The AWS QuickStart team open sourced a project they use for automated testing of CloudFormation templates called TaskCat. With TaskCat, you can run automated tests to learn of and fix any errors that arise in your CloudFormation templates.

If you have been using CloudFormation for any period of time, you will learn that even if you have not made any changes to your templates, they might still fail. As one of my colleagues is fond of saying, if you haven’t run your CloudFormation template in the past week, it’s broken. This is typical of most software systems in which there are often version, configuration, API, or other changes to dependencies that can affect the operation of the CloudFormation template(s).

Here is a list of the services and tools covered in this post:

  • AWS CodeBuild is a fully-managed service for running builds and tests. I have configured CodeBuild to run TaskCat as part of CodePipeline.
  • AWS CodePipeline is a fully-managed service for releasing software using Continuous Delivery. CodePipeline models the workflow to run CodeBuild which runs the TaskCat tests.
  • AWS CloudFormation is a service for creating and managing AWS resources with templates.
  • AWS Secrets Manager is a fully-managed service that makes it easy to rotate, manage, and retrieve secrets throughout their lifecycle. I am using Secrets Manager to store my GitHub personal access token.
  • GitHub is a managed service for hosting Git repositories. I am configuring GitHub as a source provider in AWS CodePipeline. I run TaskCat tests against the CloudFormation templates in the GitHub repository.
  • TaskCat is an open source tool for running CloudFormation tests. TaskCat is called by CodeBuild to run tests against the CloudFormation templates that I have configured to run.

In this post, you will see an example of how I am enabling TaskCat to run from AWS CodeBuild as part of a deployment pipeline defined in AWS CodePipeline. What’s more, you will see how to automate the solution in AWS CloudFormation. Using this approach, you can configure TaskCat to run with every code change and learn when errors occur in your CloudFormation templates.

I’ve also included a screencast below that provides a walkthrough of the steps covered in this post.

Run TaskCat from the Command Line

In this section, you will learn how to use manually run TaskCat automated tests on CloudFormation templates from the command line.

TaskCat is provided as a Python package that you will download. This example assumes you have access to an AWS account and have established the necessary permissions. In order to show specific directory names, it also assumes you are using AWS Cloud9 for your IDE. If you are not, you should be able to simply modify the directory names accordingly.

Install Python and TaskCat

TaskCat uses Python 3 so you will need to install Python, pip (the package installer for Python), and TaskCat via pip in AWS Cloud9.

Here are the instructions for installing these tools using the Cloud9 terminal:

cd ~/environment
sudo yum -y update
python --version
curl -O
python3 --user
sudo pip install --upgrade pip
pip3 install taskcat --user

To verify TaskCat is installed, type taskcat --version from the command line. You should see something like this returned from the command line:

taskcat --version

 _            _             _   
| |_ __ _ ___| | _____ __ _| |_ 
| __/ _` / __| |/ / __/ _` | __|
| || (_| \__ \    (_| (_| | |_ 

version 0.9.8

For the purposes of these examples, I am assuming you are using version 0.9 or above.

Configure TaskCat

You can run TaskCat in several ways and there are a few command line options that the tool provides. I will take you through a simple example that is currently running on an open source repository that I own.

Create a new GitHub repository

In this section, you will create a new GitHub repository to store a CloudFormation so that you can run TaskCat against this and other CloudFormation templates.

Here are the steps for creating a new repository in GitHub:

  1. In the upper-right corner of any page on GitHub, use the drop-down menu, and select New repository.
  2. Type taskcat-example as the name for your repository.
  3. Type Repository to run TaskCat examples. for the description of your repository.
  4. Choose to make the repository either public or private.
  5. Select Initialize this repository with a README.
  6. Click Create repository.

For more information, see Create a repo.

Clone the Repository

From your Cloud9 terminal, type the following (replacing YOURGITHUBUSERID with your GitHub userid):

cd ~/environment
git clone
cd taskcat-example

Create a .taskcat.yml file

From your Cloud9 terminal, type the following:

cd ~/environment/taskcat-example
touch .taskcat.yml

Create a CloudFormation Template

From your Cloud9 terminal, type the following:

cd ~/environment/taskcat-example
touch sqs.yml

Open the sqs.yml and copy the contents below and save the file.

AWSTemplateFormatVersion: '2010-09-09'
Description: Creates an SQS Queue.
    Type: AWS::SQS::Queue
        - ''
        - - SampleQueue-
          - Ref: AWS::StackName
      Ref: MyQueue

Update .taskcat.yml

From your Cloud9 terminal, copy and paste the following into your .taskcat.yml file and save the contents.

  name: taskcat-example
    - us-east-1
    - us-east-2
    template: ./sqs.yml

This is the configuration file that TaskCat uses to know which CloudFormation templates to run and how to run them. You can pass in parameters, use TaskCat tokens to generate passwords and other values, and perform other configuration. Here’s an example of passing in a parameter to a CloudFormation template:

      AvailabilityZones: '$[taskcat_genaz_1]'
    template: ./lesson5-rest/ceoa-5-ebs.yml

$[taskcat_genaz_1] is a TaskCat token that obtains a single availability zone for a region (if I choose $[taskcat_genaz_2], it selects two AZs). You use parameters to list the parameters and values when launching the CloudFormation stack. For more information on TaskCat tokens see Preparing TaskCat input files.

Run TaskCat

From your Cloud9 terminal, type the following command to run TaskCat against your CloudFormation template.

taskcat test run

TaskCat will create and delete CloudFormation stacks for all the files listed in the .taskcat.yml file. In this example, it will create and delete a total of two stacks – one for each listed AWS region in the .taskcat.yml. When successful, the results will look similar to the image below.

