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Paul Delcogliano
Paul Delcogliano

Posted on • Originally published at spacelift.io

Practice DRY in Terraform Configurations Using a Dynamic Block

The Don't Repeat Yourself (DRY) principle of software development states that code should be written once and not repeated. An important goal of the DRY principle is to improve the maintainability of code.

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Some Terraform resources include repeatable nested blocks in their arguments. These nested blocks represent separate resources that are related to the containing resource. For example, Azure VNets contain a subnet block attribute which repeats for each subnet within the VNet. This can lead to repeated configuration blocks in a Terraform script, which violates the DRY principle.

Dynamic blocks are a solution for applying DRY in terraform configuration scripts.

How to Use the Dynamic Blocks

Terraform provides the dynamic block to create repeatable nested blocks within a resource. A dynamic block is similar to the for expression. Where for creates repeatable top-level resources, like VNets, dynamic creates nested blocks within a top-level resource, like subnets within a VNet. A dynamic block iterates over a child resource and generates a nested block for each element of that resource.

Example

The following code shows the configuration of an Azure VNet and four subnets. In this example, the subnet blocks are written out explicitly, creating repeated code.

resource "azurerm_virtual_network" "dynamic_block" {
  name                = "vnet-dynamicblock-example-centralus"
  resource_group_name = azurerm_resource_group.dynamic_block.name
  location            = azurerm_resource_group.dynamic_block.location
  address_space       = ["10.10.0.0/16"]

  subnet {
    name           = "snet1"
    address_prefix = "10.10.1.0/24"
  }

  subnet {
    name           = "snet2"
    address_prefix = "10.10.2.0/24"
  }

  subnet {
    name           = "snet3"
    address_prefix = "10.10.3.0/24"
  }

  subnet {
    name           = "snet4"
    address_prefix = "10.10.4.0/24"
  }
}
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That same configuration using a dynamic block is shown below. Replacing the four subnet blocks with a dynamic block removes repeated attributes, leading to cleaner code that is easier to maintain.

resource "azurerm_virtual_network" "dynamic_block" {
  name                = "vnet-dynamicblock-example-centralus"
  resource_group_name = azurerm_resource_group.dynamic_block.name
  location            = azurerm_resource_group.dynamic_block.location
  address_space       = ["10.10.0.0/16"]

  dynamic "subnet" {
    for_each = var.subnets
    iterator = item   #optional
    content {
      name           = item.value.name
      address_prefix = item.value.address_prefix
    }
  }
}
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Here is the definition of the variable subnets:

variable "subnets" {
  description = "list of values to assign to subnets"
  type = list(object({
    name           = string
    address_prefix = string
  }))
}
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The values for the subnets variable are defined in a tfvars file. Sample values are:

subnets = [
  { name = "snet1", address_prefix = "10.10.1.0/24" },
  { name = "snet2", address_prefix = "10.10.2.0/24" },
  { name = "snet3", address_prefix = "10.10.3.0/24" },
  { name = "snet4", address_prefix = "10.10.4.0/24" }
]
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Dynamic Block Components

dynamic blocks are supported inside of resource, data, provider, and provisioner blocks. A dynamic block consists of the following components:

Component Description
label Specifies what kind of nested block to generate. In the above example, the label is "subnet". A subnet resource will be generated for each element in the var.subnets variable.
for_each The complex value to iterate over.
iterator (optional) Sets the name of a temporary variable that represents the current element. If not provided, the name of the variable defaults to the label of the dynamic block. An iterator has two attributes: key and value. Key is the element index. Value is the element value.
content Defines the body of each generated block.

A dynamic block can only generate attributes that belong to the resource type being created. It isn't possible to generate meta-argument blocks like lifecycle. Some resource types have blocks with multiple levels of nesting. When working with multi-level nested blocks, the iterators for each block are important. It is recommended to use the optional iterator component to clearly define each level in the configuration, and to remove any ambiguities resulting from attributes with the same name as a parent block. The listing below illustrates a nested block example, with clearly defined iterators for each block.

  dynamic "origin_group" {
    for_each = var.load_balancer_origin_groups
    iterator = outer_block
    content {
      name = outer_block.key

      dynamic "origin" {
        for_each = outer_block.value.origins
        iterator = inner_block
        content {
          hostname = inner_block.value.hostname
        }
      }
    }
  }
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Key Points

A dynamic block is a great way to apply the DRY principle in Terraform configuration scripts. Implementing a dynamic block where appropriate removes repeated code leading to configurations which are easier to read, maintain, and reuse - just as the DRY principle aims to do.

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