REST API made easy with Apex, AWS Lambda and AWS API Gateway

Update September, 4th: Adding an example on how to configure CORS for your lambdas.

Recently, I was asked to rewrite the backend part of the company I'm currently working for with AWS services and Apex, an utility used to facilitate the deployment of AWS Lambda functions. In short terms, AWS Lambda is a FaaS (Functions as a Service): you code simple functions that get input and return output, that's it, nothing else. Similarly, it exists or Google Cloud Functions. When it comes to AWS API Gateway, it is a way of mapping your Lambda functions to endpoints, it can do content type matching, security, and stuff you often repeat in your code. So let's dive in!

An AWS Lambda function can be represented like this:

You can use either the context methods success and fail or the callback method whose first argument is error and second is the response. We can now dive into the Apex world that makes everything Lambda-related easier.


Start with downloading and installing APEX CLI from, the website is very useful and well-explained.

  1. You get the software
  2. You run apex init in a new project folder
  3. You get a structure like this :
  4. You deploy your functions with apex deploy!

And that's it, boom, done, you have functions in the cloud! To use and test them, you just have to call them with apex invoke <function name>.

Bonus for Node.js users

You can npm install apex.js, a nice package that let you express your functions using Promise and forget about try { ... } catch { ... } blocks.

From there :

You get there:

API Gateway

Definitions and deployment

Now let's talk about API Gateway because it's not (yet?) integrated in Apex, so... pretty hard to set up with code you can auto-deploy. But, going deep in Apex issues, you can find some odd Python script that let you express swagger definition along with your functions. Let's look at an example:

This file is originally used by Apex to configure your lambda function precisely. But you can add more to the definition and that's why we put the swagger definition here, very convenient way of doing things. So you got this x-api-gateway which is a swagger extension AWS is using to add parameters to the API. Currently the Python script is not really flexible about everything you can do with AWS Swagger extensions. You can check out everything on the AWS docs to extend your Swagger interface.

Now about the main and most complex changes you need to have in your project.json:

I've shorten everything but there is a link to a boilerplate at the end of the article that contains a more complete example file. First things first, you need to create a REST API on API Gateway (tip: you can use AWS CLI like this aws apigateway create-rest-api 'My Awesome API'), this will gives you an id you need to put on your configuration file.
swagger-func-template is kind of global configuration for every function. For more information on how to define responses and stuff, you can check out on AWS docs. Let met explain in a list what's interesting here:

  • uri: this property needs to be filled with the arn(s) Amazon gives you, but no worries, you can fill it by hands. The {{functionName}} parameter will be automatically replaced with the function name, leave it like this.

  • credentials: I didn't search that much for this one, but replace account_id and it should work. :)

  • requestTemplates: This is a mixed format template from VTL and JSON Path used to transform the shape of the input data to transfer it to your lambda. Currently my configuration looks like this:

    Okay okay, I know this doesn't look good but what if I do this:

    Better, huh? And we can see that's a kind of enhanced JSON used with $ variables representing input. What we are doing here is mapping method, body, headers, query parameters and the path parameters into their own property in an object that will be sent to our lambda. You can even add hardcode properties if you need to. This structure is really opinionated : one one hand, it's really convenient because everything is well-separated, but on the other hand, your lambda needs to know where is the parameters it needs. It's your choice to define it like this or putting every properties into the main object. You could also writing it differently in every function.json.

  • passthroughBehavior: This one is very important, it represents the way Amazon will call your lambda using the requestTemplates.

    • when_no_match: Mapping body with requestTemplates and if no content type is matched, content passes through as-is.
    • when_no_template: same as when_no_match when templates are defined, but if no templates, it passes through as-is.
    • never: rejects the method request if the content-type doesn't match anything in mapping template.

    This option made me go crazy during an hour, I had my request mapped only when I was not sending any body (it was set on the never option).

Now that everything is settled, you can deploy using the script:
python api-gateway-deployer/src/ project.json

Apex API Gateway

Python may not be what your co-worker wants to install for a tiny simple script... That's why I rewrote and enhanced this in Node.js, less code, no Python required and more flexibility coming if you or other people gets interested.

A simple npm install -gapex-api-gateway and here you go. You can also install it locally in your project and call it from an NPM script.

So you might first want to create an API:

apex-api-gateway create 'My Awesome API'

This will add a rest-api-id field in your project.json that can be used later to update your Swagger schema. This way, you don't need to repeat yourself with the AWS CLI. And as we talk about updating, here's how:

apex-api-gateway update

Now you can develop and deploy without bothering about AWS user interface, you only need, of course, appropriate security roles.

Adding CORS

Warning: From now on, if you follow this instructions, the configuration won't work with the Python script since apex-api-gateway has more advanced features required for this.

I struggled a lot to add CORS to my lambdas, so here's the way to deal with it for anyone annoyed. First, what you need is replying to preflight request, the OPTIONS request that many browsers send before the real request to validate the access to a resource. So, let's add what you need in the project.json:

The paths key has been added in the 0.2.0 version of apex-api-gateway to set default methods to every resources matched by a regex. You can find more about it on the paths section of the README. This way, we add an OPTIONS request to every resources we want to be available in the browser. The regex is set to match everything, but you could only allow one part of your API, very flexible this way.

Now that we have defined our preflight requests, we have to add the same headers to all the responses we want. And for now, we do it in swagger-func-template, the behavior of this key is very similar to paths except you don't match paths and methods. In the future, it would likely be merged in paths property with a similar behavior for methods.

And that's it, now you still can override per method your configuration if you need to.


Thanks for reading this, you can check out my Apex API Gateway boilerplate on GitHub (Node.js), it has (almost) everything you need to get you started! Tell me about the apex-api-gateway script and/or don't hesitate to file issues or contribute on the GitHub repository

PS: A friend told me about ClaudiaJS, I never tried it nor saw it before, maybe it is a good alternative for your Lambda functions being written the express.js way.