Thursday, July 02, 2015

Extending CloudFormation with Lambda-Backed Custom Resources

CloudFormation stacks are very nice for setting up complete server environments. But, there are a few problems.

  • Keeping all resources in one stack may not be possible since some resources, such as Kineses, may be needed by multiple stacks.
  • If your stack depends on external resources you have to maintain these resources separately and send them as parameters when creating new stacks.
  • If you have multiple accounts or environments you have to maintain one configuration for each.

Using Custom Resources to extend the native functionality of CloudFormation solves these problems.

At Sony Mobile in Lund we make heavy use of Lambda-backed Custom Resources. We use them for depending on other stacks, getting info about VPC, Route53, certificates and AMIs. We also have a resource for getting Elasticache endpoints to our Redis services since CloudFormation does not provide it.

The code in this article is based on code from Amazon Lambda-backed Custom Resources

The Custom Resource Invocation

When CloudFormation invokes a Custom Resource it send a request which looks like this:

  "RequestType": "Create",
  "ServiceToken": "arn:aws:lambda:...:function:route53Dependency",
  "ResponseURL": "https://cloudformation-custom-resource...",
  "StackId": "arn:aws:cloudformation:eu-west-1:...",
  "RequestId": "afd8d7c5-9376-4013-8b3b-307517b8719e",
  "LogicalResourceId": "Route53",
  "ResourceType": "Custom::Route53Dependency",
  "ResourceProperties": {
    "ServiceToken": "arn:aws:lambda:...:function:route53Dependency",
    "DomainName": ""

The dots, (...), are random digits and account numbers and will be different per request and account. The interesting parts of this request are:

  • RequestType - can have the values Create, Update and Delete.
  • ResponseURL - the URL to PUT the response to.
  • ResourceProperties - the properties sent by the configuration in the CloudFormation resource declaration. You can ignore the ServiceToken, it is used internally by CloudFormation to find your function. DomainName is interesting since it contains the name of the domain we want to lookup.

The Custom Resource Declaration

The Custom Resource Declaration corresponding to the above invocation looks like this:

"Resources": {
  "Route53": {
    "Type": "Custom::Route53Dependency",
    "Properties": {
      "ServiceToken": { "Fn::Join": [ "", [
        { "Ref": "AWS::Region" },
        { "Ref": "AWS::AccountId" },
      ] ] },
      "DomainName": { "Ref": "DomainName" }

The interesting parts here are:

  • Route53 - the name of the resource inside the template.
  • Type - The Custom:: part of the type identifies this as a Custom Resource, the rest, Route53Dependency, is documentation.
  • ServiceToken - identifies the function with the current region, account and the name route53Dependency. This function name corresponds to the name of the function used when creating the function with aws lambda create-function --function-name route53Dependency
  • DomainName - is a custom parameter which we will read from the event and use to lookup the domain in Route53.

The Lambda Custom Resource Function

A Custom Resource Lambda can be split into three major parts.

  • The handler handles the event and invokes the domain specific function.
  • The domain specific function calls the AWS function and gets the requested information.
  • The response is sent back to CloudFormation by PUTing to the provided ResponseURL

The handler and response code is almost the same for all our Custom Resources.

The handler

// The handler
route53Dependency.handler = function(event, context) {
  console.log(JSON.stringify(event, null, '  '));

  if (event.RequestType == 'Delete') {
    return sendResponse(event, context, "SUCCESS");

  route53Dependency(event.ResourceProperties, function(err, result) {
    var status = err ? 'FAILED' : 'SUCCESS';
    return sendResponse(event, context, status, result, err);

The handler starts by logging the event, nice to have for debugging. It ignores Delete-events since our resources are not creating anything, only looking things up. It then invokes the domain function with event.ResourceProperties, checks the result and uses sendResponse to send the reply.

Lambda functions have to be invoked as properties, in this case handler. I usually set the handler as a property on the domain function. This is just my preference, it is not required.

The Domain Function

// The domain function
function route53Dependency(properties, callback) {
  if (!properties.DomainName)
    callback("Domain name not specified");

  var aws = require("aws-sdk");
  var route53 = new aws.Route53();

  console.log('route53Dependency', properties);
  route53.listHostedZones({}, function(err, data) {
    console.log('listHostedZones', err, data);
    if (err)
      return callback(err);

    var zones = data.HostedZones;
    var matching = zones.filter(function(zone) {
      return zone.Name == properties.DomainName + '.';
    if (matching.length != 1)
      return callback('Exactly one matching zone is allowed ' + zones);
    var match = matching[0];
    delete match.Config;
    delete match.CallerReference;
    match.Id = match.Id.split('/')[2];
    match.Name = match.Name.substring(0, match.Name.length-1);
    return callback(null, match);

The domain function starts out with checking for required properties and calls the callback with an error in case they are not valid or available.

