Terraform CI/CD Pipelines with Gitlab

Deploying Terraform using GitLab pipelines provides a secure & seamless process for managing infrastructure resulting in faster & efficient deployment.


Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is an essential practice for modern DevOps and Agile teams to manage cloud infrastructure consistently, efficiently, and with increased resilience. Terraform has emerged as the leading tool for IaC, enabling teams to provision cloud infrastructure across multiple providers regardless of organization size. With Terraform, DevOps engineers can quickly and easily manage cloud infrastructure with code, speeding up the deployment process and ensuring consistency.

In addition to Terraform, Gitlab has become a popular choice for CI/CD management among developers and DevOps engineers. Gitlab’s vast integration with different tools allows for better management of the deployment process, making it an essential tool for organizations looking to streamline their DevOps workflow. By leveraging both Terraform and Gitlab, organizations can manage their cloud infrastructure and deployment processes efficiently and effectively, improving their overall DevOps Process.

The Gitlab advantage

Let’s look at some of the advantages that Terraform and Gitlab together provide along with a walkthrough of how to Integrate Gitlab and Terraform for the management of cloud infrastructure.

  1. Terraform state management: GitLab can be used to manage your Terraform state files, which can help to ensure that your infrastructure is consistently and correctly managed.
  2. Integration with other GitLab features: You can use GitLab’s issue tracking, project management, and other features to better manage your Terraform projects.
  3. GitOps Principles: Incorporate GitOps deployments and Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) workflows.
  4. Gitlab Pipelines: GItlab offers managed pipeline feature without the need for managing any dedicated servers like Jenkins

Core Concepts

For the purpose of demonstration, we have published terraform code to the public Gitlab repository here Terraform-Gitlab-Pipeline

Terraform state

Terraform states are like a database for your infrastructure deployment. It keeps track of all the cloud resources deployed and managed by Terraform.

With GitLab, you can:

  1. Version your Terraform state files.
  2. Encrypt the state file both in transit and at rest.
  3. Lock and unlock states.
  4. Remotely execute terraform plan and terraform apply commands.

GitLab pipeline

Gitlab offers CI/CD pipelines which are defined with the help of gitlab-ci.yml files in the project repository’s root directory. The pipelines feature was initially designed for application code deployments but is now widely used to manage infrastructure deployments also.

Pipeline Workflow

A typical pipeline includes Gitlab’s standard Merge request based workflow for infrastructure deployment

For any infrastructure change required, a feature branch is created from the mainline branch. Once the required changes are done, a Merge Request is raised to integrate the changes in the mainline branch, say main


As per this workflow, a new branch is created for an infrastructure change request, from the main branch ( e.g. branch name — CR1/demo_change_request_for_vpc ). The branch is then worked upon, for required changes, and a Merge Request is raised in GitLab for review.

As soon as an MR is raised, the pipeline gets triggered to perform certain terraform tasks related to the first level check of the recent changes. This is stage 1, which includes –

  1. Prepare: Initialize the terraform code and download the dependent modules
  2. Validate: Validate the terraform source code for any coding errors and incorrect references using terraform validate command
  3. Plan: generates a plan depicting the changes to existing infrastructure if the terraform execution is triggered. This step help in evaluating the changes and making the right decision on whether to proceed further with the infrastructure changes

The generated plan[file] is then saved as a pipeline artifact, to ensure the exact planned changes are applied when this Merge Request gets approved

Upon review and approval of the Merge request, the Change is merged into the main branch, leading to stage 2 of the pipeline, this time, taking the pre-generated plan and applying the changes to cloud deployment. The steps are

  1. Get the plan file
  2. Apply: Apply the planned changes to the infrastructure. This can be a create or update action that may require some of the resources to be replaced. So evaluate the plan carefully before approval to apply.

This entire workflow is defined herein gitlab-ci.yml file 

Pipeline in Action

With the concepts fully explained and the code prepared, the next step is to set up the deployment pipeline for AWS Cloud Resource Provisioning. We will go through a step-by-step guide on how to build this pipeline and expected output results.

Connect AWS Cloud

The credentials for your AWS account can be configured under the variables section <mention the path, e.g. Settings -> CI/CD-> Variables ( The sensitive tokens need to be masked)


Setup Terraform state backend

Gitlab is configured as a remote state storage backend in terraform’s backend.tf file 

The Gitlab project-specific configuration for backend configuration is defined in the Variables section of the .gitlab-ci.yml file


Trigger Pipeline

In order to simulate the behavior explained above, in the core concepts section,

  • create a new branch from the main branch
  • Make a change, commit and push the code
  • Create a merge request and check the pipeline execution here → CI/CD → Pipelines
  • Once the pipeline is executed successfully, the generated plan can be inspected by checking pipeline logs
  • Open the Merge request and review the code changes.
  • On the bases of code changes and information from pipeline execution, If all seems good, Approve the Merge Request
  • Monitor the pipeline again for the progress of changes deployed via main branch
  • When the deployment pipeline shows green, it means that all changes have been deployed successfully, and that’s great news!
  • However, if something goes wrong and the pipeline shows a failure, then re-check the steps above again in case you have missed anything.


The last stage in the gitlab-ci.yml file consists of the destroy or the clean up action. When manually approved, it executes the terraform destroy command.

  • This is added as a handy action to clean up the resources created as a part of this blog
  • Just go back to any successfully executed pipeline and click on destroy button


Let’s summarize the entire deployment process and how it’s helpful :

  1. Secure code management: GitLab pipelines provide a secure environment for managing code changes, ensuring that only authorized personnel can make changes.
  2. Smooth infrastructure maintenance: The use of pipelines makes it easier to maintain the infrastructure, reducing the need for additional tools.
  3. Integrated SCM and CI/CD: The integration of SCM with CI/CD is seamless, enabling pipelines to serve as a natural extension of the code management process.
  4. Streamlined deployment process: Reducing the dependency on the local system to install any tools and libraries.
  5. Versatile backend configuration: Backend configuration can also be managed through GitLab pipelines, adding to their versatility.
  6. Improved collaboration: Using GitLab and pipelines together improves collaboration within teams, allowing for better code management.
  7. Strong community support: GitLab and Terraform are widely used tools with strong community support, providing access to resources and assistance when needed.
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