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Introduction to AWS CloudFormation

AWS CloudFormation stands out as a powerful tool designed to simplify the process of provisioning and managing a collection of AWS resources. This powerful service enables you to model and set up your entire cloud environment in a consistent manner, ensuring that your deployments are both reliable and scalable. This article delves deep into the essence of AWS CloudFormation, exploring its uses, benefits, components, and much more.

What is AWS CloudFormation used for?

AWS CloudFormation is a versatile tool designed to simplify the process of defining, provisioning, and managing your AWS infrastructure. By employing a concept known as Infrastructure as Code (IaC), CloudFormation allows users to describe their cloud resources in JSON or YAML templates. These templates are blueprints for building and configuring a wide range of AWS services, ensuring that infrastructure setups are consistent, repeatable, and efficient.

AWS CloudFormation, Infrastructure as Code
Source: AWS

Primarily, AWS CloudFormation is used to automate the creation and configuration of AWS resources. This means you can deploy complex environments, such as multi-tier applications, with a single template. It saves time and reduces the likelihood of errors associated with manual setup.

CloudFormation also integrates seamlessly with CI/CD pipelines, enabling automated testing and deployment of infrastructure changes. This integration supports modern DevOps practices, allowing teams to deliver features faster and more efficiently.

What is the benefit of using the AWS CloudFormation stack?

Using the AWS CloudFormation stack offers numerous benefits that can significantly enhance the way you manage and deploy your cloud infrastructure. Here are some of the key advantages:

  • Consistency and Repeatability: AWS CloudFormation ensures that your infrastructure is deployed in a consistent manner. By defining your setup in a template, you eliminate the variations and errors that can occur with manual deployments.
  • Automation and Efficiency: CloudFormation has the ability to automate the provisioning and updating of AWS resources. This automation helps you deploy complex environments with a single command, streamlining your workflow with less effort.
  • Integration with AWS Services: CloudFormation integrates seamlessly with other AWS services, enhancing its capabilities. For example, you can use AWS Lambda functions for custom resource provisioning, integrate with AWS IAM for security management, or store templates in Amazon S3 for centralized access.
AWS CloudFormation, AWS CloudFormation automation, AWS CloudFormation Stack, AWS CloudFormation Key features
Source: AWS
  • Disaster Recovery and Compliance: With CloudFormation, you can quickly replicate your infrastructure across different regions or accounts, which is vital for disaster recovery and compliance requirements. Maintaining identical setups in multiple locations ensures business continuity and meets regulatory standards.
  • Version Control and Auditing: CloudFormation templates can be stored in version control systems like Git. This capability allows you to track changes over time, roll back to previous versions if necessary, and maintain an audit trail of all modifications.
  • Cost Management: Automated provisioning and scaling ensure that resources are only used when needed, preventing over-provisioning and reducing waste. Additionally, you can use AWS Cost allocation tags and other cost management tools to track and allocate expenses accurately.

What are the components of the AWS CloudFormation Stack?

AWS CloudFormation allows you to manage your AWS infrastructure through code. An AWS CloudFormation stack is a group of AWS resources that you manage as a single unit. These resources are defined and organized using a CloudFormation template written in JSON or YAML format. The stack includes all the services and resources specified in the template, such as EC2 instances, S3 buckets, RDS databases etc.

The CloudFormation stack comprises several key components that work together to automate and streamline the deployment and management of AWS resources.

Templates: A template is nothing but a JSON or YAML file that defines the AWS resources and configurations you need. Templates describe the resources, their properties, and any dependencies between them. They serve as blueprints for building your infrastructure, ensuring consistency and repeatability across deployments.

AWS CloudFormation Stack, AWS CloudFormation template, AWS CloudFormation Stack parameters, AWS CloudFormation resources, AWS CloudFormation components
Source: AWS

Stacks: A stack is a collection of AWS resources that are managed as a single unit. When you create a stack, CloudFormation provisions the resources specified in your template. Stacks can be created, updated, and deleted through CloudFormation, allowing you to manage your infrastructure lifecycle efficiently. Changes to a stack can be rolled back if they fail, ensuring stability and reliability.

StackSets: StackSets extend the functionality of stacks by enabling you to create, update, or delete stacks across multiple AWS accounts and regions with a single operation. This is particularly useful for enterprises with complex, multi-region deployments, as it ensures consistency and simplifies management across a large number of environments.

AWS CloudFormation, AWS CloudFormation Stack vs AWS EC2, AWS CloudFormation deployment
Source: AWS

Resources: Resources are the AWS services and components that CloudFormation provisions and manages. This includes EC2 instances, S3 buckets, RDS databases, IAM roles, and more. Resources are defined in your templates and are the fundamental building blocks of your CloudFormation stacks.

Parameters: Parameters allow you to customize your stacks without changing the underlying template. They enable you to pass values into your templates at runtime, making your templates more flexible and reusable. For example, you can define parameters for instance types, environment names, or key pairs, allowing you to tailor your infrastructure to different needs and environments.

Mappings: Mappings are static variables within your templates that help you customize configurations based on specific criteria. They are particularly useful for defining conditional values, such as region-specific AMI IDs or environment-specific settings, without having to hard-code them into your templates.

What is the difference between EC2 and CloudFormation?

