This article is a deep dive guide to build WebSockets on Serverless architecture.
Last year my team built 100% serverless mobile application which now helps hundreds of developers to maintain happy and healthy teams.
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After we've built the first version of the app, something felt off.
Imagine the app, where each screen must call the Lambda function to get the data every time, and if someone joins your team, you must navigate out and in again to see the change.
We've realized, it's time for a real-time connection.
We've tried easier way (AppSync), and... more flexible way :) (API Gateway v.2). This guide presents the more sophisticated architecture - using API Gateway.
Let's first review how typical serverless architecture looks like, and then see how it evolves when we add the sockets layer.
Handling REST API requests on Serverless is a straightforward process, which in the most common case utilizes 4 layers - each responsible for its own functionality (diagram below).
- User sends a request with
Authorizationheader to the API Gateway.
- API Gateway authenticates the user with out-of-the-box
Cognito User Pool authorizer. Amazon Cognito grants (or denies) the access, and pass the user attributes as
- API Gateway executes the associated Lambda function together with the user attributes.
- Lambda function makes all necessary requests to a database, data transformations and returns a response to the API Gateway
- API Gateway pass the response back to the user.
The same process, including authentication, happens every single time, for every request.
WebSocket connection though, is more… sophisticated :)
The user here is authenticated only once - during their initial
UPGRADE request. If authentication process succeed, then the socket connection is established for as long, as any of the sides doesn’t close it.
User making subsequent requests to the WebSocket protocol doesn’t provide his claims because connection is stateful, and the server (here API Gateway) keeps the information about the sender.
The below diagram presents what happen when devices connect to the API Gateway WebSocket API, and later when one of the users invoke the API (in this case the user is voting, and his teammates get notified about it).
There are a few interesting facts about this architecture.
API Gateway WebSocket API doesn’t offer out-of-the-box integration with
Cognito User Pool. Therefore a
Custom Authorizer must be implemented by ourselves.
The Custom Authorizer is a Lambda function, that validates JSON token with a public rsa key fetched from an authorization server where the user exist, and later grant the access by a setting a proper
IAM policy in the response.
When the access is granted, it’s our responsibility to save the
socket id to the database such as
In the above architecture the socket id is saved both to
onConnect are the lambda functions executed only once when user connects to the socket API. This makes the subsequent requests to the socket even faster.
We can notify the socket from another service such as
EC2 or even outside AWS.
We do it by sending a
POST request to the API Gateway's
@connections route with id of a socket we want to notify in the path.
If we want to notify 100 sockets, we must send 100 POST requests what can be a bit worrying, but so far it worked well in our production app.
Each request to the
API Gateway WebSocket API must be signed. This is to ensure API Gateway, that we have a permission to push a data to the user through the socket.
Not long ago it required a lot of steps, but thanks to our recently released npm package aws-request-signer you can do it with almost no effort.
We've covered the typical serverless architecture, then we've shown how it evolves when we add real-time communication and lastly we've covered some of the most interesting highlights about it.
If you want to go serverless, or need to add real-time communication, feel free to text me, or hire my services so you can enjoy fully automated serverless setup with the best practices within a week.
If you don't agree with any part, please comment your feedback.
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Thanks for reading!
Throughout the last year, I have worked part-time as a working student and also studied at the university. I was not the first and not the last one who has combined that during their studies, but the problem for me was, that at the end of the day I have felt absolutely exhausted mentally and physically. That caused problems with my health and motivation to continue working on my goals or anything. (yeah, “goals,” I wish I had something more specific at that time).