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Automate Your Infrastructure with Pulumi

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Managing infrastructure can be frustratingly hard. Combing through byzantine interfaces with poor documentation and hidden features, clicking through hundreds of menus - these experiences are all too familiar to DevOps engineers using AWS. A DevOps engineer's worst fear is that the business will ask for a new instance of the application for a client, and they will have to repeat all those manual steps again. (Hopefully in the correct order, and not forgetting anything along the way!)

At Hashrocket we are big fans of automation, and part of that means we use the latest technologies for declaring Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC). In this blog post I will introduce you to an up and coming IaC solution called Pulumi and discuss its advantages compared to other tools.

You can follow along using the companion repository on Github.

Infrastructure Defined

Infrastructure usually refers to the provisioning of service on a hosting provider such as AWS, Azure, Google Cloud or my favorite, Digital Ocean.

Each provider has its own terminology for the assets you can spin up. On AWS a Virtual Machine is called EC2 (or ECC), short for Elastic Compute Cloud. Digital Ocean calls those VMs Droplets. When choosing a platform it is important to know all of the specific terminology and naming of their asset types before getting started.

One thing to note here is that I am not discussing machine configuration, just the infrastructure pieces such as Firewall, DNS, and VM (e.g. installing packages from apt-get required to compile and run the app). Machine configuration is an entirely different topic for another blog post and requires a different toolset (Configuration Management tools such as Ansible, Puppet or Chef).

I am also not discussing delivery of your application to the production machine, there are other tools for that.

The goal of this post is to show how to create an idempotent script that you can run to set up your cloud infrastructure automatically and update it as business/technical requirements change.


There are a few options out there for declaring Infrastructure-as-Code, most notably Terraform by Hashicorp, AWS CloudFormation and Pulumi.

After using Terraform a few years back and not really remembering its obtuse configuration language, I bumped into Pulumi, and it looked really promising.

Pulumi allows you to specify your infrastructure in a language of your choice (out of JavaScript, TypeScript, Python, Go, or any .NET language, including C#, F#, and VB). This is really appealing to me as a developer since I don't have to learn a new language just for IaC, I can use what I already know.

Out of the languages Pulumi supports I prefer TypeScript the most, it is lightweight, statically typed, and tooling such as auto-completion are really well made and work flawlessly in my NeoVim + coc.nvim setup (checkout my dotfiles here).


By the end of this post I will show you how to setup the following on DigitalOcean:

  1. SSH Public Key
  2. Droplet
  3. Associate the droplet with the SSH Public Key
  4. Firewall + Firewall Rules
  5. Domain + DNS for bare domain
  6. DNS for www domain
  7. Project on DigitalOcean (so that our infrastructure assets are grouped in the web interface)

You will be able to run the script "up" or "down" to create or destroy your infrastructure.


If you want to follow along you will need to do a few things first:

  1. install the Pulumi CLI
  2. You will need to create a Pulumi account (and log into it via the CLI - this will allow Pulumi to store the current state of your infrastructure every time the script is run, and will allow you to store a private key for your encrypted configuration secrets.)

Creating a New Pulumi Project

In your project's folder run the pulumi new command, we are going to give it a few parameters to select TypeScript as our language and a directory name (infra in this case):

$ pulumi new --dir infra typescript

Next, Pulumi will ask you a few questions about your project, go ahead and fill those in. For the stack name I chose prod.

Each project can have many stacks, which are isolated instances of your project, you can have one for dev, staging and production, and each stack can have it's own configuration values. For the purpose of this tutorial we will focus on just one stack which I named prod to follow Elixir conventions.

You can read more about stacks here.

At this point Pulumi will go ahead and setup the project for you, install the dependencies and at the end you should see Your new project is ready to go! ✨.

Setting Up DigitalOcean

If you don't already have an account on DigitalOcean, go ahead and create one.

Log into your account and create an API token. Copy that token.