Once it’s complete, you can open the index.html generated in the taskcat_outputs directory to view the TaskCat dashboard. To do this, right click on the index.html file in Cloud9 and click Preview on the context menu. A web page should display that looks similar to the image below.

Creating a Pipeline to Run TaskCat

In this example, you will see how you can create a CloudFormation template that automatically provisions CodePipeline, a GitHub source provider, a CodeBuild project to run TaskCat, and another CodeBuild project to deploy the TaskCat dashboard. This way you can run TaskCat automatically without needing to manually type commands every time.

Deployment Steps

There are four main steps in launching this solution: prepare an AWS account, create and store source files, launch the CloudFormation stack, and test the deployment. Each is described in more detail in this section. Please note that you are responsible for any fees incurred while creating and launching your solution.

Step 1. Prerequisites

This example assumes you have access to an AWS account and have established the necessary permissions.

Store your GitHub Personal Access Token in AWS Secrets Manager

In order for CodePipeline to use GitHub as a source provider it needs your GitHub personal access token. Since we want to run all changes automatically and we want to be secure, you need to store this secret in an encrypted location. You will do this in AWS Secrets Manager. Here are the steps:

  1. Go to the AWS Secrets Manager Console.
  2. Click Secrets and click the Store a new secret button.
  3. Click on the Other type of secrets radio button.
  4. Click on the Plaintext tab and enter the GitHub token value in the text area. You can get this token by going to Personal access tokens and creating one or using an existing token. To create a GitHub token, see the instructions here.
  5. Leave the Select the encryption key dropdown with the DefaultEncryptionKey option selected.
  6. Click the Next button.
  7. Enter github/personal-access-token for the Secret name and description on the Secret name and description page and click Next.
  8. On the Configure automatic rotation page, select the Disable automatic rotation radio button.
  9. Click the Next button.
  10. On the Review page, click the Store button.

Step 2. Create and Store Source Files

Next, you will create two source files that will be committed to your GitHub repository. From your AWS Cloud9 terminal, type the following to create and save two empty source files:

touch buildspec.yml
touch pipeline-taskcat.yml

Copy the source contents from the buildspec.yml and save it to your local file of the same name in your Cloud9 environment. This file installs and configures Python, pip, and TaskCat. It also runs the TaskCat tests against the CloudFormation templates listed in the .taskcat.yml file. The buildspec.yml file is configured to run as part of a CodeBuild project defined in the pipeline-taskcat.yml CloudFormation template. In this template CodePipeline is configured to execute this CodeBuild project.


Copy the source contents from the pipeline-taskcat.yml file and save it to your local file of the same name in your Cloud9 environment. This CloudFormation template provisions two CodeBuild projects, IAM Permissions, S3 Buckets, and a deployment pipeline in AWS CodePipeline. Once this CloudFormation stack is successfully launched, a pipeline will run in which CodeBuild will run CloudFormation tests in TaskCat, create a static website in S3, and copy the TaskCat dashboard files to this website.

There are a few things to note in this CloudFormation template. The default value for the GitHubToken parameter is configured as shown below. This assumes that you created the secrets in AWS Secrets Manager and used the name github/personal-access-token. If you have not, you will need to make changes for the CloudFormation template to work.

Default: '{{resolve:secretsmanager:github/personal-access-token:SecretString}}'

Also, there are two CodeBuild projects in this template. CodeBuildTest runs the TaskCat tests and is configured to run from the CodePipeline resource. CodeBuildWebsite copies the files generated and stored in the taskcat_outputs folder to an S3 bucket and then configures the S3 bucket to be a public static website. CodePipeline is also configured to run this CodeBuild project.

This CloudFormation stack configures CodePipeline to run with ever GitHub change. If you’d rather run these tests on a scheduled basis, you will need to make changes to the configuration.

Add and Commit the Source files to GitHub

From your AWS Cloud9 terminal, type the following to add and commit files to your GitHub repository:

cd ~/environment/taskcat-example
git add .
git commit -am "add CloudFormation and CodeBuild files" && git push

Step 3. Launch the Stack

From your AWS Cloud9 environment, type the following (replacing YOURGITHUBUSERID with your GitHub userid):

aws cloudformation create-stack --stack-name pipeline-taskcat --capabilities CAPABILITY_NAMED_IAM --disable-rollback --template-body file:///home/ec2-user/environment/taskcat-example/pipeline-taskcat.yml --parameters ParameterKey=GitHubUser,ParameterValue=YOURGITHUBUSERID ParameterKey=GitHubRepo,ParameterValue=taskcat-example

Step 4. Test the Deployment

Verify the CloudFormation template has launched by going to the CloudFormation dashboard.

Once the stack is CREATE_COMPLETE, select it and click on the Outputs tab. It should look similar to the image below.

Now, click on the PipelineUrl Output. This will launch the pipeline you automatically provisioned in CodePipeline – as shown below.

Once it has successfully run through all the stages in the pipeline, you will click on the TaskCatDashboardUrl Output value. This launches a website containing the TaskCat dashboard. You can click on View Logs for additional detail.

What’s Next?

In this post, you learned how to run TaskCat to create and delete your CloudFormation templates. What’s more, you learned how to fully automate the process of running these tests as part of a deployment pipeline in AWS CodePipeline and CodeBuild.

You can extend this example by running additional CloudFormation templates, using TaskCat tokens to customize behavior, create CodePipeline notifications to receive alerts, and modify CodePipeline to run on a schedule rather than with every code change.

Let us know how you choose to implement this by reaching out to us @stelligent or @mphasis.

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