Painlessly create or update a CloudFormation stack in an idempotent way

Michael Wittig – 16 Mar 2017

When integrating CloudFormation into your CI/CD pipeline you are faced with the challenge of creating a CloudFormation stack on the first run of the pipeline, while you need to update the stack for all following pipeline runs. If you use the AWS CLI this is painful.


You may also have your code and template in the same repository. Therefore code changes without the template. But the AWS CLI threats an update without changes to a stack as an error which is not the behavior that you need in your pipeline.

cfn-create-or-update can create or update a CloudFormation stack. If no updates are to be performed, no error is thrown. cfn-create-or-update behaves exactly as the AWS CLI regarding input values, output will be different.


To install the CLI tool cfn-create-or-update, run:

npm install -g cfn-create-or-update

To create or update a stack, run:

cfn-create-or-update --stack-name test --template-body file://template.yml

The first time you run this command, a stack will be created. The second time an update will be performed but only if the template has changes.

Andreas and Michael Wittig

Hej, Andreas & Michael here!

We launched the cloudonaut blog in 2015. Since then, we have published 325 articles: small tips and tricks, best practices, and service reviews. We enjoy writing about all things AWS a lot.

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CLI parameters

cfn-create-or-update behaves exactly as the AWS CLI regarding input values. Supported parameters (as documented in the AWS CLI create-stack or update-stack):


Global parameters (as documented in the AWS CLI


Only used during create, otherwise ignored (as documented in the AWS CLI create-stack):

--disable-rollback | --no-disable-rollback

Only used during update, otherwise ignored (as documented in the AWS CLI update-stack):

--use-previous-template | --no-use-previous-template]

Additional parameter, to wait for create complete / update complete.


cfn-create-or-update is available on GitHub for free (MIT license).

Other solutions to this problem:

Michael Wittig

Michael Wittig

I'm an independent consultant, technical writer, and programming founder. All these activities have to do with AWS. I'm writing this blog and all other projects together with my brother Andreas.

In 2009, we joined the same company as software developers. Three years later, we were looking for a way to deploy our software—an online banking platform—in an agile way. We got excited about the possibilities in the cloud and the DevOps movement. It’s no wonder we ended up migrating the whole infrastructure of Tullius Walden Bank to AWS. This was a first in the finance industry, at least in Germany! Since 2015, we have accelerated the cloud journeys of startups, mid-sized companies, and enterprises. We have penned books like Amazon Web Services in Action and Rapid Docker on AWS, we regularly update our blog, and we are contributing to the Open Source community. Besides running a 2-headed consultancy, we are entrepreneurs building Software-as-a-Service products.

We are available for projects.

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