You can let Pulumi read that token in one of two ways:

  1. Environment variable:
  1. Or use one of Pulumi's built in features to store configuration secrets, those are going to be encrypted using a key Pulumi stores on the cloud, so if you commit a secret to git no one will be able to decrypt it unless they are logged in to the same Pulumi account (this comes in handy when collaborating with a team account):
$ pulumi config set digitalocean:token XXXXXXXXXXXXXX --secret

The --secret is the important bit here!

After that bit you can verify your secret was encrypted by opening this file Pulumi.prod.yaml. You'll see something like:

    secure: AAABAPXu6vBm3uICjVYaEN6MRD8RJ2gCPOsGrmC+xiR6MwDelrl4E67tBw==

Setting Up the SSH Key

When I start a new project I usually generate a new ssh key just for that particular project. For simplicity sake we will just use your personal ssh key located at ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub.

First, let's add the DigitalOcean plugin to our project:

$ npm install @pulumi/digitalocean

Then, in the infra directory edit the index.ts in your favorite editor, for best results use one that supports a TypeScript language server such as NeoVim + Coc or VSCode.

Import the plugin like so:

import * as DigitalOcean from '@pulumi/digitalocean';

We will also need to read the id_rsa.pub file so let's go ahead and import the fs library that's built into node:

import * as fs from 'fs';

Now we will read the contents of the public key and use the DigitalOcean plugin to upload it:

const publicKey = fs.readFileSync('~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub').toString();
const sshKey = new DigitalOcean.SshKey('example', {
  name: 'example',

Save the file and run pulumi up. If everything worked correctly you should see the plan Pulumi drafted. When confirmed Pulumi will upload your public key to DigitalOcean and you should be able to see it under Settings -> Security -> SSH keys.

Now that we have an SSH key all set up and ready to go let's configure the Droplet.

Configuring the Droplet

Open the index.ts file again and let's add some code to provision the Droplet. You'll notice one of coolest features of Pulumi when paired with TypeScript, discoverability!

There are many options to choose from and memorizing the internal enums of each cloud provider can be exhausting and error-prone. That's where TypeScript's autocomplete and Pulumi's types come in and help you discover what you can do and what values you can use for properties.

Wherever possible Pulumi provides the enums through types, such as the size and location of the Droplet, both are static and don't change much. Start typing DigitalOcean.DropletSlugs. then select the one that fits your requirements. For this demo I chose the 1VCPU + 1GB RAM $5 machine and placed it in San Francisco 2 region:

const projectName = 'example';
const droplet = new DigitalOcean.Droplet(`${projectName}-web`, {
  size: DigitalOcean.DropletSlugs.DropletS1VCPU1GB,
  region: DigitalOcean.Regions.SFO2,
  image: 'ubuntu-18-04-x64',
  monitoring: true,
  ipv6: true,
  sshKeys: [sshKey.fingerprint],

For the image it is much harder to keep track since the available images offered by DigitalOcean change often. So you would need to know the slug for the image you want. For most cases you can guess the slug, and you'd be right. If you want to be sure though, check out the DO API which has an endpoint for listing available images.

Another very interesting thing to note here is when passing the SSH key we defined earlier to the Droplet creation code, we are using the constant sshKey and calling .fingerprint on it. You might expect the type of sshKey.fingerprint to be a String, which would make sense if Pulumi was entirely synchronous, but it is in fact a Promise.

When running pulumi up it will try to parallelize what it can. When it notices you passed a Promise as one of the values to an asset constructor it will wait for that Promise to resolve before creating the asset. I thought that was super cool! It allows some assets to be created in parallel when their dependencies are ready.

Setting Up a Domain Name and DNS Records

If you have a domain name for your project, you can follow these steps to manage its DNS on DigitalOcean and point it at the Droplet.

You'll need to set the nameservers for the domain to point at DigitalOcean's name servers. This may take a while to propagate.

I like to store the domain name in Pulumi's config - this way we can ensure it is different between 'stacks' if needed.

To do that run the following in your infra folder:

$ pulumi config set domainName example.com

Notice that we did not use --secret this time since this is not sensitive information for us.

Now we will require it from the config and use it when setting up the domain on DO:

const config = new Pulumi.Config();
const domainName = config.require('domainName');

const domain = new DigitalOcean.Domain(domainName, {
  name: domainName,
  ipAddress: droplet.ipv4Address,

Again notice that we referred to an attribute on droplet, namely ipv4Address which is a Promise and will be resolved by Pulumi after the Droplet has been created.

