AWS Lambda/Claudia part II - Storing stuff

· March 3, 2016

In my last post on Claudia JS we only created a very simple function that echoed some data back to us. Still amazingly cool since that echoing scales to whatever load we will put on it, but a bit meek maybe.

In this post I wanted to up the ante a little bit and store some data, more specifically in the AWS Document database called DynamoDb

You might want to read up on the basics (creating accounts, what is Claudia etc) in my earlier post. I’ll write every step down here but I will not explain it as thorough as last post.

Dynamo Db?

Amazon DynamoDB is a fully managed non-relational database service that provides fast and predictable performance with seamless scalability.

Ok - it’s a document store just like many others, the only difference is that it’s in AWS which means that it plays nicely with other AWS features, like the Lambda functions we’re about to write.

Create table

Although this is a document store the things that we are storing the documents in are called tables.

Head on to the DynamoDb Console and let’s create a new table for the simple user data we are about to store.

  1. Click the “Create table” button
  2. Give it a name (“lambda-users”) and set a partition key (“userId”). The partition key is kind like the Primary Key, the primary value to index the table on.
  3. Click “Create” and you’re Done. A new, albeit empty, table has been created for you in the cloud.

I recommend that you click around in the UI to get to know the tool a bit. Add some data (under Item) for example, or check out the Metrics or Alarms etc. Pretty cool stuff in there. And pretty nice looking too.

With the AWS client tools

We can create the table in other ways too. Let me show you just one - the Amazon Command Line interface. With this tool we can automate and manipulate many of the AWS features you might be using, right from your command line.

The CLI can be installed (Oh my Lord - another package manager? pip needs to be installed first) from that site and once that is done you might want to check out the configuration of the tool as well.

If you followed along in the last post we created a configuration file by hand. The aws tool can do that for us, but now that it’s in place it will be used.

Creating the table is now, finally, doable. Note that I’m not saying easy but here’s the command to set up the same table we used the DynamoDb console to do above:

aws dynamodb create-table --table-name lambda-users \
  --attribute-definitions AttributeName=userId,AttributeType=S \
  --key-schema AttributeName=userId,KeyType=HASH \
  --provisioned-throughput ReadCapacityUnits=1,WriteCapacityUnits=1 \
  --query TableDescription.TableArn --output text

Yeah, that’s a mouthful, but if you squint you can see what is going on. I honestly admit that I don’t understand the provisioned-throughput, but I trust Gojko that showed me this way.

Running it shows that it works. You’ll have to remove the table you already created of course.

Nice! Two ways of creating DynamoDb tables. Let’s move on.

Our code

Now to write the code. We will be using two packages from Google themselves called dynamodb-doc, and also aws-sdk but with a twist…

Getting started

Getting started is simple… Here’s the commands I ran:

mkdir lambdaDynamoDbDemo
cd lambdaDynamoDbDemo/
git init .
npm init
npm install dynamodb-doc aws-sdk claudia-api-builder -S
touch index.js

This creates a new directory for our app, sets up git and npm, installs the packages we need and creates an empty file for our application.

You also need to make sure to include the index.js file in the files section of package.json: "files": ["*.js"].

First deploy

I’ve grown accustomed to deploy a very simple first version of the application, just to the get infrastructure up and running.

Write a minimal claudia-api-builder application like this:

/* global require, module */
var ApiBuilder = require("claudia-api-builder");
var api = new ApiBuilder();

api.get("/users/{id}", function (request) {
    'use strict';
    var id =;
    return "Returning user with id:" + id;

module.exports = api;

Now add two commands to your scripts in package.json:

"scripts": {
    "create" : "claudia create --name lambdaDynamoDbDemo --region us-west-2 --api-module index",
    "deploy" : "claudia update"

Create the lambda function in the cloud with claudia using npm run create. You can now head to the API Gateway, find the URL to your function (see last post) and test your application out.

I used a curl command like this:


That works with the exciting message:

"Returning user with id:123"

Let’s access DynamoDb now. Or well.. a little error first.

