Whipping tablecloths with Docker for AWS, CloudFormation, and Terraform

I’ve been using Docker for AWS (D4AWS) ever since I was accepted into the public beta, and have been running it in production for a while. One of the best features of D4AWS is that you can deploy it without needing any client-side tooling, due to its use of AWS CloudFormation (CFN).

This simplicity can also be a problem, since CloudFormation can be quite inflexible. In the early days, if you wanted to add a D4AWS stack to an existing VPC, for example, you were out of luck. Luckily, Docker soon added a second CloudFormation template that you can use, given you have an existing VPC, 3 subnets, and appropriate route tables.

Personally, I prefer using Terraform to provision and manage infrastructure, and my D4AWS stacks are no exception - I use the aws_cloudformation_stack resource for this. And in the cases where I’ve added D4AWS to an existing VPC, it’s easy with Terraform to plug the right values into the right places.

This all means you have a choice when deploying Docker for AWS: do you want the whole infrastructure created and managed for you, with no effort? Or will you choose the more complex route of provisioning your own networking, for more flexibility down the road?

I’ve learned the importance of making the right choice the hard way, and now I’m faced with the situation that I need to move the VPC (and subnets) out from CloudFormation’s control, and into (in my case) Terraform’s.

The tablecloth trick

The key here is that I need to make this migration without downtime. Simply tearing down one stack and bringing up another would be simple, but it would also be a real hassle.

Fortunately, a number of features of CloudFormation and Terraform can help me perform this magic trick.

Setting the table

The goal here is to migrate between the two CFN templates, so let’s start by downloading both of them:

$ curl -sSLO https://editions-us-east-1.s3.amazonaws.com/aws/stable/Docker.tmpl
$ curl -sSLO https://editions-us-east-1.s3.amazonaws.com/aws/stable/Docker-no-vpc.tmpl
$ ls -1sh *.tmpl
 92K Docker-no-vpc.tmpl
108K Docker.tmpl

We can see right away that there’s about 16KB of difference between the two. Makes sense - the -no-vpc variant is missing a number of resources that are created by the other one.

If you diff them, these are the main differences:

  1. Docker-no-vpc.tmpl adds 5 new Parameters: Vpc, VpcCidr, and PubSubnetAz1 through 3
  2. Docker.tmpl has an Output named VPCID
  3. Docker.tmpl includes a number of resources:
    • AttachGateway
    • Vpc
    • PubSubnetAz1 (through 3)
    • InternetGateway
    • PubSubnet1RouteTableAssociation (through 3)
    • PublicRouteViaIgw
    • RouteViaIgw

There is also a Lambda and some related resources which we won’t need - it’s used for getting information about availability zones at deploy time.

The plan is to liberate 11 resources from the Docker.tmpl stack, and bring them into Terraform’s control:

  1. first we’ll use CloudFormation’s DeletionPolicy resource attribute to retain deleted resources
  2. then we’ll use Terraform’s import functionality to bring those into our control

When we’re done, we’ll end up having morphed from Docker.tmpl to Docker-no-vpc.tmpl.

First course

The first step is to add a DeletionPolicy entry to each of the network resources we’ll be moving.

For each of the resources that Docker-no-vpc.tmpl isn’t going to be managing, we need to add a "DeletionPolicy": "Retain" entry.

I’ve done the changes, and the diff is:

At this point, it’s important to actually apply these changes. Since we’re using Terraform, this is as easy as:

$ terraform apply
Apply complete! Resources: 0 added, 1 changed, 0 destroyed.

Second course

Now the fun part - importing resources into the Terraform state and configuration. For now (as of v0.11.3) Terraform doesn’t support generating configuration on import, so that part must be done first, and by hand.