We require the SDK and invoke listHostedZones, check that exactly one domain matches and return the object after cleaning it up. Custom Resources only supports returning string values and if you try to return objects such as Config above. In this case we don't care about this value and just delete it.

The Response

To send the response back to CloudFormation we PUT some JSON to the ResponseURL provided in the request. The response looks like this:

  "StackId": "arn:aws:cloudformation:eu-west-1:...",
  "RequestId": 'e4d1ab88-1b2c-402f-b083-1966f5806064',
  "LogicalResourceId": 'Route53',
  "PhysicalResourceId": '2015/05/28/00395b017f72444791fb12b988f4aeab',
  "Status": 'SUCCESS',
  "Reason": ' Details in CloudWatch Log: 2015/05/28/...',
  "Data":  {
    "Id": 'ZEHTTI1S7FAPK',
    "Name": '',
    "ResourceRecordSetCount": "22"

The relevant parts of the response are the last three:

  • Status - signals SUCCESS of FAILED.
  • Reason - information about the request, such as where to find the log or the error if one occurred.
  • Data - is the data provided by our domain function.

We don't have to care about the rest of the parameters since we can just echo back the parameters which were passed to us in the request.

// sendResponse
function sendResponse(event, context, status, data, err) {
  var reason = err ? err.message : '';
  var responseBody = {
    StackId: event.StackId,
    RequestId: event.RequestId,
    LogicalResourceId: event.LogicalResourceId,
    PhysicalResourceId: context.logStreamName,
    Status: status,
    Reason: reason + " See details in CloudWatch Log: " + context.logStreamName,
    Data: data

  console.log("RESPONSE:\n", responseBody);
  var json = JSON.stringify(responseBody);

  var https = require("https");
  var url = require("url");

  var parsedUrl = url.parse(event.ResponseURL);
  var options = {
    hostname: parsedUrl.hostname,
    port: 443,
    path: parsedUrl.path,
    method: "PUT",
    headers: {
      "content-type": "",
      "content-length": json.length

  var request = https.request(options, function(response) {
    console.log("STATUS: " + response.statusCode);
    console.log("HEADERS: " + JSON.stringify(response.headers));
    context.done(null, data);

  request.on("error", function(error) {
    console.log("sendResponse Error:\n", error);

  request.on("end", function() {

We start out by creating the response object by using the values from the request and our values for status, data and err.

We parse the ResponseURL and send the request with https.request back to CloudFormation.

Using the Properties in CloudFormation

To use the properties in a CloudFormation template, we use the built-in Fn::GetAtt function.

// Example Usage
"Outputs": {
  "Route53Id": {
    "Value": {
      "Fn::GetAtt": [ "Route53", "Id" ]
    "Description": "Route53 Id"
  "Route53Name": {
    "Value": {
      "Fn::GetAtt": [ "Route53", "Name" ]
    "Description": "Route53 Name"
  "Route53Count": {
    "Value": {
      "Fn::GetAtt": [ "Route53", "ResourceRecordSetCount" ]
    "Description": "Route53 Count"

Available Custom Resources

We have implemented the following Custom Resources.

Elasticache Dependency

When CloudFormation creates a Redis-backed Elasticache Cluster it does not provide the endpoints to the stack. This forces us to write logic in the client to look up the endpoints or to look them up manually and provide them as configuration. elasticacheDependency gets information about Elasticache clusters including endpoints.

Image Dependency

imageDependency looks up information about an AMI by name. It is much easier to read an image name instead of an AMI ID.

Route53 Dependency

route53Dependency looks up information about hosted zone by domain name. Again, nicer to have than a cryptic zone id.

VPC Dependency

vpcDependency looks up information about a VPC by name including ID and subnet information.

Certificate Dependency

certificateDependency looks up a certificate by name.

Stack Dependency

stackDependency looks up the outputs from another stack by name. It provides the outputs as variables to the resources and also includes an extra property called Environment.

The Environment property contains all the outputs from the stack formatted as a Unix env-file, (Property1=Value\nProperty2=Value\n). This can be used to provide the parameters to the instance by saving them to an environment file and, if you use Docker, to provide them to the container with docker run --env-file

Open Source

All our custom resources are open sourced and can be accessed at the Sony Experia Dev Github account.

The following script are available for each resource:

  • - creates the necessary roles for using the Lambda.
  • - creates or updates the Lambda as needed.
  • - invokes the lambda from the command line.
  • - creates or deletes a test-stack showing how to use the function with CloudFormation.


CloudFormation extended with Custom Resources is a powerful tool that enables us to setup almost all our AWS resources. Currently we are not deploying our Lambdas via CloudFormation but we are working on it. Stay tuned!

No comments: