How to deploy Lambda function with CloudFormation?

Piotr Mionskowski
Mar 11, 2018 · 4 min read

Serverless deployments are popular these days. With minimal cost you can have your own code wait and respond to various events. AWS Lambda, Azure Functions are just 2 examples of serverless offering from the biggest cloud providers. For a long time I thought about them only in the context of ad-hoc setups not suitable for long term development. This was until I found out that you can, with little effort, version and deploy the serverless API just as traditional backends. In this post I am going to show how to deploy AWS Lambda functions with the help of the tool Adam created at Bright Inventions called cloudform.

Step 1: Define a template

Let’s install the cloudform npm i --save-dev cloudform and define a minimal template:

There are only 2 resources defined in the template. HelloWorld is the AWS Lambda function definition. We have set the Runtime property to use nodejs6.10 hence the Code.ZipFile contains a JavaScript code. Obviously the ZipFile may only be used for the most simple functions. The S3Bucket and S3Key properties can be used to deploy a more involved function implementation. The Handler defines which function from Code the Lambda runtime should invoke. In case of ZipFile the first part is always index.

The Role is a required setting for every AWS Lambda function. It defines what entitlements the code invoked by the Lambda runtime has. In the above template we define a policy which can be assumed by and references a pre-defined AWS managed policy AWSLambdaBasicExecutionRole. The AWSLambdaBasicExecutionRole makes it possible for the Lambda function logs to be pushed to Cloud Watch.

Step 2: Create the AWS Lambda function

Deploying our Lambda function using CloudFormation requires a single command:

aws cloudformation create-stack \
--capabilities CAPABILITY_IAM \
--stack-name lambda-example \
--template-body file://<(node_modules/.bin/cloudform aws-template.ts)

The --capabilities CAPABILITY_IAM is required whenever the CloudFormation has to define Roles, Policies or related resources. The --template-body file://<(node_modules/.bin/cloudform aws-template.ts) instructs CloudFormation to use a template defined in file. The <(...) is bash and zsh way to pass an output of a command to other program as if the output was a file. After waiting a bit for the invocation to complete we will see the following in the AWS Console:

It is possible to use the AWS Console editor to test and change the function. However, if we are to treat the serverless approach seriously we should not forget about standard practices like versioning of our source code.

Step 3: Update and version AWS Lambda function

Since we have defined the AWS Lambda function using a cloudform template we can version it as any other code. The whole serverless infrastructure we use and configure is treated as source code allowing for easy replication of deployment environments, audit trail and change management. Let’s see how we can use cloudform to add another function that will be called by the first one.

As you can see above, we’ve extracted a function lambdaFunction to simplify Lambda function declaration. Both Alice and Bob function’s bodies are defined in separate files. Interestingly Alice function, during invocation, will have accecss to BobFunction environment variable pointing to Bob function ARN.

Our LambdaExecutionRole lacks permission to invoke another Lambda function. Let’s fix that:

The Alice and Bob sources export main functions invoked by AWS Lambda runtime:

Since we now use TypeScript for Alice and Bob source we need to install the compiler npm i --save-dev typescript @types/node aws-sdk. Unfortunately currently in cloudform it is not possible to use custom tsconfig.json for the compilation. Fortunately we can invoke the compiler manually and use its outputs as any other Node.js source code. With a tsconfig.json:

"compilerOptions": {
"module": "commonjs",
"target": "es6",
"strict": true,
"strictPropertyInitialization": false,
"esModuleInterop": true
"exclude": ["node_modules"],
"compileOnSave": true

we can use the following commands to compile and deploy Lambda functions:

./node_modules/.bin/tsc aws cloudformation update-stack \ 
--capabilities CAPABILITY_IAM \
--stack-name lambda-example \
--template-body file://<(node -e "console.log((require('./aws-template').default))")

After the stack update completes we now should have 2 Lambda functions available. When we invoke the Alice function, we’ll see that the 2 AWS Lambda functions communicate:

START RequestId: 6a87c764-251e-11e8-b921-f9ca7649c7d7 Version: $LATEST 
2018-03-11T11:22:00.615Z 6a87c764-251e-11e8-b921-f9ca7649c7d7 Alice says: Hi!. I'm Alice.
2018-03-11T11:22:01.676Z 6a87c764-251e-11e8-b921-f9ca7649c7d7 Bob says: Hi! I'm Bob. Nice to meet you!
END RequestId: 6a87c764-251e-11e8-b921-f9ca7649c7d7 REPORT RequestId: 6a87c764-251e-11e8-b921-f9ca7649c7d7 Duration: 1110.68 ms Billed Duration: 1200 ms Memory Size: 128 MB Max Memory Used: 34 MB

Serverless infrastructure offers endless possibilities. With cloudform we can take AWS Labmda development, change management, deployment to the next level.

Originally published at on March 11, 2018.

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