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Choosing the Right Terraform State Backend: A Comprehensive Comparison

Atisha Shaurya
Atisha Shaurya
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Terraform, a popular infrastructure as code (IaC) tool, enables users to define, deploy, and manage their infrastructure using declarative code. One critical aspect of Terraform’s functionality is the management of the state file, which tracks the current state of deployed resources. Choosing the appropriate state backend is crucial for maintaining the integrity, scalability, and security of your infrastructure. In this blog, we’ll dive into a comprehensive comparison of different Terraform state backends, exploring their features, benefits, and best use cases.

Terraform State Backends

Terraform state is a record of the resources created and managed by Terraform. This state file is used to plan and execute changes, track dependencies, and manage resource attributes. Storing and accessing this state file reliably and securely is essential to the successful management of infrastructure.

When it comes to managing and storing the state file, Terraform offers a number of alternatives referred to as state backends. The choice of a state backend depends on factors like collaboration, security, scalability, and convenience.

Comparison of Terraform State Backends :

Local Backend

The local backend stores the state file on the local file system where Terraform commands are run. While simple, this method is best suited for single-user, single-environment setups and is not recommended for team collaboration or production environments due to lack of consistency and sharing capabilities.


  • Easy setup and configuration.
  • Suitable for local development and testing.


  • Not suitable for team collaboration.
  • Prone to data loss and inconsistency.
  • Difficult to maintain across multiple environments.
Remote Backend (e.g., Amazon S3, Azure Storage, Google Cloud Storage)

Remote backends store the state file in a remote object storage service provided by cloud providers. This approach is highly recommended for team collaboration and production environments due to improved consistency, durability, and concurrent access capabilities.


  • Enhanced reliability and durability.
  • Supports collaboration among team members.
  • Can be used for multiple environments and stages.


  • Requires setup of cloud storage accounts.
  • Potential network latency for remote access.
Consul Backend

Consul, a distributed service discovery and configuration tool, can be used as a backend for storing Terraform state. This approach is useful for environments that already use Consul extensively and want to maintain centralized state management.


  • Centralized state management within a Consul cluster.
  • Suitable for Consul-heavy environments.


  • Requires additional setup and maintenance of Consul.
Terraform Cloud/Enterprise Backend

Terraform Cloud (or Terraform Enterprise) offers a managed service for storing and managing Terraform state. It provides collaboration features, workspace isolation, versioning, and integration with popular version control systems.


  • Managed service with collaboration features.
  • Supports workspace isolation and version control integration.
  • Suitable for organizations with complex workflows.


  • Cost associated with the managed service.
Custom Backends

Terraform also allows you to create custom backends tailored to your specific needs. This option provides the flexibility to integrate with your existing systems or use alternative storage solutions.


  • Tailored to unique requirements.
  • Flexibility in choosing storage solutions.


  • Requires custom development and maintenance.

why Terraform State Backends

  1. Concurrency and Collaboration: In team environments, multiple users might be working on the same infrastructure concurrently. Without a centralized state backend, conflicts can arise as users attempt to apply changes simultaneously. State backends manage concurrent access and changes, preventing conflicting modifications and ensuring smooth collaboration.
  2. Data Consistency: Centralizing the storage of the Terraform state ensures that all team members are working with the same set of data. This eliminates discrepancies between different users’ local copies of the state, reducing the likelihood of misconfigurations and errors.
  3. Data Durability and Recovery: Local storage for state files, such as the default “local” backend, can be susceptible to data loss due to machine failures, accidental deletions, or corruption. Remote state backends provided by cloud storage services offer higher data durability and recovery options, ensuring your infrastructure information remains intact.
  4. Scalability: As your infrastructure grows, managing state files locally becomes cumbersome. Remote state backends can handle larger infrastructure configurations more effectively, providing better scalability and performance.
  5. Access Control: State backends offer access controls and permissions to limit who can read and modify the Terraform state. This is crucial for maintaining security and ensuring that only authorized personnel can make changes to infrastructure.
  6. Remote Execution: Remote state backends enable you to run Terraform commands from different locations or machines while maintaining a consistent view of your infrastructure’s state. This is particularly useful for remote or distributed teams.
  7. Production-Ready Environments: For production environments, using a reliable state backend minimizes the risk of data loss or corruption, ensuring the stability and reliability of your critical infrastructure.
  8. Lifecycle Management: Remote state backends often offer workspace or environment isolation, making it easier to manage different stages of your infrastructure lifecycle (e.g., development, staging, production) separately.

Choosing the Right Backend

  1. Scale and Collaboration: For team collaboration and larger infrastructures, remote backends like cloud storage or Terraform Cloud are preferred due to their scalability and collaborative features.
  2. Durability and Reliability: Remote backends offer better data durability and reliability compared to local backends.
  3. Cost Considerations: Managed services like Terraform Cloud may come with additional costs, while cloud storage backends are cost-effective.
  4. Existing Infrastructure: If you’re already using tools like Consul or other custom solutions extensively, integrating them as backends might make sense.
  5. Security and Compliance: Choose a backend that aligns with your organization’s security and compliance requirements.


Selecting the right Terraform state backend is a crucial decision that impacts the reliability, scalability, and security of your infrastructure management. Carefully assess your organization’s needs, the scale of your infrastructure, and your collaboration requirements to make an informed choice. By choosing the appropriate state backend, you’ll ensure a streamlined and effective infrastructure management process that meets the unique demands of your projects and team.

Atisha Shaurya

Atisha Shaurya

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