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AWS CDK - API Gateway Service Integration with DynamoDB

Matt Morgan
AWS Community Builder and co-author The TypeScript Workshop.
Updated on ・11 min read

I've known for a while that API Gateway can integrate directly with other AWS services without needing Lambda to play traffic cop. But how does that work and can we leverage this to build small stack applications? Let's find out!

tl;dr

Just want to see how I did it? Okay, here's my repo.

Table of Contents

AWS CDK

I wrote a fair amount about how to set this up and have a nice linting and testing experience in this post. No need to repeat myself.

I'm loosely basing this project on this sample project. This one is a good primer on using API Gateway and Lambda together with CDK. My goal was to more or less build the same application, but without Lambda.

DynamoDB

I couldn't possibly do DynamoDB justice in this post and in fact am a bit of a novice. There are lots of great resources out there. I'm just going to create a simple table that will allow CRUD operations.

Readers who haven't experienced DynamoDB yet but know either RDBMS or something like MongoDB will not be too lost, however the really special thing about DynamoDB is that it is a fully managed service in every sense. With a more traditional cloud-hosted database, I might be able to provision the database using a tool or some variety of infrastructure-as-code, but then I would need to manage credentials, users, connection strings, schemas, etc. With DynamoDB, I don't need to do any of that. I will use IAM Roles to connect to my table and only need to provide a few basic parameters about it to get started.

Table of Kittens

The first thing we'll do is create a table. The example code we're working from named the table Items, which is not just generic and boring, but is also a little confusing since a "row" in a DynamoDB table is called an item. If you prefer Puppies or AardvarkCubs, feel free to make the substitution.

import { AwsIntegration, Cors, RestApi } from '@aws-cdk/aws-apigateway';
import { AttributeType, Table, BillingMode } from '@aws-cdk/aws-dynamodb';
import { Effect, Policy, PolicyStatement, Role, ServicePrincipal } from '@aws-cdk/aws-iam';
import { Construct, RemovalPolicy, Stack, StackProps } from '@aws-cdk/core';

export class ApigCrudStack extends Stack {
  constructor(scope: Construct, id: string, props?: StackProps) {
    super(scope, id, props);

    const modelName = 'Kitten';

    const dynamoTable = new Table(this, modelName, {
      billingMode: BillingMode.PAY_PER_REQUEST,
      partitionKey: {
        name: `${modelName}Id`,
        type: AttributeType.STRING,
      },
      removalPolicy: RemovalPolicy.DESTROY,
      tableName: modelName,
    });
  }
}
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Here we've imported the constructs we'll need (spoiler - not using them all yet). We're creating a new DynamoDB table. When we describe our table, we only need to give a partition key. A real use case would probably include a sort key and possibly additional indices (again, this article is not your one-stop tutorial for DynamoDB).

If we run this, we'll get a table we can immediately start using via AWS CLI.

$ aws dynamodb put-item --table-name Kitten --item \
"{\"KittenId\":{\"S\":\"abc-123\"},\"Name\":{\"S\":\"Fluffy\"},\"Color\":{\"S\":\"white\"}}"
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When we run that, it creates a new Kitten item. We can read our table by executing

$ aws dynamodb scan --table-name Kitten
{
    "Items": [
        {
            "KittenId": {
                "S": "abc-123"
            },
            "Name": {
                "S": "Fluffy"
            },
            "Color": {
                "S": "white"
            }
        }
    ],
    "Count": 1,
    "ScannedCount": 1,
    "ConsumedCapacity": null
}
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We can do all of our normal table operations this way. Want Fluffy to turn blue? Want her to express musical taste? No problem.

$ aws dynamodb put-item --table-name Kitten --item \
"{\"KittenId\":{\"S\":\"abc-123\"},\"Name\":{\"S\":\"Fluffy\"},\"Color\":{\"S\":\"blue\"},\"FavoriteBand\":{\"S\":\"Bad Brains\"}}"

$ aws dynamodb scan --table-name Kitten
{
    "Items": [
        {
            "Color": {
                "S": "blue"
            },
            "FavoriteBand": {
                "S": "Bad Brains"
            },
            "KittenId": {
                "S": "abc-123"
            },
            "Name": {
                "S": "Fluffy"
            }
        }
    ],
    "Count": 1,
    "ScannedCount": 1,
    "ConsumedCapacity": null
}
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We'll also want to give delete-item, get-item and query a look when exploring the aws cli for dynamodb. If you don't mind escaping your JSON and doing everything at the command line, you are now done and your app has shipped. Congrats, knock off early today!

