20 March 2016

YAML CloudFormation Templates

I like CloudFormation a lot. I can easily write a template to describe my AWS infrastructure or I can start with one of the many existing templates an snippets and customize it to my needs. I put the template under version control and let CloudFormation do all the heavy lifting of creating and updating infrastructure. No need to write scripts, recipes or playbooks.
There is one thing I don't like so much: a template has to be written in  JSON. Compared to XML it's a much better serialization format but it is still not optimal for humans. No comments, difficult to refactor (missing commas when moving lines) and you have to quote everything. Luckily there are some projects like YAML or Hjson who set humans first and give us a more user friendly language for writing data documents. YAML is the format used by Ansible, Swagger, JenkinsJobBuilder, Grails, tools that I'm using a lot, and so I my wish got bigger and bigger to have CloudFormation YAML templates. As JSON is interchangeable with YAML  support should be very easy. For example, in Ruby the conversion is a one liner: YAML.load(File.load(template)).to_json. A CloudFormation YAML template could look like this:

CloudFormation YAML template
I'm already using autostacker24 for deploying my CloudFormation templates, mainly because it provides string interpolation for clumsy CloudFormation functions, but that's worth a blog post of its own. The important thing is that the good guys at AutoScout24 accepted my pull request to support YAML templates! Using autostacker24 to update a CloudFormation stack is as easy as typing:

$ autostacker24 update --template my-template.yaml --stack my-stack

I really love my YAML templates now, they make me much more productive. No more missing commas, easy to inline long text (with '|') for UserData and they are so much more readable than JSON. Look at this template from the AWS examples and its YAML counterpart to convince yourself! You can skip the mappings definitions at the beginning and jump to the more interesting resource definitions near the bottom. Autostacker24 can also convert templates from and to YAML.

Now its your turn, give autostacker24 a try and if you like YAML, please spread the word. Maybe AWS will support YAML natively some day in the future. Pull requests and issues are are always welcome.