Getting Started with the Azure CLI

Nick Rimmer

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If you have a Microsft Azure account and are still managing resources only through the Azure Portal, you’re missing out. One of the best ways to reduce clicking and increase productivity is by using the Azure CLI.

The Azure CLI is a cross-platform toolset written in Python that allows you to manage nearly all of your Azure resources from the command line. No matter what operating system you’re on, the Azure CLI provides a consistent experience across all platforms.

In this tutorial, you’re going to learn how to get started with the Azure CLI. You’ll learn how to perform an initial configuration and create and remove some common resources using various Azure CLI commands.

Prerequisites

This article will be a tutorial. If you plan on following along step-by-step, you will need at least one of the following:

  • Azure CLI – This tutorial will be using v2.20.0 on a Docker Container, but the commands will work all the same on other platforms.
  • Permissions to create resources within Azure via a Microsoft account perhaps using a service principal.

Getting Help with az help

Before you run any command in the Azure CLI, learn how to use the az help command. The Azure CLI has rich and plentiful help in the Azure CLI. This tutorial can’t possibly cover all commands so learning how to use az help is critical.

To get started, let’s navigate around the help system and check out how to find further information on various commands.

Navigating a Typical Help Example

Examples make the best learning material. Let’s cover how to use the Azure CLI help system by walking through an example of finding the needed command to create a resource group in Azure.

With your terminal open:

1. Run the az help command. This command returns two types of output; groups and subgroups.

Commands are organized as groups. You’ll typically see tutorials (and even documentation) refer to groups as “commands”. Groups are broken out in a hierarchical fashion with each group representing an Azure service.

output of az help
output of az help

2. Scroll down until you find the subgroup called group. You can see from the description below, this subgroup is responsible for managing resource groups. Groups are ordered alphabetically.

scrolling down to find group
scrolling down to find group

3. Once you’ve found the command you’re looking for, run it using the --help parameter. Using the --help parameter doesn’t make any changes; it returns all help documentation for a group or command.

az group --help

You can see below the group group and a single subgroup (lock) with various commands inside.

output of az group help
output of az group help

4. Since you want to create a resource group, the create command looks like the right command. Now continue getting more specific by appending a more granular command to the original az group reference and finding help.

az group create --help

Reference the --help parameter on any command to see it’s help documentation.

The --help parameter now displays information about the create command. Commands have arguments as shown below. In this example, you now have the arguments required to specify a resource group and required location.

help parameter
help parameter

Finding Syntax Examples with az find

If you can’t easily find the group or command you’re looking for with the --help parameter, take a look at the az find command. This command searches for syntax examples using group/command references as shown below.

For example, instead of navigating the help system with --help as shown above, perform the same task with a single line with az find.

az find "az group create"
output of find command
output of find command

Assigning a Default Configuration with az configure

The Azure CLI has many commands and features. Each of these features has various configurations they reference like logging and data collection preferences. One of the first tasks you should complete when setting up the Azure CLI for the first time is running the az configure command.

In one command, the az configure command walks you through three different settings:

  • Output Format – Seven different different ways that the Azure CLI returns output
  • Logging – The ability to log all Azure CLI activity to a file
  • Telemetry – To enable or disable sending information to Microsoft about how you use Azure CLI

To get started, assuming you already have the Azure CLI installed:

1. Open a terminal (Bash or PowerShell).

2. Type in the command az configure. You’ll be prompted with a simple menu letting you know that all settings will be stored in the .azure/config file. Press Y to continue.

output from azconfigure
output from azconfigure

3. The command will first prompt you for your desired default output format. Here, pick your desired output. The default output format sets how your output will appear on the screen after executing a command or receiving an error message.

If you're unsure, below you'll find some examples.
If you’re unsure, below you’ll find some examples.

The below examples use the output parameter. Regardless of what format you pick as the default, you can always override the default output with the output parameter.

