AWS DevOps Blog

Validating AWS CloudFormation Templates

For their continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipeline path, many companies use tools like Jenkins, Chef, and AWS CloudFormation. Usually, the process is managed by two or more teams. One team is responsible for designing and developing an application, CloudFormation templates, and so on. The other team is generally responsible for integration and deployment.

One of the challenges that a CI/CD team has is to validate the CloudFormation templates provided by the development team. Validation provides early warning about any incorrect syntax and ensures that the development team follows company policies in terms of security and the resources created by CloudFormation templates.

In this post, I focus on the validation of AWS CloudFormation templates for syntax as well as in the context of business rules.

Scripted validation solution

For CloudFormation syntax validation, one option is to use the AWS CLI to call the validate-template command. For security and resource management, another approach is to run a Jenkins pipeline from an Amazon EC2 instance under an EC2 role that has been granted only the necessary permissions.

What if you need more control over your CloudFormation templates, such as managing parameters or attributes? What if you have many development teams where permissions to the AWS environment required by one team are either too open or not open enough for another team?

To have more control over the contents of your CloudFormation template, you can use the cf-validator Python script, which shows you how to validate different template aspects. With this script, you can validate:

  • JSON syntax
  • IAM capabilities
  • Root tags
  • Parameters
  • CloudFormation resources
  • Attributes
  • Reference resources

You can download this script from the cf-validator GitHub repo. Use the following command to run the script:


The script takes the following parameters:

  • –cf_path [Required]

    The location of the CloudFormation template in JSON format. Supported location types:

    • File system – Path to the CloudFormation template on the file system
    • Web – URL, for example,
    • Amazon S3 – Amazon S3 bucket, for example, s3://my_bucket/my_cf.json
  • –cf_rules [Required]

    The location of the JSON file with the validation rules. This parameter supports the same locations as –cf_path. The next section of this post has more information about defining rules.

  • –cf_res [Optional]

    The location of the JSON file with the defined AWS resources, which need to be confirmed before launching the CloudFormation template. A later section of this post has more information about resource validation.

  • –allow_cap [Optional][yes/no]

    Controls whether you allow the creation of IAM resources by the CloudFormation template, such as policies, rules, or IAM users. The default value is no.

  • –region [Optional]

    The AWS region where the existing resources were created. The default value is us-east-1.

Defining rules

All rules are defined in the JSON format file. Rules consist of the following keys:

  • “allow_root_keys”

    Lists allowed root CloudFormation keys. Example of root keys are Parameters, Resources, Output, and so on. An empty list means that any key is allowed.

  • “allow_parameters”

    Lists allowed CloudFormation parameters. For instance, to force each CloudFormation template to use only the set of parameters defined in your pipeline, list them under this key. An empty list means that any parameter is allowed.

  • “allow_resources”

    Lists the AWS resources allowed for creation by a CloudFormation template. The format of the resource is the same as resource types in CloudFormation, but without the “AWS::” prefix. Examples:  EC2::Instance, EC2::Volume, and so on. If you allow the creation of all resources from the given group, you can use a wildcard. For instance, if you allow all resources related to CloudFormation, you can add CloudFormation::* to the list instead of typing CloudFormation::Init, CloudFormation:Stack, and so on. An empty list means that all resources are allowed.

  • “require_ref_attributes”

    Lists attributes (per resource) that have to be defined in CloudFormation. The value must be referenced and cannot be hardcoded. For instance, you can require that each EC2 instance must be created from a specific AMI where Image ID has to be a passed-in parameter. An empty list means that you are not requiring specific attributes to be present for a given resource.

  • “allow_additional_attributes”

    Lists additional attributes (per resource) that can be defined and have any value in the CloudFormation template. An empty list means that any additional attribute is allowed. If you specify additional attributes for this key, then any resource attribute defined in a CloudFormation template that is not listed in this key or in the require_ref_attributes key causes validation to fail.

  • “not_allow_attributes”

    Lists attributes (per resource) that are not allowed in the CloudFormation template. This key takes precedence over the require_ref_attributes and allow_additional_attributes keys.

Rule file example

The following is an example of a rule file:

  "allow_root_keys" : ["AWSTemplateFormatVersion", "Description", "Parameters", "Conditions", "Resources", "Outputs"],
  "allow_parameters" : [],
  "allow_resources" : [
  "require_ref_attributes" :
      "EC2::Instance" : [ "InstanceType", "ImageId", "SecurityGroupIds", "SubnetId", "KeyName", "IamInstanceProfile" ],
      "ElasticLoadBalancing::LoadBalancer" : ["SecurityGroups", "Subnets"]
  "allow_additional_attributes" : {},
  "not_allow_attributes" : {}

Validating resources

You can use the –cf_res parameter to validate that the resources you are planning to reference in the CloudFormation template exist and are available. As a value for this parameter, point to the JSON file with defined resources. The format should be as follows:

  { "Type" : "SG",
    "ID" : "sg-37c9b448A"
  { "Type" : "AMI",
    "ID" : "ami-e7e523f1"
  { "Type" : "Subnet",
    "ID" : "subnet-034e262e"


At this moment, this CloudFormation template validation script supports only security groups, AMIs, and subnets. But anyone with some knowledge of Python and the boto3 package can add support for additional resources type, as needed.

For more tips please visit our AWS CloudFormation blog