Binary responses with Serverless Framework and API Gateway

Michael Marner
Published in
2 min readNov 3, 2017


Today we’re looking at how to send binary data to clients using Serverless Framework and AWS API Gateway.

Jellyfish are cool. Photo by 贝莉儿 NG on Unsplash

We’re big fans of serverless technologies and the Serverless Framework if the use case supports it. While API Gateway supports binary data, there’s a bit of work involved to configure Serverless.

An example: Lambda based on-the-fly image processing

Suppose you want to build an image resizing service using Lambda. You’d have an API endpoint that accepts an image source url, and the desired width and height as url query parameters. The lambda would process the image and return it in the response body.

The lambda function is actually pretty simple:

This example is using Typescript, error checking is omitted for brevity, and we’re using Jimp to do the image processing. Important parts:

  • Output the binary data as a base64 encoded string in the response body
  • Set the Content-Type header appropriately.

Unfortunately if you deploy this you won’t get the desired result. You’ll get the base64 encoded string, when what you really want is the binary data. There are two parts to the solution: allowing binary data for our content type, and telling Lambda to convert the base64 string to raw binary.

Enabling Binary Output for your content-type

We’ll use a plugin for configuring binary output for specificContent-Types.

npm install --save-dev serverless-apigw-binary

We then need to modify our serverless.yml

As you can see, we just list the mime types that should be allowed as binary. You can also use wildcards such as */* . After a deployment you can see in the AWS console that the binary type is enabled:

Convert the base64 output to binary

That’s half the work done. We now need to tell AWS to convert the base64 string into raw binary data before sending it through to the client. We do this with another, painfully similarly named plugin.

npm install --save-dev serverless-apigwy-binary

And configure serverless.yml , it will end up looking something like this:

The key changes are:

  • Add the second plugin
  • Set contentHandling: CONVERT_TO_BINARY in our event configuration

And that’s it. This technique works with any binary data format, you just need to enable binary for that mime type.

Happy coding!



Michael Marner

CTO @ CareApp. Augmented Reality PhD. Community radio volunteer