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Terraform - Understanding Count and For_Each Loops


When working with Terraform, you may need to create multiple instances of the same resource. This is where count and for_each loops come in. These loops allow you to create multiple resources with the same configuration, but with different values. This guide will explain how to use count and for_each loops in Terraform.

Count in Terraform

The count parameter in Terraform allows you to create a specified number of identical resources. It is an integral part of a resource block that defines how many instances of a particular resource should be created.

Here's an example of how to use count in Terraform:

resource "azurerm_resource_group" "example" {
  count    = 3
  name     = "resourceGroup-${count.index}"
  location = "East US"
  tags = {
    iteration = "Resource Group number ${count.index}"
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In the example above, we create three identical resource groups in the Azure region "East US" with differing names using the count parameter.


  • Simple to use: The count parameter is straightforward for creating multiple instances of a resource.
  • Suitable for homogeneous resources: When all the resources you're creating are identical except for an identifier, count is likely a good fit.


  • Lacks key-based identification: count doesn’t include a way to address a resource with a unique key directly; you have to rely on an index.
  • Immutable: If you remove an item from the middle of the count list, Terraform marks all subsequent resources for recreation which can be disruptive in certain scenarios. For example: Let's say you have a Terraform configuration that manages a fleet of virtual machines in Azure using the count parameter. Assume that you initially set the count parameter to 5, which provisioned five VMs:
resource "azurerm_virtual_machine" "vm" {
  count               = 5
  name                = "vm-${count.index}"
  location            = "East US"
  resource_group_name =
  network_interface_ids = [azurerm_network_interface.nic[count.index].id]
  # ... (other configuration details)
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In the above example. Say After some time, you decide that you no longer need the second VM ("vm-1", since "count.index" is zero-based). To remove this VM, you might change the count to 4 and adjust your resource names or indexes, which might intuitively seem like the correct approach.

The problem arises here: Terraform determines the creation and destruction of resources based on their index. If you simply remove or comment out the definition for "vm-1", Terraform won't know that you specifically want to destroy "vm-1". It would interpret that every VM from index 1 and onward (vm-1, vm-2, vm-3, and vm-4) should be destroyed and recreated because their indices have changed.

This could have several disruptive consequences:

  • Downtime: Recreating VMs would lead to downtime for the services running on them, which may be unacceptable in a production environment.
  • Data Loss: If there's local data on the VMs that you haven't backed up, it would be lost when the VMs are destroyed and recreated.
  • IP Changes: If the VMs are assigned dynamic public IPs, these IPs would change and could cause connectivity issues.
  • Costs: Destroying and recreating resources might incur unnecessary costs in terms of the compute hours consumed.

To avoid such issues with count, you'd want to use create_before_destroy lifecycle rules or consider whether for_each is a better choice for such a scenario because it provides a way to uniquely identify resources without relying on sequence. With for_each, each VM would be managed individually, and you could remove a single map entry that corresponds to the unwanted VM, leading to the destruction of only that particular VM without impacting the others.

For_Each in Terraform

The for_each loop in Terraform, used within the for_each argument, iterates over a map or a set of strings, allowing you to create resources that correspond to the given elements.

Here's an example of how to use for_each in Terraform:

resource "azurerm_resource_group" "example" {
  for_each  = toset(["rg-prod", "rg-dev", "rg-test"])
  name      = each.value
  location  = "East US"
  tags = {
    Name = each.value

# Alternatively, using a map
resource "azurerm_storage_account" "example" {
  for_each  = {
    prod = "eastus2"
    dev  = "westus"
    test = "centralus"
  name                     = "storage${each.key}"
  resource_group_name      = azurerm_resource_group.example[each.key].name
  location                 = each.value
  account_tier             = "Standard"
  account_replication_type = "GRS"
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In the first example using a set of strings, we create resource groups with specific names: "rg-prod", "rg-dev", and "rg-test".

In the second example using a map, we create storage accounts in different locations and with associations to corresponding resource groups.


  • Detailed declaration: for_each provides greater control when creating resources that require specific attributes or configurations.
  • Key-based identification: Resources created with for_each can be directly identified and accessed by their keys, making modifications more manageable.
  • Non-destructive updates: If you remove an item from the map or set, only that specific resource will be affected.


  • Complexity: for_each is more complex to use than count and requires more planning.
  • Requires a set or map: You must provide a set or map of items to iterate over, which might not be necessary or straightforward for all situations.

When to Use Count vs. For_each

Both constructs are powerful, but they shine in different situations. Here's a quick reference to determine which to use:

Use Count when:

  • You need to create a fixed number of similar resources.
  • Resource differences can be represented by an index.

Use For_each when:

  • You're dealing with a collection of items that have unique identifiers.
  • Your resources are not perfectly identical and require individual configurations.
  • You plan to make future modifications that should not affect all resources.


Choosing between count and for_each largely depends on the scenario at hand. The count parameter is excellent for simplicity and when you're dealing with homogenous resources. Meanwhile, for_each is perfect for a more controlled resource declaration, offering flexibility and precision especially beneficial in complex infrastructures.


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