You can also add an additional record for the www subdomain:

new DigitalOcean.DnsRecord('www', {
  domain: domain.name,
  name: 'www',
  value: droplet.ipv4Address,
  type: 'A',

I didn't have to read the documentation to discover how to write the above block, I just used TypeScript's autocomplete to guide me through it. I did not have a similar experience when learning to use Terraform.

Group Assets Under A Project

It's useful to group the assets you create under a project in DO so that they don't just float around.

new DigitalOcean.Project(projectName, {
  name: domainName,
  resources: [
    droplet.id.apply(id => `do:droplet:${id}`),
    domain.id.apply(id => `do:domain:${id}`),

Notice that we did something a little different here. Both droplet and domain have a property called urn which stands for Unified Resource Name, and DigitalOcean.Project.resources expects a list of urns. Unfortunately there's a bug at the time of writing where the urns were not correct DigitalOcean urns but rather Pulumi-specific urns.

I've found a workaround using apply and it's a good opportunity to learn about some of the tools at our disposal!

The apply function on properties of assets accepts a callback that will be run when the promise is resolved, once the asset has been created, and passes it the value of the property.

In our case we needed the urns to be in the format of do:type_of_asset:id_of_asset. To get the droplet id injected into a string with that format I've done this: droplet.id.apply(id =>do:droplet:${id}). Again, this transformation will only be called when the value of droplet.id becomes available.

The apply function will become useful again in moment, when we create our firewall.

Creating a Basic Firewall

DigitalOcean's web interface offers a "basic firewall" configuration that you can add to a Droplet.

Default Firewall Configuration (without our modifications): default firewall

I was able to reverse engineer the configuration for this basic firewall (with some minor additions) using their API and re-create it using Pulumi code:

const defaultFirewallAddresses = ['', '::/0'];

new DigitalOcean.Firewall(`${projectName}-firewall`, {
  inboundRules: [
      protocol: 'tcp',
      portRange: '22',
      sourceAddresses: defaultFirewallAddresses,
      protocol: 'tcp',
      portRange: '80',
      sourceAddresses: defaultFirewallAddresses,
      protocol: 'tcp',
      portRange: '443',
      sourceAddresses: defaultFirewallAddresses,
  outboundRules: [
      protocol: 'icmp',
      portRange: '1-65535',
      destinationAddresses: defaultFirewallAddresses,
      protocol: 'tcp',
      portRange: '1-65535',
      destinationAddresses: defaultFirewallAddresses,
      protocol: 'udp',
      portRange: '1-65535',
      destinationAddresses: defaultFirewallAddresses,
  dropletIds: [droplet.id.apply(i => +i)],

We won't get into the nitty gritty of each of those rules, but they should match what you get when you create a new firewall from the web interface (all outgoing connections allowed, and incoming connection for port 22 allowed - for SSH) with the addition of opening ports 80 and 443 for incoming web connections.

Notice that here I also used apply, this time (again due to a bug) I am converting the Droplet ID from string to integer.

Test the script by running

$ pulumi up

Exporting Some Properties

Finally, you may want to export some properties in the output of pulumi up. In this example I'll be exporting the Droplet IPv4 and IPv6 addresses:

export const ip = droplet.ipv4Address;
export const ipv6 = droplet.ipv6Address;

And again test the script

$ pulumi up

Here's the full script with a few more things pulled out into configuration variables: https://bit.ly/automate-your-infrastructure-with-pulumi-gist


Now that we've created all those assets let's destroy them so that we are not paying for them when we're done experimenting.

$ pulumi destroy


Pulumi provides an easy way for developers and system admins to collaborate on infrastructure in a repeatable, discoverable way. This is just the tip of the iceberg and Pulumi is still young, but it is very promising and a pleasure to use. I hope you enjoyed this post and if you have any questions don't hesitate to reach out to Hashrocket for help with automating your infrastructure.

Photo by Saad Salim on Unsplash