Run functions written in your favourite language on AWS Lambda
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Elixir for AWS Lambda

The whole point of AWS Lambda is to provide functions that can be run without the need to manage any servers. Functions are invoked by passing them messages. Ehm, that sounds a lot like Erlang/Elixir to me! The clean syntax of Elixir and the functional concepts the language make it a really good match for use on AWS Lambda. Unfortunately the AWS folks haven't put any effort in supporting Elixir, so it looks like we have to do it ourselves.

This project provides a simple way to get started with running Lambda functions written in Elixir. This project contains the runtime layer needed to build your lambda functions, an example function, and some Cloudformation templates to get you started.

Design principles

  • Stay close to the current way Lambda functions work: it should be enough to provide one file alone, no full projects.
  • The approach should be leaner than OTP releases, if possible. In general, we're only trying to execute one function.
  • This implementation follows the Lambda runtime API.

In order to keep the deployment code as small as possible, many OTP applications (≈ components) have been left out. The applications bundled with this layer are reduced to the ones used for networking, including SSL, and standard library functions. Most notably tooling like Mnesia is left out. It should have no place of a Lambda function IMHO.

All in all, this keeps the layer relatively small (23MB) for a complete system.

Getting it up and running

In general, it's good practice to deploy code on AWS by means of Cloudformation templates. The example setup provided is no different. It does deploy 2 stacks:

  1. An S3 bucket acts as an intermediate storage location for Lambda code
  2. A stack featuring the Elixir runtime, with an example function.

To work with this repo, there are a few prerequisites to set up:

  1. docker, used to build the custom runtime and example
  2. aws-cli, installed using Python 2 or 3
  3. make (GNU Make)

To get started, make sure you can access your AWS account (e.g. try aws cloudformation list-stacks). If this does not work, set your AWS_PROFILE or access keys. You do not need to have Erlang/Elixir installed on your system since we do the building from Docker containers.

To deploy the S3 bucket stack and the example stack, simply type:


This will build the zip files, upload them to S3 and deploy the custom runtime and a Lambda function.

To test the function, simply call:

make test

Building a Lambda function

A Lambda function can be any function defined by ModuleName.function_name. The function should take two arguments, event and context.

A simple Lambda handler module could look like this:

defmodule Example do

  def hello(_event, _context) do
    {:ok, %{ :message => "Elixir on AWS Lambda" }}


The event is a map with event information. The contents depend on the type of event received (API Gateway, SQS, etc.).

The response can be in one of the following forms:

{:ok, content}
{:ok, content_type, content}
{:error, message}

Content can be a map or list, in which case it's serialized to JSON. If its a binary (string) it will be returned as text/plain by default. Any other type will be "inspected" returned as application/octet-stream by default.

If a content_type is provided that is used instead. Binary content is returned as is, the rest is "inspected".

The context map contains some extra info about the event, as charlists(!):

  :content_type => 'application/json'
  :request_id => 'abcdef-1234-1234`
  :deadline => '1547815888328'
  :function_arn => 'arn:aws:lambda:eu-west-1:1234567890:function:elixir-runtime-example'
  :trace_id => 'Root=1-5c4...'
  :client_context => 'a6f...'
  :cognito_identity => '6d8...'

The runtime is bundled with Jason, a fast 100% Elixir JSON serializer/deserializer.

Some work/considerations

  • How to deal with consolidated beam files (used for protocols) - for now, leave as is.
  • How to keep the lambda code itself as small as possible? Removed as many apps from the deployment as possible
  • Support 5xx and 5xx response codes from AWS Lambda side
  • Mix task for packaging code