API Gateway

API Gateway will let us create our own public endpoint that will allow http traffic to our service. A lot of the time we think about using API Gateway to invoke Lambda functions, but as we shall see, there are plenty of other things we can do.

We've already installed the required component libraries, @aws-cdk/aws-apigateway and @aws-cdk/aws-iam. We'll start by creating a basic RestApi.

API Gateway supports HTTP protocols in two main flavors: RestApi and HttpApi. HttpApi is a stripped down, leaner specification that offers substantial cost savings for many use cases, but unfortunately not ours. HttpApi doesn't support AWS Service Integrations, so we won't be using it.

    const api = new RestApi(this, `${modelName}Api`, {
      defaultCorsPreflightOptions: {
        allowOrigins: Cors.ALL_ORIGINS,
      },
      restApiName: `${modelName} Service`,
    });
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I'm naming my API "Kitten Service". Yours might be "AardvarkPup Service" or even "Pizza Service" if you like to keep those as pets. The CORS bit there is very cool and shows some real CDK value. This will automatically set up OPTIONS responses (using the MOCK type - meaning nothing else gets called) for all your endpoints. Of course you can specify your own domain or anything else that is legal for CORS. This is a fairly recent feature of CDK and in fact in the example I'm working from, they had to do it the long way.

The next thing we'll do is add a couple of resources. This is super easy to do!

    const allResources = api.root.addResource(modelName.toLocaleLowerCase());

    const oneResource = allResources.addResource('{id}');
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Unfortunately this doesn't actually do very much by itself. In order for these resources to have any meaning, we will need to attach methods (HTTP verbs), integrations and responses to the resources. However, we can understand the resource creation mechanism here. We will add a route named kitten which will refer to the entire collection and optionally allow an id to specify a specific kitten that we want to take some action on.

IAM

IAM is the AWS service that establishes a roles and permissions framework for all the other AWS offerings. Services communicate via publicly-available APIs but by default most actions are not allowed - we cannot query our DynamoDB table without credentials and a role that allows us to take that action. In order for our API Gateway to call into DynamoDB, we will need to give it roles that allow it to do that. In fact, each individual integration can have its own role. That would mean our POST HTTP verb might only be able to invoke put-item while our GET HTTP verb can scan, query or get-item. This is known as the principle of least privilege. To me, it's debatable whether it's really necessary for each endpoint to have its own role vs. one shared (and slightly more permissive) role for all the endpoints pointing to my table, but this is an experiment in the possible so we will exercise the tightest possible permissions by creating several roles.

Roles by themselves do nothing. They must have policies attached that specify actions the role allows and the resources they may be exercised by.

    const getPolicy = new Policy(this, 'getPolicy', {
      statements: [
        new PolicyStatement({
          actions: ['dynamodb:GetItem'],
          effect: Effect.ALLOW,
          resources: [dynamoTable.tableArn],
        }),
      ],
    });
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This policy allows the GetItem action to be taken against the table we just created. We could get lazy and write actions: ['dynamodb:*'] and resources: ['*'], but we might get dinged in a security review or worse, provide a hacker an onramp to our resources. Notice that our policy can be made up of multiple policy statements and each statement can comprise multiple actions and resources. Like I said, the rules can get pretty fine-grained here.

Let's create the role that will use this policy.

    const getRole = new Role(this, 'getRole', {
      assumedBy: new ServicePrincipal('apigateway.amazonaws.com'),
    });
    getRole.attachInlinePolicy(getPolicy);
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The role specifies a ServicePrincipal, which means that the role will be used by an AWS service, not a human user or a specific application. A "principal" is a human or machine that wants to take some action.

We attach the policy as an inline policy, meaning a policy we just defined as opposed to a policy that already exists in our AWS account. This makes sense as the policy only applies to resources we're defining here and has no reason to exist outside of this stack.

We can go ahead and define additional roles to provide the other CRUD operations for our API.

