Understanding CloudFormation Template Syntax - Tutorial

AWS CloudFormation allows you to define and provision infrastructure as code using templates. These templates are written in either JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) or YAML (YAML Ain't Markup Language) format and follow a specific syntax. In this tutorial, we will explore the syntax and structure of CloudFormation templates.

Template Structure

A CloudFormation template consists of several sections, including:

  • AWSTemplateFormatVersion: Specifies the CloudFormation template version.
  • Description: Provides a description of the template.
  • Metadata: Contains additional information about the template.
  • Parameters: Defines input parameters for the template.
  • Mappings: Contains key-value mappings used in the template.
  • Conditions: Specifies conditions to control resource creation.
  • Transform: Applies AWS CloudFormation transforms to the template.
  • Resources: Defines the AWS resources to be created or managed.
  • Outputs: Specifies the values to be returned after the stack creation.

Template Syntax Examples

Here are a few examples of CloudFormation template syntax:

JSON Example:

{ "AWSTemplateFormatVersion": "2010-09-09", "Description": "My CloudFormation Template", "Resources": { "MyEC2Instance": { "Type": "AWS::EC2::Instance", "Properties": { "ImageId": "ami-12345678", "InstanceType": "t2.micro" } } } }

YAML Example:

AWSTemplateFormatVersion: '2010-09-09' Description: My CloudFormation Template Resources: MyEC2Instance: Type: 'AWS::EC2::Instance' Properties: ImageId: ami-12345678 InstanceType: t2.micro

Working with CloudFormation Templates

To work with CloudFormation templates, follow these steps:

  1. Create a new file with the appropriate file extension (.json or .yaml).
  2. Define the required sections and their corresponding syntax.
  3. Specify the desired AWS resources, their types, and properties.
  4. Optionally, define input parameters, mappings, conditions, and outputs.
  5. Save the template file.
  6. Validate the template for syntax errors using the AWS Management Console, AWS CLI, or SDKs.
  7. Create a CloudFormation stack using the template through the AWS Management Console, AWS CLI, or SDKs.
  8. Monitor the stack creation/update process and view the created resources in the AWS Management Console.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Forgetting to specify the required "AWSTemplateFormatVersion" at the beginning of the template.
  • Missing or incorrect syntax for resource properties, such as forgetting to enclose values in quotes or using invalid property names.
  • Improper indentation or formatting, which can lead to syntax errors and template validation failures.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • Can I use intrinsic functions in CloudFormation templates?

    Yes, CloudFormation provides intrinsic functions like "Fn::Ref", "Fn::GetAtt", and "Fn::Sub" that allow you to reference values, retrieve attribute values, and perform string substitutions within your templates.

  • Can I include other templates within a CloudFormation template?

    Yes, you can use the "AWS::CloudFormation::Stack" resource type to create nested stacks, which allows you to include other CloudFormation templates as resources within your main template.

  • Can I use conditionals in CloudFormation templates?

    Yes, CloudFormation supports conditionals using the "Conditions" section of the template. You can define conditions based on input parameters, resource properties, and predefined functions.

  • Can I import existing resources into a CloudFormation stack?

    Yes, you can use the "AWS::CloudFormation::ImportValue" function to import values from other CloudFormation stacks and use them in your current stack. This allows you to integrate existing resources into your CloudFormation infrastructure.

  • Can I use comments in CloudFormation templates?

    Yes, you can include comments in your template using the "//" symbol for JSON templates or the "#" symbol for YAML templates. Comments are ignored during template processing.


In this tutorial, you explored the syntax and structure of AWS CloudFormation templates. You learned about the different sections of a CloudFormation template and their purposes. You also saw examples of template syntax in JSON and YAML formats. Remember to follow the correct syntax rules and avoid common mistakes to ensure your templates are valid and can be successfully used to create CloudFormation stacks.