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About stacks ​

A modular approach is recommended when working with Infrastructure as Code (IaC). This approach breaks the entire infrastructure code and state into smaller and isolated units, often referred to as stacks.

What are stacks? ​

A stack is a collection of infrastructure resources that you configure, provision and manage as a unit.

You can think about a stack as a combination of:

  • Infrastructure code which declares a set of infrastructure assets and their configuration. Terraform code (.tf files) and Cloud Formation (.json files) templates are examples of infrastructure code.
  • State that describes the status of the assets according to the latest deployment (e.g., Terraform state, Pulumi state, etc. - can be either stored locally or in a remote location)
  • Configuration to configure the infrastructure assets and stack behavior (e.g., Variables, Stack Configuration, etc.)

Using stacks to break up your infrastructure code into manageable pieces is considered an industry standard and provides the following benefits:

βœ… Reduce run times significantly by selectively targeting only the required stacks for execution (e.g., only the stacks that have changed in the last PR). Stacks also enable the possibility of parallel execution.

βœ… Limit the blast radius risk by grouping IaC-managed assets in logical units such as environments, business units, regions or services isolated from each other.

βœ… Separate management responsibilities across team boundaries by assigning and managing the ownership of stacks to users and teams.

βœ… Remove sequential and blocking operations by enabling parallel development and execution of independent stacks.

What are Terramate Stacks? ​

Terramate Stacks are Infrastructure as Code agnostic stacks and improve the developer experience, productivity and scalability in Infrastructure as Code projects of any scale.

You can use Terramate Stacks to manage IaC technologies such as Terraform, OpenTofu, Terragrunt, Kubernetes, AWS Cloud Formation, AWS Cloud Development Kit (CDK), Bicep, and others.


Some IaC technologies, such as AWS Cloud Development Kit (CDK), offer native implementations of stacks, while others don’t. It’s important to understand that Terramate integrates seamlessly with those approaches. E.g., Terramate can be used to manage Terraform workspaces and CDK Stacks.

Most of the time, Terramate projects manage dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of stacks. This is possible because Terramate CLI provides a neat set of features that allow you to create and manage stacks efficiently at any scale:

πŸ‘‰ Stacks can be created, cloned, and compared with a single command.

πŸ‘‰ Stacks can be orchestrated and targeted for operations, which allows the execution of any command (e.g., terraform apply) over a filtered selection of stacks.

πŸ‘‰ The change detection allows the execution of only the stacks that contain changes.

πŸ‘‰ The order of execution of stacks can be configured explicitly in addition to the default order of execution.

πŸ‘‰ You can generate code in stacks. E.g. you can generate the Terraform backend configuration for all Terraform stacks or a Kubernetes manifest to create a secret for all Kubernetes stacks that follow certain criteria.

πŸ‘‰ Stacks can be used to manage ownership by leveraging concepts such as CODEOWNERS.

πŸ‘‰ Stacks allow you to implement multi-IaC and multi-step scenarios.

πŸ‘‰ Since stacks always manage native infrastructure code, they integrate all third-party tooling seamlessly.

Stacks can be created with the create command, which creates a directory and a configuration file used to configure the metadata (name, description, id, tags, etc.), orchestration and change detection behavior of the stack.

stack {
  # ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  # Configure the metadata of a stack
  # ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  name        = "Terraform Example Stack"
  description = "An awesome stack for demo purposes"
  id          = "780c4a63-79c2-4725-81f0-06d7c0435426"

  tags = [

  # ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  # Optionally the orchestration behavior can be configured
  # ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  # Ensures that the current stack is executed before the following stacks
  before = [

  # Ensures that the current stack is executed after the following stacks
  after = [

  # ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  # Optionally the trigger behavior can be configured
  # ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  # If any of the configured files changed, this stack will be marked as changed in the change detection.
  watch = [

  # Forces the execution of a list of stacks whenever the current stack is executed
  # even if those don't contain any changes
  wants = [

  # Ensures that the current stack always gets executed when a list of configured
  # stacks are executed even if the current stack doesn't contain any changes
  wanted_by = [

For an overview of all stacks configuration options available, please see the docs in stacks configuration.

Summary ​

Stacks are a useful abstraction in Infrastructure as Code that allows us to define small units of assets. A stack consists of infrastructure code, state and configuration. The Terramate concept of stacks includes the inheritance of configuration over the filesystem hierarchy and the ability to orchestrate commands in a targeted set of stacks.