AWS Service Integration

To create integrations to AWS services we will use the AwsIntegration construct. This construct requires that we define request templates (what will we send to our service) and integration responses (how we handle various HTTP responses). I defined a couple of error responses and a standard response like this:

    const errorResponses = [
      {
        selectionPattern: '400',
        statusCode: '400',
        responseTemplates: {
          'application/json': `{
            "error": "Bad input!"
          }`,
        },
      },
      {
        selectionPattern: '5\\d{2}',
        statusCode: '500',
        responseTemplates: {
          'application/json': `{
            "error": "Internal Service Error!"
          }`,
        },
      },
    ];

    const integrationResponses = [
      {
        statusCode: '200',
      },
      ...errorResponses,
    ];
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We'd probably want to add some additional responses and maybe some more information for a production application. The selectionPattern property is a regular expression on the HTTP status code the service returns.

In order to understand how the AwsIntegration works, let's go back to our CLI commands. To fetch the record for Fluffy we created earlier, we can use aws dynamodb query --table-name Kitten --key-condition-expression "KittenId = :1" --expression-attribute-values "{\":1\":{\"S\":\"abc-123\"}}". We know that we're going to provide the service name (dynamodb), an action (query) and then give a payload (the name of the table and the key for our item). From that, AwsIntegration will be able to perform the get-item operation on the named table.

    const getIntegration = new AwsIntegration({
      action: 'GetItem',
      options: {
        credentialsRole: getRole,
        integrationResponses,
        requestTemplates: {
          'application/json': `{
              "Key": {
                "${modelName}Id": {
                  "S": "$method.request.path.id"
                }
              },
              "TableName": "${modelName}"
            }`,
        },
      },
      service: 'dynamodb',
    });
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We're referencing the standard integration responses object we previously defined. Then we're defining a requestTemplate inline. This template uses The Apache Velocity Engine and Velocity Template Language (VTL), a java-based open source project that will let us introduce some logical and templating capabilities to API Gateway.

There's obviously a fair amount of complexity we could get into with VTL and at a certain point it's probably just a lot better to write a Lambda function than try to handle extremely complex transformations or decision trees in VTL. Here it's not too bad. In case it's not obvious, our request templates are written using template literals. The ${modelName} substitutions happen when my CloudFormation template is created by CDK (when I build), while $method.request.path.id is provided during the request at runtime. Many of the common property mappings can be found in the API Gateway documentation. My template will grab the id from the request path and pass it to DynamoDB.

We can also pull properties from the request body. Let's look at the integration for creating a new Kitten.

    const createIntegration = new AwsIntegration({
      action: 'PutItem',
      options: {
        credentialsRole: putRole,
        integrationResponses: [
          {
            statusCode: '200',
            responseTemplates: {
              'application/json': `{
                "requestId": "$context.requestId"
              }`,
            },
          },
          ...errorResponses,
        ],
        requestTemplates: {
          'application/json': `{
              "Item": {
                "${modelName}Id": {
                  "S": "$context.requestId"
                },
                "Name": {
                  "S": "$input.path('$.name')"
                },
                "Color": {
                  "S": "$input.path('$.color')"
                }
              },
              "TableName": "${modelName}"
            }`,
        },
      },
      service: 'dynamodb',
    });
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The request body is mapped to $ and can be accessed via $input.path and dot-property access. We're also taking the requestId and using that as a unique identifier in my table. Depending on our use case, that might be a worthwhile thing to do or maybe it would be better to just key off the kitten's name.

We have mapped a custom response template into this integration so that we return the requestId - which is now the partition key for the item we just created. We don't want to have to scan our table to get that, so it's convenient to return it in the same request.

The rest of our integrations follow the same pattern and use the same techniques. Rather than repeat myself here, you can just go and check it out in my repo. I wrote some tests as well.