The [TypeError: Object # has no method ‘apiConfig’] error

It turned out to be a good idea to deploy something simple first since I got an error. I hope you didn’t but here’s the error message of mine:

[TypeError: Object #<Object> has no method 'apiConfig']

This was because I had forgot the module.exports = api line above. Adding it and it works fine. I hope you didn’t miss that ^^

The Claudia-guys has promised me to update the error message. You can thank me later…

The app

Our application is a simple little API that will work like this:

  • POST to /users - will store a new user object (userId, name and age for now)
  • GET to /users/{id} - will return the user with the sent in id
  • PUT to /users/{id} - will replace the user information for user with id with the pay load of the request
  • DELETE to /users/{id} - will simply return the user

Promises, promises, promises

One more thing… The Google packages doesn’t support promises and the claudia-api-builder doesn’t exposes a reponse object in the callbacks. This is a problem.

At least until you realize that claudia do allow you to return a promise and that you can promisify all of the API from dynamodb-doc using bluebird.

Bluebird is an amazing little package that simply creates promis-ified versions of the methods you pass to it.

Let’s install bluebird, while we’re at it: npm install bluebird -S.

Bluebird is simple to use. You can use it for one function at the time:

DOC = require("dynamodb-doc");
var docClient = new DOC.DynamoDB();
var putPromiseVerion = Promise.promisify(docClient.putItem)

// can now be called as
    .then(function(data){ console.log(data)});

Or you can promisify an entire package, which adds new async versions of the packages public functions:

DOC = require("dynamodb-doc");
var docClient = Promise.promisifyAll(new DOC.DynamoDB())

// can now be called as
    .then(function(data){ console.log(data)});

Ok, let’s see how we can use this in our code, that uses claudia-api-builder, since it allows us to return the promise itself. It’s pretty slick actually.

The code

Finally. Time to code. Let me introduce a few things first and then I’ll list the entire thing afterwards.

You can find the code in my repo for this blog post, should you want to clone it.

DynamoDb functions

All DynamoDb functions have roughly the same signature docClient.putItem(params, callback). For us, using a promisified version it will look something like return docClient.putItemAsync(params);

That params also looks very similar.

  • It has an required TableName property, which just a is a string with a name. I have a function to return that (see below)
  • It has an optional Item property which is the item to store. Our model, if you want
  • It has an optional Key property which is the key to retrieve the element from, in our case it looks like this Key: { userId: id }

The only function that stands out from this is the updateItem function. It takes an UpdateExpression that specifies the values to update and then a ExpressionAttributeValues that lists the values to insert. The whole params object looks like this:

var params = {
    TableName: getTableName(request),
    Key: {
    UpdateExpression: "set #name = :n, age = :a",
    ExpressionAttributeNames : {"#name" : "name" },

You could also just overwrite the whole item with a new item, like we do in the POST case. Could be easier… I wanted to show you this option too.

(If you wonder about #name it’s because name is a reserved word in DynamoDb)

Returning promises

With claudia-api-builder we can return promises straight off and hence the final row in our methods can be return docClient.putItemAsync(params); which returns the promise to be fulfilled. Claudia-api-builder will wait until the promise returns or fail and then return.

Or put differently, claudia-api-builder will wait until the callback returns and then return from the api.

The getTableName-function

There’s a little function called getTableName that might leave you wondering.Why not just hard code the table name? Well, Gojko pointed me to this nifty little trick to make our code more general.

In the function we are using request.env.tableName which picks the table name of the env variable, if set (otherwise I just set a default).

These stage variables can be set on the API using the API Gateway console:

  1. Click you API (lambdaDynamoDbDemo if you used the same name as me)
  2. Now select the Resource drop down menu and select Stages
  3. Select the latest stage that claudia created for us
  4. Select the Stage variables tab
  5. Enter a new variable called tableName (as in request.env.tableName) and enter the name of your table.

This is pretty cool. This variable will stay with the latests stage and you can set other values for other stages.