We’ll need to create 10 Terraform resources:

The new Terraform resources look roughly like this:

A few details:

Finding resource IDs

Before we can import the AWS resources into Terraform, we need to find their IDs. It’s fairly straightforward to do this through the AWS console UI, but in my opinion it’s faster to use the AWS CLI:

$ aws ec2 describe-vpcs --output text --filters 'Name=tag:Name,Values="docker4aws-VPC"' --query Vpcs[].VpcId
$ aws ec2 describe-internet-gateways --output text --filters 'Name=tag:Name,Values="docker4aws-IGW"' --query InternetGateways[].InternetGatewayId
$ aws ec2 describe-subnets --output text --filters 'Name=tag:Name,Values="docker4aws-Subnet1"' --query Subnets[].SubnetId
$ aws ec2 describe-subnets --output text --filters 'Name=tag:Name,Values="docker4aws-Subnet2"' --query Subnets[].SubnetId
$ aws ec2 describe-subnets --output text --filters 'Name=tag:Name,Values="docker4aws-Subnet3"' --query Subnets[].SubnetId
$ aws --profile developer --region us-east-1 ec2 describe-route-tables --output text --filters 'Name=tag:Name,Values="docker4aws-RT"' --query RouteTables[].RouteTableId


Importing resources

Now the fun starts. Starting with the VPC, we need to import each resource into the terraform state, using the IDs discovered above:

$ terraform import aws_vpc.Vpc vpc-12348765
$ terraform import aws_internet_gateway.InternetGateway igw-18273645
$ terraform import aws_subnet.PubSubnetAz1 subnet-87654321
$ terraform import aws_subnet.PubSubnetAz2 subnet-87654322
$ terraform import aws_subnet.PubSubnetAz3 subnet-87654323
$ terraform import aws_route_table.RouteViaIgw rtb-12344321

At this point, if you run terraform plan, the command should return with:

No changes. Infrastructure is up-to-date.

Removing the tablecloth without disturbing the dishes…

Right now we’re in a bit of an odd state - both Terraform and CloudFormation think they’re managing the same resources. The next step is to remove them from the CloudFormation template.

Altering the CFN template

At this point we can start morphing Docker.tmpl to look more like Docker-no-vpc.tmpl.

First off, we can simply delete the affected resources from Docker.tmpl. We’ll also need to delete the VPCID output, as well as add in the missing Parameters.

The easiest way to do this is simply to diff the two files (I like using diff -u), and copy/paste the relevant pieces.

The diff should look something like this:

Note that this isn’t quite the same as Docker-no-vpc.tmpl yet. A few unnecessary resources are still hanging around (Lambda-related). We’ll clean them up later.

Passing in the parameters

The Terraform configuration now needs to be altered to pass in the appropriate IDs as parameters. The aws_cloudformation_stack resources should look like this:

resource "aws_cloudformation_stack" "docker4aws" {
  template_body = "${file("Docker.tmpl")}"
  parameters {

    Vpc = "${aws_vpc.Vpc.id}"
    VpcCidr = "${aws_vpc.Vpc.cidr_block}"
    PubSubnetAz1 = "${aws_subnet.PubSubnetAz1.id}"
    PubSubnetAz2 = "${aws_subnet.PubSubnetAz2.id}"
    PubSubnetAz3 = "${aws_subnet.PubSubnetAz3.id}"


Now if we run terraform plan we should see 1 change - the aws_cloudformation_stack resource. It’s difficult to validate this since it’s just a blob of encoded JSON, but if we’ve been diligent above, we can do a terraform apply!

It’s probably wise at this point to watch the update in the AWS Console UI, so we can make sure nothing unexpected is happening.

The update shouldn’t take too long (~1-2mins), and should contain a number of lines where the status is DELETE_SKIPPED.

Clearing the dishes

Now we can clean everything up and swap the Docker.tmpl for the full Docker-no-vpc.tmpl file. The only differences should be related to the Lambda resource that’s no longer in use:

resource "aws_cloudformation_stack" "docker4aws" {
  template_body = "${file("Docker-no-vpc.tmpl")}"

At this point we can terraform apply again, and after ~30s the update should be complete.


Migrating resources from CloudFormation’s control to Terraform’s control is not too painful. The DeletionPolicy attribute makes this possible. We could accomplish the transition by manually altering the Terraform state (either by hand, or with the new terraform state commands), but the terraform import command makes life so much easier!

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