Terraform Configuration Language: HCL Essentials

Terraform Configuration Language: HCL Essentials

As you delve deeper into Terraform, understanding the HashiCorp Configuration Language (HCL) becomes crucial. HCL serves as the foundation for expressing infrastructure as code in a clear, concise, and human-readable manner. In this guide, we'll explore the essentials of HCL and how it plays a pivotal role in defining Terraform configurations.

What is HCL?

HCL is a domain-specific language (DSL) designed for configuration files. It's purpose-built for defining infrastructure, making it well-suited for Terraform. The language prioritizes readability and simplicity, allowing both beginners and experienced developers to express complex infrastructure concepts in an intuitive way.

Basic Syntax:


In HCL, you can declare variables to parameterize your configurations. Variables are defined using the variable keyword:

variable "region" {
  description = "The AWS region for resources"
  type        = string
  default     = "us-east-1"

Here, we define a variable named region with a description, type, and default value.


Resources are the building blocks of your infrastructure in Terraform. They represent the cloud components you want to create. Here's an example of creating an AWS S3 bucket:

resource "aws_s3_bucket" "my_bucket" {
  bucket = "my-unique-bucket-name"
  acl    = "private"

In this example, aws_s3_bucket is the resource type, and my_bucket is the resource name. The block following it contains the configuration parameters for the S3 bucket.

Data Blocks:

Data blocks are used to query information from providers without creating a new resource. For instance, retrieving the latest AMI ID for an AWS EC2 instance:

data "aws_ami" "latest_amazon_linux" {
  most_recent = true
  owners      = ["amazon"]

  filter {
    name   = "name"
    values = ["amzn2-ami-hvm-*-x86_64-gp2"]


Use the output block to expose information from your Terraform configuration:

output "s3_bucket_name" {
  value = aws_s3_bucket.my_bucket.bucket

This example outputs the name of the S3 bucket we created earlier.

Null Values:

In Terraform, null is a special value that represents the absence of a value or a "null" value. It is commonly used when you want to define a variable but do not have a specific value for it. For example, you might use null as the default value for a variable that should be provided by the user or in certain conditions:

variable "optional_variable" {
  default = null

You can also use null in resource configuration to effectively remove or delete a resource attribute:

resource "aws_instance" "example" {
  ami           = "ami-12345678"
  instance_type = "t2.micro"
  subnet_id     = var.condition ? "subnet-12345678" : null


The locals block in HCL allows you to define reusable values or expressions within your Terraform configuration. It is useful for simplifying complex configurations, avoiding redundancy, and improving maintainability. Here's an example:

locals {
  environment_prefix = var.is_production ? "prod" : "staging"
  bucket_name        = "${local.environment_prefix}-app-bucket"

resource "aws_s3_bucket" "app_bucket" {
  bucket = local.bucket_name
  acl    = "private"

In this example, the locals block defines an environment_prefix and bucket_name. The bucket_name uses the environment_prefix to create a dynamic bucket name. This helps in keeping the configuration concise and avoids repetition.


HCL supports a variety of expressions to manipulate and transform values:

  • Arithmetic Operations:

      variable "num1" {
        default = 10
      variable "num2" {
        default = 5
      output "sum" {
        value = var.num1 + var.num2
  • Conditional Expressions:

      variable "is_production" {
        default = true
      resource "aws_instance" "web_server" {
        ami           = var.is_production ? "ami-prod" : "ami-staging"
        instance_type = "t2.micro"
  • String Interpolation:

      variable "app_name" {
        default = "my-app"
      resource "aws_s3_bucket" "app_bucket" {
        bucket = "${var.app_name}-bucket"
        acl    = "private"


Comments in HCL are denoted by the # symbol for single-line comments and /* */ for multi-line comments:

This is a single-line comment

  This is a
  multi-line comment


HCL is the language that empowers Terraform users to define infrastructure in a concise and expressive manner. With a solid understanding of HCL essentials, you're well-equipped to create and manage complex infrastructure configurations.

In the next blog post, we'll explore advanced HCL features, such as modules, functions, and best practices for writing maintainable and scalable Terraform code. Stay tuned for an in-depth journey into the heart of Terraform Configuration Language!