JSON (Java Object Notation)

json output
json output

JSONC (Java Object Notation with comments\colorization)

jsonc output
jsonc output

Table

table output
table output

TSV (Tab-Separated Values)

tsv output
tsv output

YAML (YAML Ain’t Markup Language)

yaml output
yaml output

YAMLC (YAML with comments\colorization)

yamlc output

None – The Azure CLI will only return errors or warning.

4. Once you’ve set the output format, the Azure CLI will prompt you to enable logging. Here, select Y to enable logging all commands and output to a file.

Output Format
Output Format

Selecting Y here will create a log containing all the commands and output collected while using the CLI. This log is located in the $HOME/.azure/logs directory in Linux and macOS and %USERPROFILE%\.azure\logs in Windows.

Below you can see an example of what the log would look like.

Log file contents after executing az login
Log file contents after executing az login

5. The Azure CLI will then ask you to send telemetry data to Microsoft. Selecting Y here will send anonymous information to Microsoft on how you use the Azure CLI.

Telemetry Data
Telemetry Data

For more information on the information that Microsoft collects, refer to Microsoft’s privacy information on collecting anonymous data from Azure CLI.

Finally, az configure will ask to set the CLI object cache time-to-live value. You should leave this set at the default of 10.

cli object cache setting
cli object cache setting

Only change the CLI object TTL if advised by Microsoft when troubleshooting an issue with the Azure CLI.

Setting Default Parameter Values

The Azure CLI has various commands with the same parameters such as location and group. Rather than key in the values for these parameters every time for every command, you can set default parameter values.

To set parameter defaults, use the --defaults parameter on az configure. This parameter allows you to define a parameter and it’s default value. For example, perhaps you’re tired of typing in a location and group for various commands. No problem. Set a couple of default values.

The following example sets the default region (location) to westus2 and the resource group (group) to MyResourceGroup. Now whenever you run any Azure CLI command that has a location or group parameter, Azure CLI will automatically pass values to those parameters.

az configure --defaults location=westus2 group=MyResourceGroup

If you are using containers, you could set individual containers to manage specific regions, subscriptions or resource groups by setting the defaults in each container instance. You could create 4 containers in each container using az configure to set a default region and a default resource group using the command above.

Authenticating with a Browser

You’ve now learned the basics of using the Azure CLI, but you haven’t actually done anything yet. Let’s now take that step into creating some resources! But first, you must log in to Azure, using the command, az login.

If you have multiple Azure subscriptions, run the az account list command to find all subscriptions. When you find the subscription, run az account set --subscription <subscription name> to set the subscription to use for the session. You can also use the global subscription parameter to explicitly specify a subscription.

1. Open a terminal and run az login. This command opens a browser window that takes you to a page to provide your username and password.

az login in Powershell session
az login in Powershell session

2. Provide your Azure account credentials or click on an existing user account as shown below.

authenticate with Microsoft
authenticate with Microsoft

3. Once Azure authenticates your account, close your web browser and return to your Azure CLI session. The az login command returns information about your subscription to confirm you now have an authentication token.

Output from az login, once authenticated
Output from az login, once authenticated

Authenticating Using a Device Code

If you’re on a system without a browser or want to download an authentication token on another computer, use the --use-device-code parameter. This parameter allows a user to use a code supplied from another device to authenticate the user.

To authenticate using a device code, open a terminal and:

Run az login using the --use-device-code parameter. The az login command, this time, will not open a browser. Instead, it will provide a code to provide to the device login page on another computer.

az login --use-device-code
output of az-login —use-device-code
output of az-login —use-device-code

2. On a different computer, navigate to https://microsoft.com/devicelogin, paste in the code supplied, and click Next.

Enter code to authenticate
Enter code to authenticate

3. Now enter your credentials to authenticate to Azure and close your browser, if not needed.

choosing an account to authenticate with
choosing an account to authenticate with

Back in the Azure CLI session, az login will return your subscription information.

verification your session is logged on to azure
verification your session is logged on to azure

Azure CLI Output Options

As mentioned, the Azure CLI can return output in different ways. You can define the default output and change it on the fly with the output parameter. But the output parameter isn’t the only parameter that changes output behavior.

