How GitHub Actions Improve Infrastructure-as-Code Management with Terraform

github actions improve iac terraform

Terraform is one of the most widely used Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) management tools. It gained traction as it was adopted by the DevOps and cloud computing communities. It stands out for a number of reasons particularly its declarative configuration language, multi-cloud support, plan-and-apply workflow, and CI/CD integration.

However, Terraform, on its own, does not provide everything needed to achieve highly efficient IaC management. While it does a good job running processes via CLI or through a shell script, Terraform can deliver better IaC handling by using automation to shorten tasks and smoothen operations. Terraform does not have its own automation capabilities, but it can work with compatible solutions that can also conduct compliance testing and security evaluation. It can best practice validation.

To achieve automation, Terraform can integrate GitHub Actions, a cloud-based platform for continuous integration and continuous delivery that enables developers to create their own workflows for building and testing each pull request to their GitHub project repository. It is essentially an automation solution for build-test-deploy pipelines that also provides additional advantages in terms of security and collaboration.

Enabling automation and efficiency

With GitHub Actions, every workflow can be configured to initiate upon getting triggered by a specific event or action. It allows the execution of a series of jobs hosted on runner machines. These jobs consist of tasks, which require certain actions towards completion. Some examples of GitHub Actions include bash shell scripts, which define steps and actions required for the execution of a workflow, and the checking out of code repository.

Basically, GitHub Actions bring systematic automation to Terraform. It streamlines infrastructure provisioning and management, especially in the following key areas.

Continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD)

GitHub Actions enable automated testing and deployments. They can set automatic triggers for Terraform operations given changes in the infrastructure code. This makes it possible to undertake continuous infrastructure configuration testing and facilitate the detection of configuration issues and errors. Similarly, GitHub Actions automate Terraform configuration deployments, which is useful in creating a reproducible change deployment for staging and production environments. 

Additionally, the CI/CD benefit of GitHub Actions extends to integration testing, wherein integration tests can be configured together with Terraform workflows, making it easier for development and operations teams to reflect infrastructure changes seamlessly with the rest of the application code. GitHub Actions also supports the implementation of rollback strategies to quickly resolve deployment failures.

Environment provisioning

Terraform plus GitHub Actions enable dynamic provision environments and parallel execution. With dynamic environments, developers can quickly create isolated temporary environments to simulate the operation and impact of feature branches or pull requests without affecting the rest of the infrastructure. On the other hand, parallel execution enables the acceleration of provisioning by making it possible to serve multiple environments at the same time.

Version control

Bringing Terraform and GitHub Actions together provides the benefit of Git integration since GitHub Actions is closely tied to Git and GitHub. This means that workflows can be triggered using Git events. It also makes it easy to use Git information within workflows and implement rollbacks to previous states if problems emerge. Moreover, GitHub Actions automatically validate configurations whenever pull requests are accessed. This is particularly helpful in providing contributors with prompt feedback.

Related: An Introduction to Version Control System for Developers

Workflow efficiency

GitHub Actions also enables the storage of Terraform artifacts such as state files between job runs, making it easier to share data among different workflow states. This provides an efficient way to do state inspections after the completion of workflows. It is also worth noting that GitHub comes with the ability to generate visual representations of workflow runs. This facilitates the easier understanding of execution flows, enabling the faster identification of problems.

Boosting security and compliance

In addition to the efficiency benefits, infrastructure security also benefits from the integrated use of GitHub Actions and Terraform. This security advantage comes from the integration of security policy checkers and security scanning solutions. These are important to ascertain that changes in the infrastructure do not veer away from established security policies and compliance requirements.

GitHub Actions also come with a secrets management function to ensure that secrets are properly secured in workflows, bolstering the security of Terraform deployments. API keys, login credentials, access tokens, and other sensitive information can be encrypted and only made available to workflows during runtime. 

Additionally, GitHub Actions can add to IaC management the function of role-based access control (RBAC), which is not available natively in Terraform. This fine-grained access and permission regulation system allows the specification of access to workflows, repository modifications, and management of secrets. It supports the enforcement of the policy of least privilege, reducing the possibility of unauthorized access.

Protecting code integrity, GitHub Actions can be configured to necessitate manual approvals before changes to specific environments can be deployed. It provides an additional layer of control to make sure that critical changes are not applied without proper authorization. GitHub Actions may emphasize automation, but there are some aspects of deployment that require human oversight.

Promoting proper documentation and collaboration

GitHub Actions is inherently built to encourage the robust documentation of workflows. With workflows defined using YAML syntax, it is easy to add inline comments and descriptions for every job, step, or section. This helps clarify the intent of workflows and security measures, among others, to support collaborative work. 

GitHub Actions also provides workflow status badges to serve as indicators for workflow statuses. These badges, which are in the repository’s README file, make it easy to examine the progress of CI/CD processes. They may also include links to relevant documentation.

Auditability is also an added advantage when using GitHub Actions with Terraform, as it produces detailed logs for all workflow runs. This automatically creates audit trails in the continuous integration and deployment processes. This backs the efficient monitoring of changes and identification of the sources of problems. Also, it enhances transparency to support compliance.

Complementing an excellent tool

Terraform is without a doubt an excellent IaC management tool, but it is by no means a complete solution to achieve optimum outcomes with IaC management. It can be made even better with automation, which is possible through GitHub Actions. The use of GitHub’s CI/CD platform for automating build-test-deployment pipelines boosts IaC management efficiency and bolsters security, compliance, documentation, and collaboration.

Cover Photo by Mohammad Rahmani on Unsplash

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