The Stack Graph (Terminology)

Garden centers around the Stack Graph, which allows you to describe your whole stack in a consistent, structured way, without creating massive scripts or monolithic configuration files.
We believe your configuration should be distributed, like your stack, so your configuration files are located next to each module (such as container image, Helm chart, manifests and function). Garden scans for these configuration files, even across multiple repositories, validates them and compiles them into a graph that describes all the steps involved in building, deploying and testing your application.
Garden uses the graph to detect when modules need to be re-built or re-tested, services re-deployed etc. by comparing your current code with previously built, deployed and tested versions.

Structure and terminology

The Stack Graph is essentially an opinionated graph structure, with a handful of pre-defined entity types and verbs:
  • Project: The root of the graph. Contains one or more modules and configures providers.
  • Provider: Providers are configured at the project level. They take care of initializing deployment environments, and control what happens within each node of the graph, e.g. how modules are built, services are deployed etc. They also specify module types and how they are configured.
  • Module: A module is something you build. Each module specifies a type (e.g. container or helm) which dictates how it is configured, built, deployed etc. It can contain zero or more services, tasks and tests. It can also have build dependencies.
  • Service: A service is something you deploy. It can depend on other services, as well as tasks.
  • Task: A task is something you run and wait for to finish. It can depend on other services and tasks.
  • Test: A test is also something you run and wait for to finish, similar to tasks, but with slightly different semantics and separate commands for execution. It can depend on services and tasks (but notably services and tasks cannot depend on tests).
Each part of your stack describes itself using a simple configuration file. Garden collects all those declarations, validates, and compiles them into a DAG (a directed acyclic graph, meaning it must have no circular dependencies).
Additionally, Garden supports Workflows, which allow you to define a CI-like sequence of Garden commands and scripts to perform.
For more detail on all of the above, see the Using Garden section.


Importantly, what happens within each of the actions that the graph describes—building, deploying, running etc.—is completely pluggable via the providers. The Stack Graph is only opinionated in terms of flows and dependencies—what should happen when—but the how is pluggable.
All the Garden plugins are currently built-in; we will soon release a plugin SDK to allow any user to easily make their own plugins.


Garden generates a Garden version for each module, service, task and test, based on a hash of the source files and configuration involved, as well as any build and runtime dependencies. When using Garden, you'll see various instances of v-<some hash> strings scattered around logs, e.g. when building, deploying, running tests etc.
These versions are used by Garden and the Stack Graph to work out which actions need to be performed whenever you want to build, deploy, run a workflow, test your project etc. Specifically, Garden uses these generated versions to see which builds need to be performed, whether a deployed service is up-to-date, whether a test has already been run, and so on.
Each version also factors in the versions of every dependency (both build and runtime dependencies, as is applicable for each case). This means that anytime a version of something that is depended upon changes, every dependant's version also changes.
The precise semantics that go into a Garden version vary a bit by the module type and the specific entity involved, but generally it works as follows:
  1. 1.
    A module has a version that captures everything involved in a build, including hashes of source files and any specifics involved in building the image/artifact/etc, as well as the versions of any build dependencies. The module version is sometimes referred to as the build version of the module.
  2. 2.
    A service has a version that factors in the module version of the module that defines it, as well as any specific configuration needed to deploy the service. This might for example include environment variables, hostnames etc. that wouldn't impact how the underlying code is built, but it does change how the service is deployed.
  3. 3.
    Tests and tasks have a version that factors in the module version of the module that defines it, as well as any specific configuration needed to run the task or test.
A simple example would be a Container Module with a Dockerfile next to it, as well as any number of services, tests and tasks. The module version will reflect the source code and build arguments involved, and will be visible in the image tag. The services, tasks and tests will each have separate versions because those also factor in the service configuration, test commands, environment variables and so forth.

Next Steps

Head over to the Quickstart guide section to learn the basics on how to get up and running with Garden.
If you or your team has already set up a Garden project, you can also skip over to the Using Garden section, to learn more about the concepts and how to interact with Garden.