To change up the verbosity, filter output or modify error output behavior, use the following parameters.

  • query – Uses the JMESPath query language to filter output for all commands. Reference this article to learn more.
  • verbose – Returns information about resources created in Azure and extended information about those resources.
  • debug – Returns a low-level amount of information about CLI operations used for debugging.
  • only-show-errors – Show errors and suppress warnings.

Creating a Resource Group

Now that you’re authenticated to Azure, you’re free to manage all of the resources you have permission to. Let’s first run through a common example of creating a resource group.

Assuming you’re on a computer with the Azure CLI installed and you’ve already authenticated to Azure with the CLI:

Create a resource group using the az group create command as shown below. This command is creating a resource-group called TESTGrp in the North Europe location and returning all verbose output.

az group create --location northeurope --resource-group TESTGrp --verbose
output of az group create
output of az group create

2. Now confirm Azure created the resource. az group list

az group list

Notice that you’ve created the TESTGrp resource group.

output of az group list
output of az group list

3. Perhaps you have a lot of resource groups to sift through. Instead of scrolling, use the query parameter to narrow down the list. The below command only returns resource groups in the North Europe location using JMESPath.

az group list --query "[?location=='northeurope']"
output of a JMESPath query
output of a JMESPath query

Creating A Linux Virtual Machine

For this last example, learn how to create an Azure VM with the Azure CLI. Creating virtual machines and the configuration around them is a good skill to learn. Creating Azure VMs is a common task you may perform repeatedly during your cloud journey.

In this exercise, you’ll create an Azure Linux VM with default settings and deploy it into the resource group created in the previous section.

An Azure VM consists of many Azure resources all working together like a disk image, virtual network adapter, virtual machine, and so on.

To create an Azure VM with the Azure CLI:

1. Run the az vm image list command to find all available VM images for the VM. This command returns all of the cached/offline images. az vm image list

az vm image list

For this demo, choose the UbuntuLTS image as highlighted below.

Cached list of images available
Cached list of images available

The Azure CLI maintains a cached list of all VM images. If the UbuntuLTS image doesn’t show up, use the all parameter to get an updated list.

2. Once you know the disk image to use for the VM, create the VM with az vm create. The code snippet below creates a VM name of ATAVM1 using the UbuntuLTS image in the resource-group TESTGrp. When Azure creates the VM, it will generate the SSH keys (generate-ssh-keys) to connect to it later and return output in JSON (output).

az vm create --resource-group TESTGrp \
   --name ATAVM1 \ ## hostname for the virtual machine
   --image UbuntuLTS \ ## Image name gathered with az vm image list
   --generate-ssh-keys \ ## Auto generates SSH keys for use with VM
   --output json \ ## override for format output to return JSON
   --verbose ## extra output

Split a single longer Azure CLI commands on separates lines using a trailing backslash.

The az vm create command has many more ways to configure building a VM. Remember the help system is your friend! az vm create --help

If the command was initiated successfully, you should see something similar to the screenshot below.

VM being created
VM being created

By using the verbose parameter, you will see the actual REST API method and parameters used in green.

3. When the deployment completes, the last section of the output will display information about your VM. Most notably for this demo, copy the public IP address. You’ll need this to connect to the VM over the Internet.

output from vm creation
output from vm creation

At this point, now connect to the Ubuntu VM via SSH using the VM’s public IP address found above. To do so, open your favorite SSH client and connect to the VM as the user azureuser as shown below. By default, the az vm create command creates a local user called azureuser.

ssh [email protected]
connected to the vm created
connected to the vm created

You were able to SSH to the VM without a password because you used the generate-ssh-keys parameter when creating the VM. This downloads the private key to your ~/.ssh directory and uploads the public key to the VM allowing you to authenticate.

5. Now clean up the VM and the resource group.

az group delete --name TestGRP

Next Steps

You should now have the Azure CLI ready to go. You’re now ready to manage some resources! So what next?

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