Methods

Ready to go? Not quite. We still have to tie an integration to a resource with an HTTP verb. This is quite easy and our code could look like this:

    const methodOptions = { methodResponses: [{ statusCode: '200' }, { statusCode: '400' }, { statusCode: '500' }] };

    allResources.addMethod('GET', getAllIntegration, methodOptions);
    allResources.addMethod('POST', createIntegration, methodOptions);

    oneResource.addMethod('DELETE', deleteIntegration, methodOptions);
    oneResource.addMethod('GET', getIntegration, methodOptions);
    oneResource.addMethod('PUT', updateIntegration, methodOptions);
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I think that is pretty intuitive if you know much about REST or HTTP. We've mapped several HTTP verbs to our resources If we wanted to return a 404 response on the other ones, we'd need to do a little bit of extra work. By default any request that can't be handled by RestApi returns a 403 with the message "Missing Authentication Token". This is probably to keep malicious users from snooping endpoints and while it may seem confusing to us the first time we see that error, it's probably fine, especially for a demo project.

We've got all the pieces in place at last! How does it work? Just fine.

$ curl -i -X POST \
   -H "Content-Type:application/json" \
   -d \
'{"name": "Claws", "color": "black"}' \
 'https://my-url.execute-api.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/prod/kitten'

{
  "requestId": "e10c6c16-7c84-4035-9d6b-8663c37f62a7"
}
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$ curl -i -X GET \
 'https://my-url.execute-api.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/prod/kitten/0a9b49c8-b8d2-4c42-9500-571a5b4a79ae'

{"Item":{"KittenId":{"S":"0a9b49c8-b8d2-4c42-9500-571a5b4a79ae"},"Name":{"S":"Claws"},"Color":{"S":"black"}}}
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Security

Most of the APIs we build will require some kind of security, so how do protect this one? Out of the box we can support Cognito User Pools or IAM roles. We can also provide a custom Lambda authorizer.

Next Steps

So now that we know we can do this, the question is is it a good idea?

My CDK code doesn't look too different from the Lambda code in the AWS example. I think as long as the code is simple enough, this is a viable option. If things get more complicated, we'll probably want a Lambda function to handle our request. This approach gives us the option of switching any of our AWS Integrations to Lambda Integrations if we hit that complexity threshold.

Another consideration will often be cost. To understand the price difference, we need to do some math.

If we built our API using HttpApi and Lambda and got 100 million requests per month, the cost for API Gateway would be $100 and the cost for Lambda (assuming 100ms requests and 256MB memory) would be $429.80.

The AWS Integration + RestApi approach would do 100 million requests for $350, a savings of $179.80 monthly. If our Lambda functions could operate at 128MB, then that method would only cost $321.47 and now the AWS Integration is slightly more expensive. If the Lambda functions were significantly slower or required more memory, then we might start seeing real savings.

I probably wouldn't do this just for cost, but we also have to consider the effort of writing, maintaining and updating our Lambda functions. Yes, they are small, but every code footprint costs something and it's nice to have the option to just skip simple boilerplate.

Lastly, now that we can do this with DynamoDB, what about other services? Does your Lambda function do nothing but pass a message to SNS? Does it just drop a file on S3? It might be better to consider a Service Integration. Keep this pattern in mind for Step Functions as well. You can basically do the same thing.

Cover: Julius Adam the Elder (German, 1826–1874) "Motherly Affection"

Discussion (4)

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seththomas profile image
Seth Geoghegan

Fantastic content, thanks for writing this up!

I love the idea of eliminating the compute layer when lambda is doing very little; it just feels cleaner. However, I'm not yet as comfortable writing/managing VTL as I am writing a dead-simple lambda function. I suspect I'm not alone in that sentiment, but can't wait to give this a try.

API Gateway Service proxies offer an interesting value proposition, especially now that API Gateways offers a more affordable/streamlined HTTP API offering (API Gateway v2). Nevertheless, a cool tool to add to the toolbox!

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netaisllc profile image
CSSian

Yeah, common to feel that way toward VLT. Still, I encourage you to spend some time in that space, esp. as it will make working with AWS Step Functions that much easier. I have found the VLT docs themselves to offer nicer coverage of the topic than the AWS docs. LOL, but I do have to occasionally say to myself "it's just a templating tool" to stay focused. Good luck.

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netaisllc profile image
CSSian

Hi Matt, thanks for this post! From a quick check of AWS docs it seems like HttpApi now supports more AWS Service Integrations.

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elthrasher profile image
Matt Morgan Author

Glad you liked it and thanks for reading! True that HttpApi has integrations it didn't have a year ago. I'll update this post sometime soon. Thanks for the note.

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