Writing a terraform remote state server


Terraform is a useful tool for deploying cloud resources. This post isn’t an introduction to terraform, so I’ll assume you already know and love it. If you want more, then this getting started guide would be a sensible start.

At its most basic level, terraform deploys cloud resources and stores information about those resources in a file on local disk called terraform.tfstate — it needs that state information so it can make later changes to the deployment, be those modifying resources in use or tearing the whole deployment down. If you had an operations team working on an environment, then you could store the tfstate file in git or a shared filesystem so that the entire team could manage the deployment. However, there is nothing with that approach that stops two members of the team making overlapping changes.

That’s where terraform state servers come in. State servers can implement optional locking, which stops overlapping operations from happening. The protocol that these servers talk isn’t well documented (that I could find), so I wanted to explore that. I wanted to explore that more, so I wrote a simple terraform HTTP state server in python.

To use this state server, configure your terraform file as per demo.tf. The important bits are:

terraform {
  backend "http" {
    address = "http://localhost:5000/terraform_state/4cdd0c76-d78b-11e9-9bea-db9cd8374f3a"
    lock_address = "http://localhost:5000/terraform_lock/4cdd0c76-d78b-11e9-9bea-db9cd8374f3a"
    lock_method = "PUT"
    unlock_address = "http://localhost:5000/terraform_lock/4cdd0c76-d78b-11e9-9bea-db9cd8374f3a"
    unlock_method = "DELETE"

Where the URL to the state server will obviously change. The UUID¬†in the URL (4cdd0c76-d78b-11e9-9bea-db9cd8374f3a in this case) is an example of an external ID you might use to correlate the terraform state with the system that requested it be built. It doesn’t have to be a UUID, it can be any string.

I am using PUT and DELETE for locks due to limitations in the HTTP verbs that the python flask framework exposes. You might be able to get away with the defaults in other languages or frameworks.

To run the python server, make a venv, install the dependancies, and then run:

$ python3 -m venv ~/virtualenvs/remote_state
$ . ~/virtualenvs/remote_state/bin/activate
$ pip install -U -r requirements.txt
$ python stateserver.py

I hope someone else finds this useful.