Best practices for general style and structure

This document provides basic style and structure recommendations for your Terraform configurations. These recommendations apply to reusable Terraform modules and to root configurations.

This guide is not an introduction to Terraform. For an introduction to using Terraform with Google Cloud, see Get started with Terraform.

Follow a standard module structure

  • Terraform modules must follow the standard module structure.
  • Start every module with a file, where resources are located by default.
  • In every module, include a file in Markdown format. In the file, include basic documentation about the module.
  • Place examples in an examples/ folder, with a separate subdirectory for each example. For each example, include a detailed file.
  • Create logical groupings of resources with their own files and descriptive names, such as,, or
    • Avoid giving every resource its own file. Group resources by their shared purpose. For example, combine google_dns_managed_zone and google_dns_record_set in
  • In the module's root directory, include only Terraform (*.tf) and repository metadata files (such as and
  • Place any additional documentation in a docs/ subdirectory.

Adopt a naming convention

  • Name all configuration objects using underscores to delimit multiple words. This practice ensures consistency with the naming convention for resource types, data source types, and other predefined values. This convention does not apply to name arguments.


    resource "google_compute_instance" "web_server" {
      name = "web-server"

    Not recommended:

    resource "google_compute_instance" "web-server" {
      name = "web-server"
  • To simplify references to a resource that is the only one of its type (for example, a single load balancer for an entire module), name the resource main.

    • It takes extra mental work to remember versus
  • To differentiate resources of the same type from each other (for example, primary and secondary), provide meaningful resource names.

  • Make resource names singular.

  • In the resource name, don't repeat the resource type. For example:


    resource "google_compute_global_address" "main" { ... }

    Not recommended:

    resource "google_compute_global_address" "main_global_address" { … }

Use variables carefully

  • Declare all variables in
  • Give variables descriptive names that are relevant to their usage or purpose:
    • Inputs, local variables, and outputs representing numeric values—such as disk sizes or RAM size—must be named with units (such as ram_size_gb). Google Cloud APIs don't have standard units, so naming variables with units makes the expected input unit clear for configuration maintainers.
    • For units of storage, use binary unit prefixes (powers of 1024)—kibi, mebi, gibi. For all other units of measurement, use decimal unit prefixes (powers of 1000)—kilo, mega, giga. This usage matches the usage within Google Cloud.
    • To simplify conditional logic, give boolean variables positive names—for example, enable_external_access.
  • Variables must have descriptions. Descriptions are automatically included in a published module's auto-generated documentation. Descriptions add additional context for new developers that descriptive names cannot provide.
  • Give variables defined types.
  • When appropriate, provide default values:
    • For variables that have environment-independent values (such as disk size), provide default values.
    • For variables that have environment-specific values (such as project_id), don't provide default values. This way, the calling module must provide meaningful values.
  • Use empty defaults for variables (like empty strings or lists) only when leaving the variable empty is a valid preference that the underlying APIs don't reject.
  • Be judicious in your use of variables. Only parameterize values that must vary for each instance or environment. When deciding whether to expose a variable, ensure that you have a concrete use case for changing that variable. If there's only a small chance that a variable might be needed, don't expose it.
    • Adding a variable with a default value is backwards-compatible.
    • Removing a variable is backwards-incompatible.
    • In cases where a literal is reused in multiple places, you can use a local value without exposing it as a variable.

Expose outputs

  • Organize all outputs in an file.
  • Provide meaningful descriptions for all outputs.
  • Document output descriptions in the file. Auto-generate descriptions on commit with tools like terraform-docs.
  • Output all useful values that root modules might need to refer to or share. Especially for open source or heavily used modules, expose all outputs that have potential for consumption.
  • Don't pass outputs directly through input variables, because doing so prevents them from being properly added to the dependency graph. To ensure that implicit dependencies are created, make sure that outputs reference attributes from resources. Instead of referencing an input variable for an instance directly, pass the attribute through as shown here:


    output "name" {
      description = "Name of instance"
      value       =

    Not recommended:

    output "name" {
      description = "Name of instance"
      value       =

Use data sources

  • Put data sources next to the resources that reference them. For example, if you are fetching an image to be used in launching an instance, place it alongside the instance instead of collecting data resources in their own file.
  • If the number of data sources becomes large, consider moving them to a dedicated file.
  • To fetch data relative to the current environment, use variable or resource interpolation.

Limit the use of custom scripts

  • Use scripts only when necessary. The state of resources created through scripts is not accounted for or managed by Terraform.
    • Avoid custom scripts, if possible. Use them only when Terraform resources don't support the desired behavior.
    • Any custom scripts used must have a clearly documented reason for existing and ideally a deprecation plan.
  • Terraform can call custom scripts through provisioners, including the local-exec provisioner.
  • Put custom scripts called by Terraform in a scripts/ directory.

Include helper scripts in a separate directory

  • Organize helper scripts that aren't called by Terraform in a helpers/ directory.
  • Document helper scripts in the file with explanations and example invocations.
  • If helper scripts accept arguments, provide argument-checking and --help output.

Put static files in a separate directory

  • Static files that Terraform references but doesn't execute (such as startup scripts loaded onto Compute Engine instances) must be organized into a files/ directory.
  • Place lengthy HereDocs in external files, separate from their HCL. Reference them with the file() function.
  • For files that are read in by using the Terraform templatefile function, use the file extension .tftpl.
    • Templates must be placed in a templates/ directory.

Protect stateful resources

For stateful resources, such as databases, ensure that deletion protection is enabled. For example:

resource "google_sql_database_instance" "main" {
  name = "primary-instance"
  settings {
    tier = "D0"

  lifecycle {
    prevent_destroy = true

Use built-in formatting

All Terraform files must conform to the standards of terraform fmt.

Limit the complexity of expressions

  • Limit the complexity of any individual interpolated expressions. If many functions are needed in a single expression, consider splitting it out into multiple expressions by using local values.
  • Never have more than one ternary operation in a single line. Instead, use multiple local values to build up the logic.

Use count for conditional values

To instantiate a resource conditionally, use the count meta-argument. For example:

variable "readers" {
  description = "..."
  type        = list
  default     = []

resource "resource_type" "reference_name" {
  // Do not create this resource if the list of readers is empty.
  count = length(var.readers) == 0 ? 0 : 1

Be sparing when using user-specified variables to set the count variable for resources. If a resource attribute is provided for such a variable (like project_id) and that resource does not yet exist, Terraform can't generate a plan. Instead, Terraform reports the error value of count cannot be computed. In such cases, use a separate enable_x variable to compute the conditional logic.

Use for_each for iterated resources

If you want to create multiple copies of a resource based on an input resource, use the for_each meta-argument.

Publish modules to a registry

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