After seeing some demos or trying out the AWS Cloud Development Kit (CDK), many questions arise. How can I migrate? What’s about my existing resources? What is the Context about? And so on.

The journey of an AWS CloudFormation template to AWS CDK Watch my talk at re:Invent 2020 The journey of an AWS CloudFormation template to AWS CDK

Together with my fellow AWS Hero Thorsten Hoeger, I gave a talk on CDK Deep Dive on the German AWS Community Day where we tried to answer those questions. But I think it also makes sense to write them down. That’s why I started a little series about typical questions around the CDK.

This is the first part of a series ‘Hey CDK’

How can I migrate my existing CloudFormation templates?

There are multiple options that we will go through. Let’s imagine we have the following (simple) CloudFormation template:

AWSTemplateFormatVersion: '2010-09-09'

    Type: AWS::S3::Bucket
        Status: Enabled

A) Rewrite your template in CDK

To be honest, rewriting an existing template in CDK takes some effort. The bigger the template the more effort it is.

CDK treats the CloudFormation resources as lower-level Constructs. If you want to write it in pure CDK, you normally use higher-level Constructs. The problem here is now to get the right higher-level Constructs and find out which CloudFormation resources will be replaced by them. For example, the higher-level Lambda Function Construct generates not only the CloudFormation resource of the function itself but also an IAM Role.

The challenge in this process is to keep the generated template as similar as possible to your existing template. That’s not as easy as it sounds because CDK generates LogicalIds by concatenating the elements of the path and adding an 8-digit hash. So, CloudFormation will always show that it replaces your resources.

Let’s use the CloudFormation template from above. In pure CDK we would probably write something like this:

new s3.Bucket(this, "MyS3Bucket", { 
  versioned: true, 
  removalPolicy: cdk.RemovalPolicy.DESTROY 

Note: The removalPolicy is needed as the default in CDK (“Retain”) is different than the one in CloudFormation (“Destroy”).

The cdk diff command is very helpful, as it shows you the changes which will be applied if you deploy it.

$ cdk diff MigrationStack
Stack MigrationStack

[-] AWS::S3::Bucket MyS3Bucket destroy
[+] AWS::S3::Bucket MyS3Bucket MyS3Bucket4646DF6F 

Ups, it destroys the existing bucket and creates a new one. That’s not what we want. Luckily, we didn’t deploy it so far.

For most resources it’s not a problem to be replaced. But be careful with your stateful resources (like S3 or RDS)!

Tip: Add a DeletionPolicy to your important resources before you start the migration.

As we want to keep that Bucket, we have to ensure that the LogicalId doesn’t change. Fortunately, it can be overridden:

const bucket = new s3.Bucket(this, "MyS3Bucket", { 
  versioned: true, 
  removalPolicy: cdk.RemovalPolicy.DESTROY 

const cfnBucket = bucket.node.defaultChild as s3.CfnBucket;

The diff looks much better now:

$ cdk diff MigrationStack
Stack MigrationStack

[~] AWS::S3::Bucket MyS3Bucket MyS3Bucket 
 ├─ [+] DeletionPolicy
 │   └─ Delete
 ├─ [+] Metadata
 │   └─ {"aws:cdk:path":"MigrationStack/MyS3Bucket/Resource"}
 └─ [+] UpdateReplacePolicy
     └─ Delete

Don’t be confused. It adds the UpdateReplacePolicy and DeletionPolicy explicitly (to avoid any confusion with the defaults) and also some Metadata. But, it keeps the S3 bucket (with all your important data).

B) Include the CloudFormation template in your CDK App

Update 2020-07-02: The first version used CfnInclude of the core package. But recently, CDK published a new package cloudformation-include which contains a better implementation.

The third option is to create an empty CDK App and include your existing CloudFormation template by calling CfnInclude. If we synth that app, it renders the same CloudFormation template.

import * as cfn_inc from '@aws-cdk/cloudformation-include';

const include = new cfn_inc.CfnInclude(this, 'ExistingInfrastructure', {
  templateFile: 'my-bucket.yaml',

It’s also possible to access attributes, like the Bucket ARN:

const cfnBucket = cfnTemplate.getResource('MyS3Bucket') as s3.CfnBucket;
new cdk.CfnOutput(this, 'BucketArn', { value: cfnBucket.attrArn.toString() });

The synthesized template looks like this:

AWSTemplateFormatVersion: "2010-09-09"
    Type: AWS::S3::Bucket
        Status: Enabled
        - MyS3Bucket
        - Arn

With this approach, you can keep your existing template but add new resources with CDK. It also helps if you want to rewrite your template into CDK step by step.

C) Convert CloudFormation template into CDK

Another option is to generate the CDK code automatically based on your CloudFormation template. By using the CDK CloudFormation Disassembler we can generate the following code from the template:

$ cdk-dasm < my-bucket.yaml

import { Stack, StackProps, Construct, Fn } from '@aws-cdk/core';
import s3 = require('@aws-cdk/aws-s3');

export class MyStack extends Stack {
    constructor(scope: Construct, id: string, props: StackProps = {}) {
        super(scope, id, props);
        new s3.CfnBucket(this, 'MyS3Bucket', {
            versioningConfiguration: {
              "status": "Enabled"

Be aware that this tool has some (critical) limitations as explained in the Readme.


This option is just for completeness. I don’t recommend to use it! Mainly because it generates only low-level resources (like s3.CfnBucket) and you don’t benefit from the higher-level resources (like s3.Bucket).


To get the most out of CDK, it makes sense to completely rewrite your infrastructure in CDK. This can be very time-consuming. With the help of Cfn.Include, we can do the migration step by step.