Automating the Site with Hugo and Terraform



I’d like to start with a some background. This site is hosted on Digital Ocean. This site is built using Hugo. I deploy this site using Terraform. It runs on the lowest end $5/month droplet from Digital Ocean.

If This sounds appealing to you, read further. We’ll be discussing how you too can have a blog site without the need for heavy CMS software like Wordpress, etc.


In this post we’ll work through the process of running a simple blogging site using Hugo. We will also discuss one possible way (the way I am using) to deploy the site using Terraform via the Digital Ocean provider.

All code for this website can be found on the project page located on Github.


Terraform is an automated server deployment utility. You define how to construct your server inside of a configuration file (or multiple configuration files in the same directory). It has providers for many different cloud service providers. For the purposes of this blog post I’ll be focusing on the provider for Digital Ocean.

Installing Terraform

Installing Terraform is fairly straight forward. On most platforms it’s a matter of downloading the platform specific zip/tar file and extracting the binary. This binary can then be placed anywhere you like. I recommend with $HOME/bin or /usr/loca/bin for convenience and consistency.

Terraform Files

Defining your system is done in files with a .tf extension. For this site, I have split the files up in to two different .tf files. The first file,, is where the bulk of the configuration occurs. I have two main sections within this file. The first section describes the DNS resource. This uses the Digital Ocean provider to dynamically create a DNS A record for the site once everything is setup and ready to go. The second section defines the actual droplet. What image to use, droplet size, how to remotely connect and what to do to configure the server.

The second file,, contains the provider specific information. This includes Digital Ocean API keys, private and public key file names and other various information which I would not want made public to the world. I am a firm believer in version controlling everything possible. By splitting up the sensitive information I am able to put the bulk of the config on GitHub and add an entry in to the .gitignore file for the, avoiding any possibility of accidentally uploading sensitive information to a public repository.

You can find the Terraform file that deploys this website can be found here.


Hugo is a static website generator written in Go, a powerful and modern programming language. With Hugo, all of the page content is written in Markdown. The layout of the page is defined by it’s type. The configuration files can be defined in TOML, YAML or JSON.

Installing Hugo

Installing Hugo is slightly more complicated than Terraform, but still fairly simple. If you are on MacOS I recommend installing with Homebrew. All other platforms should install using the platform specific instructions provided on the install page.

Build your first Hugo site

Once installed, creating the skeleton for your first site is as simple as running hugo new site <name_of_site>. Change directories in to your site and edit the config.toml file. You can find the config toml used for this site here. This config file defines the value of things such as your site name and theme as well as the menu for your site.

Once you have some of the config.toml figured out you should select a theme. Right out of the box, your site doesn’t know how to serve up the content files we will be adding. Adding a basic theme from the gohugo themes site is a quick way to get your content up. If you want to do so later on there is great documentation on making your own themes. For this tutorial, we’ll use the after-dark theme that I’m using here.

After extracting the contents of the downloaded theme file to the themes directory, we can return to the project root and run hugo new post/ This will create a new post for us under content/post named “”. This file is already populated with what is called “front matter”. Front matter is meta data about the page. It is defined using the archetypes found in the “archetypes” folder. If you now, from the project root, run hugo serve you will start a web server on your system and should be able to browse the site by visiting http://localhost:1313.

But wait, there’s no content! Open content/post/ in your favorite text editor and edit the “draft = true” to say “draft = false” instead. Altneratively you can run the hugo serve command with the -D flag to render pages marked as drafts.

If the above worked, the page you now see tells you a little about configuring archetypes for the after-dark theme. Follow the instructions and edit the post archetype to remove that message but leave the front matter in place.

Putting the Two Together

Putting these two together requires just a little bit of glue but it’s more than I care to explain in a blog post so I’ve made my entire setup publicly available on Github. Most of it is documented and the scripts make getting things setup fairly simple. It should be sufficiently detailed to start you down the road of deploying your hugo site using terraform, at least.


While I’ve used other deployment and configuration utilities in the past. This is my first experience with Terraform. Overall, my impressions are positive. It’s a good, general purpose, cloud deployment tool which makes getting started down the path of infrastructure as code easy and relatively painless.

As you continue to expand upon the topics discussed here and run your site long term, you will likely find that configuring specific aspects of your server is tedious with Terraform. Shell scripts can only get you so far. I would point anyone interested in learning more towards some of the industry standard configuration management tools available today for free. Ansible and SaltStack are simple, popular options that are well suited for both small and large scale use. If you find yourself needing more than either of those can provide, Puppet is another good option. You can also use Puppet for smaller scale deployments but some features are restricted without a complete puppet master/client setup.

<< first GopherCon Day 0 >>