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Building a Botkit-based Slack Bot that uses the GCP NL API and runs on Google Container Engine

This example shows a Slack bot built using the Botkit library. It runs on a Google Container Engine (Kubernetes) cluster, and uses one of the Google Cloud Platform's ML APIs, the Natural Language (NL) API, to interact in a Slack channel.

It uses the NL API in two different ways. First, it uses the Google Cloud NL API to assess the sentiment of any message posted to the channel, and if the positive or negative magnitude of the statement is sufficiently large, it sends a 'thumbs up' or 'thumbs down' in reaction.

Additionally, it uses the NL API to identify entities in each posted message, and tracks them in a database (using sqlite3). Then, at any time you can query the NL slackbot to ask it for the top N entities used in the channel.

The example uses Google Container Engine, a hosted version of Kubernetes, to run the bot, and uses Google Container Registry to store a Docker image for the bot.

Setting up your environment

Container Engine prerequisites

First, set up the Google Container Engine prerequisites, including installation of the Google Cloud SDK.

NL API prerequisites

Next, enable the NL API for your project and authenticate to your service account as described here. (The service account step is not necessary when running the bot on Container Engine, but it is useful if you're testing locally).

Create a cluster

Next, create a Kubernetes cluster using Container Engine as follows:

gcloud container clusters create "slackbot-cluster" --scopes "https://www.googleapis.com/auth/cloud-platform"

You can name the cluster something other than "slackbot-cluster" if you like.

Install Docker

If you do not already have Docker installed locally, follow the installation instructions on the Docker site.

Get a Slack token and invite the bot to a Slack channel

Then, create a Slack bot user and get an authentication token.

Then, 'invite' your new bot to a channel on a Slack team.

Running the slackbot on Kubernetes

Upload the slackbot token to Kubernetes

We will be loading this token in our bot using secrets.

Run the following script to create a secret .yaml file (replacing MY-SLACK-TOKEN with your token), then use that yaml file to create a secret on your Kubernetes cluster.

./generate-secret.sh MY-SLACK-TOKEN
kubectl create -f slack-token-secret.yaml

Build the bot's container

We'll run the slackbot app in our Kubernetes cluster as a Replication Controller with one replica.

So, first, we need to build its Docker container. Replace my-cloud-project-id below with your Google Cloud Project ID. This tags the container so that gcloud can upload it to your private Google Container Registry.

export PROJECT_ID=my-cloud-project-id
docker build -t gcr.io/${PROJECT_ID}/slack-bot .

Once the build completes, upload it to the Google Container registry:

gcloud docker -- push gcr.io/${PROJECT_ID}/slack-bot

Running the container

First, create a Replication Controller configuration, populated with your Google Cloud Project ID, so that Kubernetes knows where to find the Docker image.

./generate-rc.sh $PROJECT_ID

Now, tell Kubernetes to create the bot's replication controller. This will launch 1 pod replica running the bot.

kubectl create -f slack-bot-rc.yaml

You can check the status of your bot with:

kubectl get pods

Now your bot should be online. As a sanity check, check that it responds to a "Hello" message directed to it.

Note: if you have forgotten to create the secret first, the pod won't come up successfully.

Running the bot locally

If you want, you can run your slackbot locally instead. This is handy if you've made some changes and want to test them out before redeploying. To do this, first run:

npm install

Then, set GCLOUD_PROJECT to your project id:

export GCLOUD_PROJECT=my-cloud-project-id

Then, create a file containing your Slack token, and point SLACK_TOKEN_PATH to that file when you run the script (substitute my-slack-token with your actual token):

echo my-slack-token > slack-token
SLACK_TOKEN_PATH=./slack-token node demo_bot.js

Using the Bot

Once you've confirmed the bot is running, you can start putting it through its paces.

Sentiment Analysis

The slackbot will give a 'thumbs up' or 'thumbs down' if it thinks a message is above a certain magnitude in positive or negative sentiment.

