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What is Policy as Code and Why do you need it?

Gursimran Singh | 16 August 2022

what is policy as code ?

Getting Started

Before we describe Policy as Code, let us start with what a policy is. 

What is Policy?

A policy is a rule or plan related to and associated with particular situations. It contains a comprehensive plan that embraces acceptable procedures used as a rule or process. The policy is a way to enforce conditions and rules that prevent unauthorized access to resources such as databases, services, storage, or the environment. For multiple areas of your operating environment, policies could be created. You can achieve stability and security in your environment; you can monitor who has access to what.

Types of Policy

  1. Compliance Policies: Ensure compliance standards like PCI-DSS, SOC, or GDPR.
  2. Security Policies: Internal Security Policies for security and infrastructure principles and data.
  3. Operational Excellence: Policies for service interruption or degradation.

What is Policy as Code?

Policy as code is the writing code plan as a high-level language to manage and automate the policies. Like the concept of Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC), Policy-as-Code (PaC) is the concept of codification of your policies.

For implementing the policies created by high-level language, you need first to have a policy engine that will take the policy, query, and desired data as input and give out the query result based upon the policy attached/issued. Some of the policy engines available are Open Policy Agent and Hashicorp's Sentinel.

Policy as code helps maintain a standard within your organization by enforcing certain rules across the organization or within specific clusters. Having codified policies improves the automation and efficiency in tasks by enforcing the rules that prevent wrong setup and configuration in your cluster/environment. Policies you want to enforce could contain guidelines or agreed-upon conventions and best practices that need to be followed.


OPA (Open Policy Agent)

package terraform

import input as tfplan

threshold = 15

weights = {

  "aws_autoscaling_group": {"create": 8}


resource_types = {"aws_autoscaling_group”}

default auth = false

auth {

  score < threshold


score = s {

  all := [ x |

      some resource_type

      crud := weights[resource_type];

    cre := crud["create"] * n_create[resource_type];

      x := cre


  s := sum(all)


#List Available Resources

resources[resource_type] = all {

  some resource_type


  all := [name |

    name:= tfplan.resource_changes[_]

    name.type == resource_type



Terraform Sentinel

import "tfplan-functions" as plan

import "aws-functions" as aws

param mandatory_tags default ["Name", "ttl", "owner", "se-region", "purpose", "terraform"]

allAWSResourcesWithStandardTags = aws.find_resources_with_standard_tags()

violatingAWSResources = plan.filter_attribute_not_contains_list(allAWSResourcesWithStandardTags, "tags", mandatory_tags, true)

# Main rule

main = rule {

 length(violatingAWSResources["messages"]) is 0


Why Policy as Code?

The motive behind policy as code is the same as the idea behind Infrastructure as Code, which revolves around writing the codified state's policies/configurations. Cost savings, enhanced compliance, effective implementations, fine-grained infrastructure control, and better use of native tools from cloud providers can be achieved through proper policies.

For example, suppose a service is assigned using any policy. In that case, you can run a series of tests against it to make sure it meets your rules/procedure standards rather than manually testing and verifying each service.

What are the benefits of Policy as Code?

Policy as Code extends Infrastructure as Code principles and offers following benefits-

  • Governance and Compliance
  • Codification
  • Version Controlled
  • Integration with Automation
  • Best Practices

Governance and Compliance

Policy as code helps you understand the associated compliance and governance checks/routine your service needs to comply with.


Having Policy as Code, all the operations, rules, procedures to comply with, and logic are stated and written in code. Proper documentation and comments can be easily understood by anyone rather than making them understand verbally.

Version Control

As policies are being used as code, we have the power to store and integrate them into some version control system, which will keep a check on all desired processes like pull requests, history, and many more. 

Integration with Automation

Policies are used and stored as a text file; there is an upper hand in using them with automation tools. For example, you can integrate a policy for your infrastructure setup configuration, which will enforce some rules before setting up the infrastructure.

Best Practices

Policy as code enables you to deploy best practices as policies. You can also package solutions based on the operational criteria in packages or regulation sets. This provides the tools you deploy with repeatable and fine-grained power. Rule Packs can be deployed as Policy classes or rules on individual resource stacks or several stacks.

What are the use-cases of Policy-as-Code?

Access Control

Having a policy containing the rules about the authorization for any service can be very useful. Here we can take the example of OPA(open policy agent) that integrates policy enforcement across a stack and allows you to specify policy as code and easy APIs to load policy decisions from your software. 

OPA(Open policy agent) can be used to enforce policies on microservices, Kubernetes pipelines, CI / CD pipelines, and more. Rego, a declarative language, is being used for querying the data.


We can manage Kubernetes clusters with policies. The policies will contain rules for various kubernetes objects like pods, namespace, deployments, nodes, and many more. For example, we can enforce docker images being used to be fetched from the trusted source used in the pods and deployments.

Infrastructure Provisioning

Attachment of infrastructure policies with resources like databases and services to limit unauthorized access or even enforce cost optimization policies related to infrastructure. You can define rules and regulations regarding the access that needs to be met before using the services/storage.

Frequently Asked Questions about Policy as code 

What is policy as code in AWS?

In AWS, Policy as code is implemented by an Open Policy Agent (OPA) that provides a complete framework for managing policies in a cloud-native environment. Read More

What is Policy as code in Azure? 

In Azure, Policy as code is implemented using a workflow. The workflow makes it possible to manage, automate and control policies. 

What is Compliance As Code?

Compliance-as-Code means using programmatic methods (code) for automating the implementation, validation, remediation, monitoring, and reporting of the required compliance standards that an organization needs to be compliant with across the entire organization's ecosystem. 

What is a programming language used for the Policy As Code?

Programming languages used for the policy as code are Python, YAML, or Rego

What does Everything as Code mean?

As the name suggests, everything as a code is an approach to IT operations that uses code to define and manage resources, including infrastructure, policies, compliance, etc.


Policy as code attempts to reduce overhead and documentation. It would help if you still had well-documented rules to specify how accepted and controlled changes are and checklists for processes that can not be automated. 

However, most protocols uses codified and automatic compliance policies. This and acceptance gates are applied by automatic rules and requirements, depending on the automated pipeline and software to ensure that all steps are taken. We also speak about Policy as Code in terms of repeatability, versioning, and checking, which directly supports developers and operators.

Policy as code uses codified and automatic compliance policies. This approach applies to infrastructure as code, offering related advantages. Avoiding a ticketing workflow allows organizations to provide more end-to-end integration and self-service capabilities, minimizing problems for developers and operators.

What is next?

  1. Know HowXenonStack can help with Security.
  2. Explore Xenonstack's holistic approach toDevSecOps Adoption Solution
  3. Getting started withCompliance As Code