Deploy linked Azure Resource Manager templates with a SAS token

ARM templates tend to get huge when your deployments get more complex.
With linking you can call an ARM template from another template and create a hierarchy of your templates, making it easier to adjust and reuse the templates. You can pass parameters from the master template to the linked template.

Linked templates are not very intuitive to use however. In this blog post I will walk you through an example where I deploy a storage account with a linked template. I will also show you how to use the template in a CD/CI pipeline in Visual Studio Team Services.

azure-arm

A complete example is on my Github repository.

 

The linked storage template

Let’s start with a regular template for storage. However, without the variables! A linked template only has parameters.
These parameters will be populated by the master template. These parameters can be hardcoded, populated by variables or declared in a separate parameters template.

{
    "$schema": "https://schema.management.azure.com/schemas/2015-01-01/deploymentTemplate.json#",
    "contentVersion": "1.0.0.0",
    "parameters": {
        "storageAccountType": {
            "type": "string",
            "defaultValue": "Standard_LRS",
            "allowedValues": [
                "Standard_LRS",
                "Standard_GRS",
                "Standard_ZRS",
                "Premium_LRS"
            ]
        },
        "storageAccountTier": {
            "type": "string",
            "defaultValue": "Standard",
            "allowedValues": [
                "Standard",
                "Premium"
            ]
        }
    },
    "resources": [
        {
            "apiVersion": "2017-10-01",
            "name": "[concat('disk', uniqueString(resourceGroup().id))]",
            "type": "Microsoft.Storage/storageAccounts",
            "sku": {
                "name": "[parameters('storageAccountType')]",
                "tier": "[parameters('storageAccountTier')]"
            },
            "kind": "Storage",
            "location": "[resourceGroup().location]",
            "tags": {}
        }
    ]
}

Let’s call this template storage.json.
Now we are going to call this template from a master template that I will name template.json.

 

The master template

Let’s create a folder structure like this:

In template.json I need to make a reference to storage.json. I could put my ARM Templates on Github or GitLab and reference the public URI of storage.json. But what if you are in an enterprise and you need to keep your templates private? What if you want to run the templates from a private storage account?
Then you will want to protect them with a SAS Token. How that works will be described in the last part of this article.

This is how the master.json file will look like:

 {
    "$schema": "https://schema.management.azure.com/schemas/2015-01-01/deploymentTemplate.json#",
    "contentVersion": "1.0.0.0",
    "parameters": {
        "artifactsLocationSasToken": {
            "type": "string"
        },
        "artifactsLocationStorageAccount": {
            "type": "string"
        }
    },
    "variables": {
        "storageAccountType": "Standard_LRS",
        "storageAccountTier": "Standard",
        "nestedTemplates": {
            "storageTemplateUrl": "storageTemplateUrl": "[uri(deployment().properties.templateLink.uri, 'nestedtemplates/storage.json' )]"
        }
    },
    "resources": [
        {
            "name": "storageDeployment",
            "type": "Microsoft.Resources/deployments",
            "apiVersion": "2017-05-10",
            "dependsOn": [],
            "properties": {
                "mode": "Incremental",
                "templateLink": {
                    "uri": "[concat(variables('nestedTemplates').storageTemplateUrl, parameters('artifactsLocationSasToken'))]",
                    "contentVersion": "1.0.0.0"
                },
                "parameters": {
                    "storageAccountType": {
                        "value": "[variables('storageAccountType')]"
                    },
                    "storageAccountTier": {
                        "value": "[variables('storageAccountTier')]"
                    }
                }
            }
        },
    ],
    "outputs": {
    }
}

Some explanation: according to the Microsoft docs you can use deployment() to get the base URL for the current template, and use that to get the URL for other templates in the same location. The templateLink property is only returned when linking to a remote template with a URL. If you’re using a local template, that property isn’t available.

So we need to concatenate uri(deployment().properties.templateLink.uri plus nestedtemplates/storage.json. That looks like this:

"nestedTemplates": {
"storageTemplateUrl": "storageTemplateUrl": "[uri(deployment().properties.templateLink.uri, 'nestedtemplates/storage.json' )]"
}

And append the SAS Token” parameters('artifactsLocationSasToken') in our resource section:

"nestedTemplates": {
"templateLink": {
"uri": "[concat(variables('nestedTemplates').storageTemplateUrl, parameters('artifactsLocationSasToken'))]",
"contentVersion": "1.0.0.0"
},

 

Pass the parameters

As already mentioned, you can pass parameters:

  • Hardcoded the nested template (not recommended)
  • Hardcoded in the master template in parameters or variables (semi recommended)
  • In a separate parameters file (recommended)

I would recommend to use the parameters file to set values that are unique to your deployment. Then you can use the concat function to create other resources names in variables.

 

Nested templates and dependencies

You can reference to the deployment like this:

"nestedTemplates":
"dependsOn": [
"Microsoft.Resources/deployments/storageDeployment"
]

 

Deployment

Finally, the deployment. If you are in an enterprise and you need to keep your templates private you will want to run the templates from a private storage account. You can achieve this with a SAS Token.

The steps are as follows:

  • Create separate resource group with a storage account
  • Create a container in blob storage
  • Upload all templates and scripts to this container
  • Create a SAS Token for this container with a valid time of 2 hrs
  • Inject the SAS Token to your parameters.json file
  • Append the SAS Token to the nested template URI

Basically, this is what the PowerShell script does when you create an ARM Template in Visual Studio! However, I think it’s good to know what it actually does under the hood.

I would suggest you to create a service principal. Here is how.
We need the clientId, Secret, TenantId and SubscriptionId from the principal.

You can find the complete script here.

Then run the script:

$vars = @{
ClientId = ""
Secret = ""
TenantId = ""
SubscriptionId = ""
ResourceGroupName = "azure-vm-poc"
ArtifactsResourceGroup = 'my-artificats'
ArtifactsLocationStorageAccount = 'mybeautifulartifacts'
}

# modify path if needed
.\New-AzureDeploy.ps1 @vars -Verbose

 

Add the script to a build or release pipeline with VSTS

Simply add an Azure Powershell script task and call the script. Define the variables in VSTS.

Troubleshoot

Sometimes the error message in the PowerShell console are a bit cryptic. With this command you will get more verbose error messages:

(Get-AzureRmLog -Status "Failed" | Select-Object -First 1) | Format-List

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