E.g., try posting this message to the channel (you don't need to explicitly mention the bot in this message):

I hate bananas.

You should see that bot give a thumbs down in reply, indicatig that the NL API reported negative sentiment for this sentence. Next, try:

I love coffee.

This should generate a thumbs up. Posted text won't get a reply from the bot unless the magnitude of the sentiment is above a given threshold, 30 by default. E.g., with a neutral statement like The temperature is seventy degrees. the bot is unlikely to give a response.

Entity Analysis

For every message posted to the channel, the bot-- behind the scenes-- is analyzing and storing information about the entities it detects. At any time you can query the bot to get the current N most frequent entities, where N is 20 by default. It will be more interesting if you wait until a few messages have been posted to the channel, so that the bot has the chance to identify and log some entities.

E.g., suppose your bot is called nlpbot. To see the top entities, send it this message:

@nlpbot top entities

Optional: Create a slackbot app that uses persistent storage

Kubernetes will keep your slackbot running — we have specified that we want one pod replica, and so if this pod goes down for some reason, Kubernetes will restart it. You might be pondering what happens to your sqlite3 database if this happens. With the configuration above, you will lose your data if the pod needs to be restarted.

One way to address that would be to use a more persistent database service instead of sqlite3, and configure your bot to connect to that instead. (Cloud SQL would be an option for such a service.)

Alternatively (for this simple scenario), we can just create a persistent disk on which to store our sqlite3 database, and configure our pod replica to access it. That way, if the slackbot pod needs to be restarted, the database file won't be lost. We'll do that for this example.

We'll accomplish this by defining a Persistent Volume resource, and then creating a Persistent Volume Claim on that resource which will be used by the slackbot app.

First, create a persistent disk to use with this app, as follows. Name it slackbotstore. You can adjust its size as you like.

gcloud compute disks create --size=20GB --zone=<your-cluster-zone> slackbotstore

Then, edit demo_bot.js to use /var/sqlite3/slackDB.db as its sqlite3 db file:

// create our database if it does not already exist.
// const db = new sqlite3.cached.Database(path.join(__dirname, './slackDB.db'));
const db = new sqlite3.cached.Database('/var/sqlite3/slackDB.db');

Once you've done that, rebuild your docker image to capture that code change:

export PROJECT_ID=my-cloud-project-id
docker build -t gcr.io/${PROJECT_ID}/slack-bot .

Generate a different .yaml file to use for this configuration:

./generate-dep.sh $PROJECT_ID

If you take a look at the result, in slack-bot-dep.yaml, you will see that it contains the specification of the persistent volume as well as a persistent volume claim on that volume. Then, you'll see that the slackbot mounts a volume matching that claim at /var/sqlite3. (In this config, the slackbot is also specified as a Deployment rather than a Replication Controller. For the purposes of this example, the difference is not important.)

Note: when you created your disk, if you named it something other than slackbotstore, you will need to edit this configuration to specify your disk name instead.

If you already have a slackbot running, you will probably want to shut it down before you start up this new version, so that there are not two separate bots monitoring your channel. See the "Shutting down" section below. Then, start up the persistent-storage version of the bot like this:

kubectl create -f slack-bot-dep.yaml

Shutting down

To shut down your bot, we tell Kubernetes to delete the Replication Controller:

kubectl delete -f slack-bot-rc.yaml

Or, if you are running the variant that uses a persistent disk, shut it down with:

kubectl delete -f slack-bot-dep.yaml

This will delete the persistent disk resource and claim as well as the Deployment, but does not delete the disk itself, which remains part of your GCP project. If you restart later using the same config file, your existing sqlite3 db will be preserved.


If you have created a container cluster, you may still get charged for the Google Compute Engine resources it is using, even if they are idle. To delete the cluster, run:

gcloud container clusters delete slackbot-cluster

(If you used a different name for your cluster, substitute that name for slackbot-cluster.) This deletes the Google Compute Engine instances that are running the cluster.

If you created a persistent disk for your db, you may want to delete that as well.