AWS DynamoDB for Serverless Microservices

DynamoDB is the Serverless NoSQL Database offering by AWS. Being Serverless makes it easier to consider DynamoDB for Serverless Microservices since it goes inline with the patterns and practices when designing serverless architectures in AWS.

If you are still confused, what is a Serverless NoSQL Database means? Let me give you a quick overview. We use the term Serverless when we don’t need to manage any servers (Software Updates, OS Patching, OS Security & etc.) rather someone else manages them for us and provides an abstracted view. When it comes to DynamoDB, AWS manages the underlying infrastructure, software and provides us an abstract view of Tables, Indexes (GSI, LSI), Throughput, Auto Scaling and Security Policies which consists of high-level constructs for the NoSQL database.

AWS DynamoDB Configuration Patterns

This article provides an overview of the principals, patterns and best practices in using AWS DynamoDB for Serverless Microservices.

Principles in Using AWS DynamoDB

AWS DynamoDB is more suited for storing JSON documents and use as a storage for key-value pairs. Having multiple types of indexes as well as multiple types of query possibilities makes it convenient to be used for different types of storage and query requirements. However, it is important to understand that DynamoDB is a NoSQL database which is difficult to be compared with a Relational Database, side by side. This also makes it really difficult to for a person who is coming from a Relational Database background to design DynamoDB tables. Therefore it is important to understand several underlying principles in using DynamoDB. The following list contains 12 principals I follow when designing DynamoDB tables and queries.

  1. Use GUID’s or Unique Attributes, instead of incremental IDs.
  2. Don’t try to normalize your tables.
  3. Having duplicate attributes in multiple tables is fine as long as you have implemented ways to synchronize the changes.
  4. Keeping pre-computed data upon updates is efficient with DynamoDB if you need to query them often.
  5. Don’t try to keep many relationships across tables. This will end up needing to query multiple tables to retrieve required attributes.
  6. Embrace eventual consistency.
  7. Design your transactions work with conditional writes.
  8. Design your tables, attributes, and indexes thinking of the nature of queries.
  9. Use DynamoDB triggers and streams to propagate changes and design event-driven data flows.
  10. Think about item sizes and using indexes effectively when listing items to minimize throughput requirements.
  11. Think about the growth of attribute data, to design whether to store them as a nested object or use a different table for it.
  12. Avoid using DynamoDB Scan operation whenever possible.

Patterns for Serverless Microservices

AWS DynamoDB is used for Serverless Microservices with different configuration patterns for various use cases.

Direct Access from RESTful API

The most common pattern for Serverless Microservices is to connect DynamoDB to an API Endpoint Code (Inside AWS Lambda) which is invoked through AWS API Gateway. It is also possible to directly connect DynamoDB to API Gateway if the Microservice offers support for direct DynamoDB queries.

Note: It is also possible to invoke AWS Lambda as a RESTful endpoint if the client has AWS IAM credentials or AWS STS temporary credentials.

Event-Driven Updates

DynamoDB also can be updated, based on events other than Direct Access from RESTful API. For example, DynamoDB can be used to store metadata of files uploaded to Amazon S3. Using S3 Upload Trigger, Lambda function can be invoked upon file upload which is able to update the DynamoDB table. A similar approach can be used to perform DynamoDB updates in response to Amazon SNS.

Data Synchronization Between Microservices

If there are same attributes stored in multiple Microservices DynamoDB tables, you can use Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS) Topics. Using Amazon SNS it is possible to inform attribute changes from one service to another without each of them knowing each other.

For example, let’s say Service #1 Company Profile Table and Service #2 Company Statistics Table shared company name attribute. If the company name is modified in Service #1 that change needs to be propagated to Service #2 Company Statistics Table. Knowing these requirements, it is possible for Service #1 to publish the attribute change using DynamoDB Streams and a Lambda function to the SNS topic. When the change happens the Lambda function in Service #2 subscribed to the topic will update the Company Statistics Table.

Conclusion

If you are new to AWS DynamoDB, it is important to understand its capabilities and limitations before moving into the database design. It is equally important to have a proper mindset to design the data model using NoSQL principals and configuration patterns. This will include unlearning some of the concepts learned from Relational Database Design. In addition, using DynamoDB can be really challenging for some use cases. If you are struggling to think of how to update multiple tables concurrently, querying multiple tables or limitations of indexes for your use case, these can be hints to revisit the original decision to use DynamoDB in the first place. However, AWS DynamoDB is an integral part of the AWS Serverless Technology Stack which still remains as the leading Serverless NoSQL database in AWS.

Finally, I would like to thank TotalCloud for sharing this on their featured blog.

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