Amazon EC2 and AWS CloudFormation are two key services that serve distinct purposes in the AWS ecosystem. Understanding the differences between EC2 and CloudFormation is crucial for effectively leveraging AWS to build and manage your infrastructure.

AWS EC2 is a service that provides resizable compute capacity in the cloud, allowing users to launch virtual servers to run applications and process data. On the other hand, AWS CloudFormation is a tool designed for automating the provisioning and management of AWS resources using infrastructure as code (IaC).

Using EC2 with CloudFormation helps you automate and streamline your infrastructure deployment, ensuring consistency and reducing the potential for manual errors. It also allows you to manage your EC2 instances as part of a broader, integrated cloud environment.

In essence, EC2 provides the raw compute power needed for your applications, while CloudFormation orchestrates the setup and management of your entire cloud infrastructure. By defining your EC2 instances in a CloudFormation template, you can ensure consistent and repeatable deployments.

What determines the cost of using the AWS CloudFormation stack?

AWS CloudFormation offers an easy and consistent way to model, provision, and manage a collection of related AWS and third-party resources by treating infrastructure as code. AWS does not charge any additional fee for using CloudFormation, you only have to pay for the resources you use in the CloudFormation stack.

Pricing for Third-party resource providers 

Apart from resource cost, when you use registry extensions (custom resource types) with CloudFormation, you incur charges for each handler operation. A handler is a specific operation like CREATE, UPDATE, DELETE, READ, or LIST actions on a resource. Also, there is no additional charge for using AWS CloudFormation with standard AWS resources (namespaces AWS::, Alexa::, and Custom::*).

Free Tier1,000 handler operations per month per account
Handler operation$0.0009 per handler operation
Handler operation duration$0.00008 per second
AWS CloudFormation Pricing for Third-party Resource Providers

Pricing for AWS CloudFormation Hooks

AWS CloudFormation Hooks incur a per-handler operation charge based on the number and duration of invocations. Hooks are custom actions you can set up to run during resource creation, updating, or deletion. Hooks can help you enforce rules or perform checks before these operations are completed.

The more often or the longer hooks run, the more you will pay. These charges ensure that you can customize and control your deployments while only paying for the resources and operations you actually use.

Free Tier1,000 handler operations per month per account
Handler operation$0.0009 per handler operation
Handler operation duration$0.00008 per second
AWS CloudFormation Pricing for hooks

Best Practices for AWS CloudFormation

WS CloudFormation is a powerful tool for automating the setup and management of your AWS infrastructure. To maximize its benefits and ensure smooth deployments, it’s important to follow best practices. Here are some key best practices for using AWS CloudFormation:

Use Modular Templates

Break down large and complex templates into smaller, modular components. This makes templates easier to manage, understand, and debug. You can use nested stacks to create reusable components that can be included in multiple templates.

As modularizing your templates promotes reusability, it can be used across various projects or environments, saving time and effort in the deployment process. This reuse ensures consistency across deployments, as the same tested and validated components are utilized repeatedly.

Parameterize Templates for Customization

Use parameters to customize your templates. Parameters allow you to input values at runtime, making your templates flexible and reusable for different environments and use cases. This approach avoids hard-coding values and makes your infrastructure more adaptable.

Additionally, parameterizing templates enhances collaboration among team members, as it provides a clear and structured way to customize configurations.

Version Control Your Templates

Store your CloudFormation templates in a version control system like Git. This practice helps you track changes, collaborate with team members, and roll back to previous versions if necessary. Version control ensures a history of modifications, making it easier to manage and maintain your templates.

AWS CloudFormation CI/CD Stack, AWS CloudFormation pricing, AWS CloudFormation benefits
Source: AWS

Version control facilitates continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines. By integrating your templates with CI/CD tools, you can automatically test and deploy changes, ensuring that updates are reliable and do not introduce errors in your infrastructure. This automation speeds up development cycles and improves overall efficiency.

Implement Change Sets

Before updating a stack, use change sets to preview the changes that will be applied. Change sets allow you to see what resources will be added, modified, or deleted, helping you understand the impact of your changes and avoid unintended consequences.

Moreover, change sets facilitate better version control and rollback strategies. If an update causes problems, you can quickly revert to a previous state by deploying an earlier change set. This capability is crucial for maintaining stability and continuity in your infrastructure, especially during critical updates or deployments.

Use Stack Policies

Define stack policies to protect critical resources from being unintentionally updated or deleted during stack updates. Stack policies help ensure that important parts of your infrastructure remain intact, even if changes are applied to other components.

Stack policies are essential to enforce organizational policies and regulatory requirements, ensuring that certain resources remain protected and unchanged unless explicitly authorized. This is particularly important for sensitive data, financial systems, or other critical infrastructure components.


In essence, AWS CloudFormation simplifies provisioning and managing AWS resources through infrastructure as code, ensuring consistent and efficient deployments. By embracing the principles of Infrastructure as Code and following best practices, you can maximize the benefits of CloudFormation and achieve greater efficiency in your cloud operations. Whether you are just starting with AWS or looking to optimize your existing setup, CloudFormation offers a robust solution to meet your infrastructure management needs.

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Heera Ravindran

Content Marketer at Economize. An avid writer and a zealous reader who specializes in technical content and has a passion for all things Cloud and FinOps.

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