Gem Version Build Status

CloudFormation and related services provide a way to manage infrastructure state in "the cloud." This gem and its included command (aws-cft) build on top of this state management system to create an infrastructure management solution native to the AWS environment.

aws-cft-tools empowers users to organize their CloudFormation templates using any form of directory structure, without the need to tediously deploy their templates in a specific order or create quickly outdated scripts to manage the deployment thereof. This project links together templates using the Export/ImportValue features of CloudFormation to determine the order of operations, manages stack names, and supports multiple parallel "Environments" within a single AWS account.


Add this line to your application's Gemfile:

gem 'aws-cft-tools'

And then execute:

$ bundle

Or install it yourself as:

$ gem install aws-cft-tools


The aws-cft command provides access to a number of run books that manage different tasks.

  • aws-cft deploy to deploy CloudFormation templates
  • aws-cft diff to see differences between local and deployed CloudFormation templates
  • aws-cft hosts to list running EC2 instances
  • aws-cft images to list available AMIs
  • aws-cft init to initialize a new infrastructure project
  • aws-cft retract to remove deployed CloudFormation templates
  • aws-cft stacks to list CloudFormation stacks

See USAGE.adoc for more details.

Template organization

CloudFormation templates are managed in any number of directories that correspond to infrastructure layers. For example, vpcs, networks, security, and applications. The layers are completely arbitrary.

Templates also belong to a "role" based on their participation in the infrastructure. The role is defined with metadata in the template:

  Role: foo

Templates are deployed or retracted based on their dependency order. The scripts try to discover this by examining the values exported by one template and imported by another. When this fails to describe the proper dependencies of a template, you can add an explicit dependency in the template's Metadata:

      - relative_path_to/template.yaml

This follows the pattern for listing explicit dependencies between resources in a template.


After checking out the repo, run bin/setup to install dependencies. Then, run rake spec to run the tests. You can also run bin/console for an interactive prompt that will allow you to experiment.

To install this gem onto your local machine, run bundle exec rake install. To release a new version, update the version number in version.rb, and then run bundle exec rake release, which will create a git tag for the version, push git commits and tags, and push the .gem file to

Why aws-cft-tools?

aws-cft-tools is designed to work in an "infrastructure as code" DevOps environment. Infrastructure is software that is developed, tested, peer reviewed, and finally merged and deployed.

"Vanilla" CloudFormation

When first using CloudFormation, it is very easy to launch a single stack and get off the ground quickly. As you move forward, users quickly find out that their Templates need to be managed in source control. Later, users want to test their infrastructure changes in a different Environment, so a "dev" layer is created, then an "integration", then a "staging", etc. Before too long, launching stacks is a nightmare due to dependency conflicts, manual naming failures of Stacks, typos, and so on. On top of that, remembering which Stacks have been deployed for which environment becomes impossible, so infrastructure drift is inevitable.

This tool builds on top of the normal progression of teams using CloudFormation, enabling managed Environments using parameters on templates. It offers simple deployments to roll out a full stack in a new environment with a single command. It allows developers to continue to use CloudFormation for all their infrastructure, while vastly simplifying the deployment and retraction process.


Ansible provides features that are a mix of infrastructure management and instance configuration. For example, Ansible can do the work of TerraForm and Chef, combined. However, Ansible works best when working with an expected inventory of resources. It makes changes to bring infrastructure in line with the inventory. aws-cft-tools only manages CloudFormation templates and leaves configuration of instances to other tools such as Chef or Ansible.

Using Ansible with aws-cft-tools

Ansible can manage the production of an Amazon Machine Image (AMI). It can spin up a temporary EC2 instance and install all of the necessary system packages, make any configuration changes, and trigger the creation of a tagged AMI. If the AMI is tagged with an Environment and Role, then aws-cft-tools can discover the AMI and provide it as a parameter to any CloudFormation stacks that require the image. For example, creating a new AMI and then using aws-cft-tools to deploy the CloudFormation Template for an auto-scaling group that uses that AMI can result in the deployment of a new version of an application.


TerraForm and aws-cft-tools are solving similar problems with fundamentally different approaches. TerraForm is designed to work with multiple cloud providers while aws-cft-tools is specific to AWS. So TerraForm can't depend on features that aren't provided by all cloud providers. Thus, TerraForm requires a state file that introduces some complexity into managing infrastructure.

Using aws-cft-tools doesn't mean infrastructure management is less complex than when using TerraForm. Only that the complexity is different. Instead of managing a state file outside of AWS, aws-cft-tools assumes that AWS is the source of all state information.

Rather than computing changes, for example, aws-cft-tools requests a list of changes from AWS for a given change in template and parameters. This does take more time than if all of that information was in a local state file, but it ensures that any changes reflect the current deployment.

In exchange for taking a little more time to make changes (e.g., pull requests and code reviews after initial development), teams can work on different parts of the infrastructure without having to coordinate with each other.

Building Gem for Local Use

bundle install --deployment --without development test
gem build ./aws-cft-tools.gemspec

Minimum IAM Policy to run initial script

  "Sid": "aws-cft",
  "Effect": "Allow",
  "Action": [
  "Resource": [ "*" ]

Security Policy

Please do not submit an issue on GitHub for a security vulnerability. Please contact the development team through the Certify Help Desk at [email protected].

Be sure to include all the pertinent information.


Aws-cft-tools is licensed permissively under the Apache License v2.0. A copy of that license is distributed with this software.


We welcome contributions. Please read for how to contribute.

We strive for a welcoming and inclusive environment for the aws-cft-tools project.

Please follow this guidelines in all interactions:

  1. Be Respectful: use welcoming and inclusive language.
  2. Assume best intentions: seek to understand others' opinions.