YAML Overview

Before writing CloudSlang code it helps to have a good working knowledge of YAML. YAML is a human friendly, data serialization language that has become a popular choice for configuration files and other hand-crafted data files. CloudSlang uses YAML to define its flows and operations.

This section contains a brief overview of the common YAML syntax and the best practices for writing it. See the full YAML specification for more information.


The contents of a YAML file define a single data structure (graph) that is composed of nested nodes (mappings, sequences and scalars). Well crafted YAML files are easy to read, and can have comments in the right places to explain things better.

YAML tries to be human friendly, by minimizing the need for special syntax characters when the data is simple. The most common YAML special characters in YAML are:

  • : - Between key/value pairs
  • - - Denotes a sequence entry
  • # - Starts a comment


You should be aware that YAML also supports very complex data, and has some special characters that you need to be aware of. Even if you never need to use those features, YAML will fail to parse if you accidentally use a special character incorrectly. This is pretty easily avoided and covered more below.

If you are familiar with the popular data language, JSON, then YAML should be easy to learn. Effectively YAML can be thought of as JSON with less syntax (quotes, brackets, etc), although YAML also supports the JSON style syntax. In fact, YAML is a strict superset of JSON.

Here are some basic YAML facts and guidelines:

  • Structure is usually scoped by indentation
  • Line comments can be used almost anywhere
  • Strings values rarely need quotes
  • YAML has 5 string quoting styles

Indentation Scoping

Much like the Python programming language, YAML uses indentation to denote a change in scope level. This means that leading whitespace is syntactically significant. Indentation is always achieved using spaces. Tabs are not allowed.

While any number of spaces can be used for a given scope, it a best practice to always use 2 spaces. This makes the YAML be more consistent and readable.


The - characters at the start of a sequence entry count as indentation.

Example: a CloudSlang step (in this case named divider) contains do, publish and navigate keys

- divider:
        - dividend: ${input1}
        - divisor: ${input2}
      - answer: ${quotient}
      - SUCCESS: printer

YAML calls the indentation style “block” and the JSON style “flow”. Flow style can be used at any point within the block style. Flow style doesn’t need quoting either. It is a best practice to only use flow style for small structures on a single line.

Example: above document using flow style

- divider:
        - dividend: ${input1}
        - divisor: ${input2}
      - answer: ${quotient}
    navigate: [{ILLEGAL: FAILURE}, {SUCCESS: printer}]

Mappings (Hashes, Objects, Dictionaries)

Mappings (maps) are a set of key/value pairs. Each key and value is separated be a colon (:). The colon must be followed by a whitespace character (space or newline). The value can be a scalar (string/number) value, a newly indented mapping or sequence.

Example: a CloudSlang step’s navigate key is mapped to a mapping of results and their targets

  - SUCCESS: printer

Sequences (Lists, Arrays)

Sequences (seqs) are denoted with a hyphen and a space (-) preceding each entry.

Example: a CloudSlang flow’s possible results are defined using a list mapped to the results key


Scalars (Strings, Numbers, Values)

Scalars are single values. They are usually strings but (like JSON) can also be numbers, booleans or null values. If a value is quoted, it is always a string. If unquoted it is inspected to be something else, but defaults to being a string.

Strings can be denoted in several ways: unquoted, single quoted and double quoted. The best method for any given string depends on its content.

While most strings should be left unquoted, quotes are required for these cases:

  • The string starts with a special character:
    • One of !#%@&*`?|>{[ or -.
  • The string starts or ends with whitespace characters.
  • The string contains : or # character sequences.
  • The string ends with a colon.
  • The value looks like a number or boolean (123, 1.23, true, false, null) but should be a string.

Multi-line strings can be written using a pipe (|) to preserve line breaks or a greater than symbol (>) where each line break will be converted to a space. Multi-line strings can also use the unquoted or quoted styles above, but it is best practice to avoid that.

The double-quoted style is the only style that can support any character string, using escape sequences like \n, \\, and \"). Single quoted strings only have one escape sequence: two single quotes ('') are used to put a single quote inside the single quoted string.

Example: a name of a CloudSlang flow is defined using the unquoted style

  name: hello_world

Example: a string value is passed to a CloudSlang operation using the double quoted style

- sayHi:
        - text: "Hello, World\n"

Example: the pipe is used in CloudSlang to indicate a multi-line Python script

  script: |
    if divisor == '0':
      quotient = 'division by zero error'
      quotient = float(dividend) / float(divisor)


Learning the scalar styles and their specifics will help you write YAML files that are clear and concise.


Comments begin with the # symbol following a whitespace character or beginning of line.

# This is a line comment
flow:       # Flow definition (trailing comment)
  name: hello_world # This flow is called 'hello_world'

Validate Your YAML

You can use an online YAML validator, such as the ones found here:


YAML is a simple yet complete data language. This means that most of the time, simple things are simple. You just need to be aware that some things have special meaning to YAML that you might not expect.

If you need more help, there are lots of resources about YAML on the web. You may want to check out the YAML Reference Card.