AWS step functions - The Ultimate Guide -

20 Aug 2022

The need for using AWS step functions is to assemble functions within business-critical applications. These functions are serverless function orchestrators that simplify the sequencing of AWS Lambda functions and numerous AWS services in critical applications. The sequencing means that the output of one step provides an input to the succeeding one. Every step within your application functions in order, according to the business logic defined by you.

With its visual interface, it is easy to design and execute a sequence of surveillance and object-oriented workflows that uphold the application state. It can be difficult to orchestrate a sequence of distinct serverless applications, dealing with retries, and debugging failures. You’re your distributed applications turn complex, you will find difficulty in managing them. Through the incorporated operational controls, AWS step functions handle sequencing, error, state, and retry logic. Thus, they lessen a considerable burden regarding operation. With this overview of AWS step functions, you now need to know how it works.

How do AWS Step Functions work?

Basically, AWS step functions are state machines and the chief abstractions are called states. The configuration of these functions comprises a map of every possible step as well as transition amongst them.

The Amazon States Language defines the states along with their transitions. It is a JSON-based language; it is proprietary to Amazon. 

Where can you use AWS Step Functions?

AWS Step Functions perfectly integrate with the AWS Lambda. It provides an easy-to-use interface for the creation of state machines. If you are designing an application where the priority is the quick iteration on the state transitions then use AWS Step Functions. 

This function is a suitable choice if a majority or all tasks in the applications are accomplished through the AWS Lambda functions. There will be a significant reduction in the time you would otherwise spend on writing the orchestration logic. Hence, you can efficiently focus on business logic. When you learn AWS Step by Step, there is a key focus on performance optimization. This is where the aforementioned aspect of AWS Step Functions proves to be useful.

The usefulness of this function is perceived while updating the counts of active projects in various analytics databases. These databases are essential for every new user formed in your SaaS product through DynamoDB and AWS Lambda functions. By integrating Step Functions with DynamoDB and Lambda, it would be easier to set up this workflow than writing your orchestration.

You can use AWS Step Functions for obtaining data from several task-tracking mechanisms. You can merge the data and build a dashboard as per the results through S3 and AWS Lambda. It is possible to disintegrate parts of the particular system. No need to worry about how to pass data among them.

For every GDPR data deletion request being received, you need to discard the data of a user from every part of your system. Subsequently, you need to send out an email to the user to confirm the deletion. Actually, this workflow needs various actions in several systems. On the other hand, the graphical interface of AWS Step Functions lets you easily append the feature for deleting new data while you expand your product. Moreover, the debugging tools enable you to know the particular stage wherein every failed request faced an issue.

Advantages of AWS Step Functions:

1. Enhances resiliency:

AWS Step Functions deals with checkpoints, state, and restart so that your application functions sequentially. The equipped retry, try/catch, and rollback abilities automatically manage errors and exceptions. 

2. Reduced code lines:

This function supervises the logic of your application. It employs fundamental primitives like parallel execution, branching, and timeouts. As a result, it discards surplus code that might be treated within your functions and microservices. No need to write more code lines and still, you can accomplish your tasks.

3. Quickly build and update apps:

With the AWS Step Functions, you can effectively build visual workflows. These workflows quickly translate business requirements into technical ones. Within a few minutes, you can build applications. Whenever there is a need for change, it is simple to swap or reorder components. During this process, you need not customize any code.

4. Error handling abilities: 

This function facilitates an easy approach for error handling at every state. It can manage various types of errors a state can provide. Examples of errors it can handle are:

States.Timeout – Whenever a Task state could not complete the job in the ‘TimeoutSeconds’ or fail to send out heartbeat through SendTaskHeartbeat in HeartbeatSeconds value

States.TaskFailed – Whenever a Task state fails.

States.Permissions – When there are insufficient privileges in the Task state for calling the Lambda/Activity code. 

States.All – Confines any identified error name. Also, it can catch Lambda service exceptions i.e. Lambda.ServiceException and the unhandled errors i.e. Lambda.Unknown. 

When you pick a relevant AWS certification course, the corresponding AWS learning path offers an overview of AWS Step Functions. You can dive into the details separately if the need arises.

AWS Step Functions Use Cases:

1. Automatically accomplishes tasks:

AWS Step Functions automatically investigates routine deployments, installations, upgrades, and migrations. As a result, it greatly reduces the burden on the user. 

2. Efficient data processing:

This function ensures that perpetual, multiple ETL jobs run sequentially. The data processing efficiency is higher compared to manual orchestration of those jobs or upholding a separate application.

3. Updates monolithic applications:

With this function, it is possible to divide a few tasks from the remaining part of your codebase. It becomes easy to transform monolithic applications into microservices in form of a sequence of tiny steps.

4. Application orchestration:

You can use the AWS Step Functions to integrate several AWS Lambda functions into responsive serverless microservices and applications. No need to write code for parallel processes, workflow logic, retries, timeouts, or error handling.

Tiers and pricing of AWS Step Functions:

Its free tier contains 4,000 AWS Step Functions state transitions every month. Essentially, this portion of the free tier does not terminate. Hence, you can benefit from it although your AWS account is not new.

Above the free tier, the pricing of Step Functions is $0.025 for every 1,000 state transitions. At first glance, it may be difficult to imagine what pricing means for AWS bills on a monthly basis. You can take a detailed look at the pricing to get an exact understanding. 

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