelve-factor app is a methodology for building software-as-a-service apps that are designed to be:

  • Scalable

  • Maintainable

  • Portable

The principles guide developers in designing cloud-native applications, focusing on codebases, dependencies, configuration, and processes, ensuring productivity, dynamic scaling, and resilience, and promoting a consistent approach to modern cloud platforms.

Some key aspects of the twelve-factor methodology include:

  • Strict separation of config from code

  • Ability to scale out via the process model

  • Loose coupling between app components

  • Designing stateless processes

  • Ease of deploying/rolling back versions

  • Minimising divergence between development, staging, production

  • Easy portability between execution environments

We will now examine the amalgamation of two potent techniques in this blog post: Terraform, an open-source Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tool, and the "12 Factor App" principles. This union provides a significant synergy that enables us to create robust repeatable infrastructure at scale.

So, let's get started, shall we?


  1. Terraform configurations as blueprints: For cloud infrastructure, outlining components and relationships for building resilient, scalable cloud towns, ensuring consistency across structures.

  2. Modules as prefabricated buildings: Terraform modules, resembling prefabricated buildings, reduce code duplication and save time and effort by allowing for the quick assembly of reliable structures.


  1. Provider plugins as specialized suppliers: Terraform providers act as skilled suppliers specialising in specific infrastructure resources, such as lumber and steel, ensuring the right materials are available for every unique project.

  2. Explicit versioning as quality control: Terraform promotes consistent supplier versions to ensure high-quality materials from suppliers, preventing unexpected issues in construction projects and ensuring consistent delivery.


  1. Environment variables as weather forecasts: Store environment-specific configuration values as environment variables, so you can adapt your infrastructure to different environments without changing code. Terraform allows for externalisation of configuration using variables, separating database URLs and credentials from code, thereby promoting a more efficient and secure environment.

Backing Services

  1. External services as trusty sidekicks: Terraform integrates with external services like databases, storage systems, and message queues, serving as trusted sidekicks with unique skills and support for cloud adventures.

  2. Treat them as attachments, not permanent fixtures: Terraform views backing services as integral components of your infrastructure, enabling easy swapping or scaling, resembling a flexible team capable of adapting to changing challenges and opportunities.

Some examples of provisioning backing services with Terraform:

  • Deploying a MySQL or PostgreSQL database instance on RDS or Cloud SQL. Terraform handles provisioning the instance, configuring access controls, handling failover and backups, and setting up maintenance.

  • Creating a Redis cache cluster on Elasticache or Memorystore. Terraform allows defining node type, number of nodes, subnets, security groups and more.

Build, Release, Run

  1. No build step for infrastructure as code: Terraform's executable configurations eliminate the need for a separate build step, allowing for quick deployment of changes without additional tooling or processes.


  1. Stateless processes for resilience: Terraform promotes stateless processes, making infrastructure more resilient and easier to scale, allowing each process to be restarted or replicated independently.

Env Vars

  1. Environment variables for adaptability: Utilize environment variables to adjust Terraform configurations to suit different environments, adjusting gear accordingly, akin to adjusting gear for varying terrains.


  1. Locks as campsite reservations: Terraform's state locking prevents conflicts when multiple teams work on the same infrastructure, acting like a reservation system for campsites.


  1. Treat infrastructure like campfires: Embrace the ephemeral nature of infrastructure, treating it as easily replaceable like campfires that can be extinguished and rebuilt. This mindset promotes agility and reduces the pain of updates and maintenance—no need to get attached to any particular setup.

Dev/Prod Parity

  1. One codebase for all environments: Use the same Terraform configuration for dev, test, and production environments, ensuring consistency and avoiding surprises when you move from campfire testing to the real-world rodeo of production.


  1. Logging as campfire stories: Terraform's logging feature records infrastructure changes and events, providing valuable insights for troubleshooting and auditing. Think of these logs as campfire stories, recounting the tales of your infrastructure's journey and helping you learn from past experiences.

Port Binding

Terraform allows for declarative management of port bindings and exposed ports in the 12-factor app, ensuring efficient service exposure.

  1. Terraform as the mapmaker: While Terraform doesn't directly bind to ports, it can provision network resources and configure load balancers to manage traffic effectively. Think of it as the mapmaker, charting the paths for your infrastructure's communication, and ensuring smooth journeys for your data.

We've explored how each "12 Factor App" principle translates into practical Terraform magic, from disposable cloud forts to harmonious dev/prod tunes. Now, it's your turn to grab your virtual Stetson and put these lessons into action. So, saddle up, partners, and build your cloud empires with the precision and efficiency of a true Cloud Cowboy!

Just remember, with great infrastructure comes great responsibility, so use your newfound power wisely and build something truly magnificent. And hey, if you get lost along the way, don't hesitate to rustle up this blog post again – it's your trusty trail guide to Cloud DevOps glory!

Did you find this article valuable?

Support Manish Warang by becoming a sponsor. Any amount is appreciated!