The entire code

You can find the code in my repo for this blog post, but for completeness I list the code here:

/*global require, module*/
var ApiBuilder = require('claudia-api-builder'),
    api = new ApiBuilder(),
    Promise = require('bluebird'),
    AWS = require("aws-sdk"),
    DOC = require("dynamodb-doc");

// Create a promisified version of the docClient
var docClient = Promise.promisifyAll(new DOC.DynamoDB())

// Export the api
module.exports = api;

// Create a new user'/users', function(request) {
    'use strict';

    var params = {
        TableName: getTableName(request),
        Item: {
            userId: request.body.userId,
            age: request.body.age

    return docClient.putItemAsync(params);
}, { success: 201 }); // Return HTTP status 201 - Created when successful

// get user for {id}
api.get('/users/{id}', function(request) {
    'use strict';

    // Set up parameters for dynamo
    var params = {
        TableName: getTableName(request),
        Key: {

    // Get the item using our promisified function
    return docClient.getItemAsync(params);

// Create a new user
api.put('/users/{id}', function(request) {
    'use strict';

    var params = {
        TableName: getTableName(request),
        Key: {
        Item: {
            age: request.body.age

    return docClient.updateItemAsync(params);

}); //200 ok is standard for non-errors

// delete user with {id}
api.delete('/users/{id}', function(request) {
    'use strict';

    // Set up parameters for dynamo
    var params = {
        TableName: getTableName(request),
        Key: {

    // Get the item using our promisified function
    // return a nice little message in the .then-clause
    return docClient.deleteItemAsync(params)
        .then(function(data) {
            return "Deleted user with id '" + id + "'";

}); //200 ok is standard for non-errors

function getTableName(request) {
    return request.env.tableName || "lambda-users";

Phew! That was longer than I thought… but many of the DynamoDb functions are very similar.

Again: you can get hold of the code here.

The security stuff

Everything you do in AWS is governed by security access policies, roles etc. And praise be the Architect for that, because cloud computing is nothing if not the security is in place.

In our case we need to give the Lambda function access rights to the table we created. This is done by setting up a policy configuration for that allows our Lambda function access to the table we just created.

In the example below you can see that level of granularity you can go to, allowing only certain features to certain functions etc.

  "Version": "2012-10-17",
  "Statement": [
      "Action": [
      "Effect": "Allow",
      "Resource": "*"

In the Actions section we enumerate the actions we are configuring. The Effect states what we allow (or deny). And the Resource is quite simply the table we will access. We will use * (all tables), because writing the table name requires the ARN format - which for my table looks like this arn:aws:dynamodb:us-west-2:430072528539:table/lambda-users

Save that file in a new directory called ./policies and call the file access-dynamodb.json (or something like that).

We will use a feature with claudia to help us push this policies as part of the create. It means two changes for us; one painful and one easy. The easy part is to update the create script to this:

"create": "claudia create --name lambdaDynamoDbDemo --region us-west-2 --api-module index  --policies policies"

The sad part is that, in the current version, claudia doesn’t support an easy way to delete lambda functions. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Remove the claudia.json file in your project folder. This is where claudia keeps track of what has been configured.
  • Go to the lambda console and delete your function lambdaDynamoDbDemo
  • Go to the IAM console and delete the role lambdaDynamoDbDemo
  • Finally go to the API Gateway console and delete the API called lambdaDynamoDbDemo

Phew! That fills me both with joy (of all the stuff that Claudia helps us with) and sadness that there’s no delete function yet. Soon.

Now we can recreate our lambda function (and all of the rest) with the policy we just defined: npm run create


Everything is in place - let’s test it. I use curl to test my stuff with these scripts. Here’s what I want to do:

  1. Create a new user
  2. Get the user by id
  3. Update the user name
  4. Get the user again
  5. Remove the user

Here are the scripts, also found in the file in my repository

Replace [API-ID] and [REGION] with your stuff that you can see in the claudia.json file claudia creates for you.

Create new user

curl -H "Content-Type: application/json" -X POST -d "{'userId' : '123', 'name' : 'Marcus Hammarberg', 'age' : 43 }" https://[API ID].execute-api.[REGION]

Get user

curl -H "Content-Type: application/json" https://[API ID].execute-api.[REGION]

Update user

curl -H "Content-Type: application/json" -X PUT -d "{'userId' : '123', 'name' : 'Carl Marcus Hammarberg', 'age' : 44 }" https://[API ID].execute-api.[REGION]

Delete user

curl -X DELETE https://[API ID].execute-api.[REGION]

It works! Running the commands separately, or the script access our function, stores, updates, reads and delete our user.


This post was pretty long but it’s also a lot of ground covered. I hope you found it helpful as I learned A LOT writing and coding this.

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