How to test Terraform built-in functions locally.

Terraform has a bunch of built-in functions that allow to perform common operations when writing infrastructure code. Some of them are so common in many programming languages, that you can guess what they are for even without reading the documentation. For example, you’ll probably recognize the length() function which returns the number of elements in a given list or map, the list() which returns a list consisting of arguments given to a function and the join() which joins a list with the delimiter for a resulting string. You can look through the whole list of these functions in the documenation.

There is a question though. How do you try out these built-in functions locally and see how they work? In this post, I’m going to show a couple of ways you can do that…

Terraform console

Many programming language such as Python and Ruby provide an interactive console as a quick way to try out commands and test pieces of code without creating a file.

Terraform has an interactive console, too. But this console is sort of limited in functionality. It only allows to test interpolations.

Using interpolations you can insert into strings different values which stay unknown before the terraform starts to run. For example, you will often interpolate the value of an input variable into the resource configuration:

resource "aws_s3_bucket" "main" {
  bucket = "${var.bucket_name}"

The syntax for interpolation is similar what you can meet in other programming languages. The interpolated value is put inside the curly braces and prefixed with a dollar sign like this ${var.bucket_name}.

terraform console simply creates the interpolation environment. Everything you type into the console is effectively the same as putting it inside ${} in your configuration files. For example, if you launch a terraform console and type a math expression like 1 + 2:

$ terraform console
> 1 + 2

You will get 3 in the output. This means that you can wrap the 1 + 2 expression inside ${}, put it in your configuration file and be confident that this will be evaluated to 3. For example, the following will create 3 S3 buckets in AWS Cloud:

resource "aws_s3_bucket" "main" {
  count  = "{1 + 2}"
  bucket = "test-bucket-${count.index}"

Now that we understand what functionality terraform console provides, we can use it to test interpolating the built-in functions.

$ terraform console
> list("hello", "world")
> upper("hello world")

But remember, because everything you type will be immediately evaluted, you can’t create variables in interactive console. Thus, if you need to pass a map or a list to your function, you’ll need to create this map or list using map() and list() functions respectively:

> length(list("hello", "world"))
> lookup(map("id", "1","message", "hello world" ), "id")
> lookup(map("id", "1","message", "hello world" ), "message")
hello world
> lookup(map("id", "1","message", "hello world" ), "author", "None")

If you intentionally mistype a function name, you can see the inner workings of terraform console. It wraps everything you type inside ${} and then evaluates the expression:

> lengt(list("hello", "world"))
1:3: unknown function called: lengt in:

${lengt(list("hello", "world"))}  <-- the function gets put inside ${}

Output variables

If you miss creating variables and find working with the interactive console confusing, you can try out the built-in functions using output variables.

Create a configuration file for testing. Then define any variables you want with a variable block and put the expression you want to test inside definition of an output variable.

To demonstrate the same examples with the length() and lookup() function using a new approach, I will create the following file:

variable "my_list" {
  default = ["hello", "world"]

variable "my_map" {
  default = {
    id      = "1"
    message = "hello world"

## functions to test
output "my_list_test1" {
  value = "${length(var.my_list)}"

output "my_map_test1" {
  value = "${lookup(var.my_map, "id")}"

output "my_map_test2" {
  value = "${lookup(var.my_map, "message")}"

output "my_map_test3" {
  value = "${lookup(var.my_map, "author", "None")}"

If I run terraform apply, I will get the same results as before:

$ terraform init
$ terraform apply

my_list_test1 = 2
my_map_test1 = 1
my_map_test2 = hello world
my_map_test3 = None

P.S. you can find the file in this GitHub repo.