Today, AWS is introducing Synchronous Express Workflows for AWS Step Functions. This is a new way to run Express Workflows to orchestrate AWS services at high-throughput.

Developers have been using asynchronous Express Workflows since December 2019 for workloads that require higher event rates and shorter durations. Customers were looking for ways to receive an immediate response from their Express Workflows without having to write additional code or introduce additional services.

What’s new?

Synchronous Express Workflows allow developers to quickly receive the workflow response without needing to poll additional services or build a custom solution. This is useful for high-volume microservice orchestration and fast compute tasks that communicate via HTTPS.

Getting started

You can build and run Synchronous Express Workflows using the AWS Management Console, the AWS Serverless Application Model (AWS SAM), the AWS Cloud Development Kit (AWS CDK), AWS CLI, or AWS CloudFormation.

To create Synchronous Express Workflows from the AWS Management Console:

  1. Navigate to the Step Functions console and choose Create State machine.
  2. Choose Author with code snippets. Choose Express.
    Screenshot 2020 11 19 Step Functions Management Console2This generates a sample workflow definition that you can change once the workflow is created.
    Screenshot 2020 11 19 Step Functions Management Console copy
  3. Choose Next, then choose Create state machine. It may take a moment for the workflow to deploy.

Starting Synchronous Express Workflows

When starting an Express Workflow, a new Type parameter is required. To start a synchronous workflow from the AWS Management Console:

  1. Navigate to the Step Functions console.
  2. Choose an Express Workflow from the list.
    Screenshot 2020 11 06 at 09.11.10
  3. Choose Start execution.
    Screenshot 2020 11 19 Step Functions Management Console3
    Here you have an option to run the Express Workflow as a synchronous or asynchronous type.
  4. Choose Synchronous and choose Start execution.
    Screenshot 2020 11 06 Step Functions Management Console1
  5. Expand Details in the results message to view the output.
    Screenshot 2020 11 19 Step Functions Management Console

Monitoring, logging and tracing

Enable logging to inspect and debug Synchronous Express Workflows. All execution history is sent to CloudWatch Logs. Use the Monitoring and Logging tabs in the Step Functions console to gain visibility into Express Workflow executions.
Screenshot 2020 11 19 Step Functions Management Console1

The Monitoring tab shows six graphs with CloudWatch metrics for Execution Errors, Execution Succeeded, Execution Duration, Billed Duration, Billed Memory, and Executions Started. The Logging tab shows recent logs and the logging configuration, with a link to CloudWatch Logs.

Enable X-Ray tracing to view trace maps and timelines of the underlying components that make up a workflow. This helps to discover performance issues, detect permission problems, and track requests made to and from other AWS services.

Creating an example workflow

The following example uses Amazon API Gateway HTTP APIs to start an Express Workflow synchronously. The workflow analyses web form submissions for negative sentiment. It generates a case reference number and saves the data in an Amazon DynamoDB table. The workflow returns the case reference number and message sentiment score.

Screenshot 2020 11 19 at 15.30.38

  1. The API endpoint is generated by an API Gateway HTTP APIs. A POST request is made to the API which invokes the workflow. It contains the contact form’s message body.
  2. The message sentiment is analyzed by Amazon Comprehend.
  3. The Lambda function generates a case reference number, which is recorded in the DynamoDB table.
  4. The workflow choice state branches based on the detected sentiment.
  5. If a negative sentiment is detected, a notification is sent to an administrator via Amazon Simple Email Service (SES).
  6. When the workflow completes, it returns a ticketID to API Gateway.
  7. API Gateway returns the ticketID in the API response.

The code for this application can be found in this GitHub repository. Three important files define the application and its resources:

Deploying the application

Clone the GitHub repository and deploy with the AWS SAM CLI:

$ git clone
$ cd contact-form-processing-with-synchronous-express-workflows $ sam build $ sam deploy -g


This deploys 12 resources, including a Synchronous Express Workflow, three Lambda functions, an API Gateway HTTP API endpoint, and all the AWS Identity & Access Management (IAM) roles and permissions required for the application to run.

Note the HTTP APIs endpoint and workflow ARN outputs.

Testing Synchronous Express Workflows:

A new StartSyncExecution AWS CLI command is used to run the synchronous Express Workflow:

aws stepfunctions start-sync-execution \
--state-machine-arn <your-workflow-arn> \
--input "{\"message\" : \"This is bad service\"}"


The response is received once the workflow completes. It contains the workflow output (sentiment and ticketid), the executionARN, and some execution metadata.

Starting the workflow from HTTP API Gateway:

The application deploys an API Gateway HTTP API, with a Step Functions integration. This is configured in the api.yaml file. It starts the state machine with the POST body provided as the input payload.

Trigger the workflow with a POST request, using the API HTTP API endpoint generated from the deploy step. Enter the following CURL command into the terminal:

curl --location --request POST '<YOUR-HTTP-API-ENDPOINT>' \
--header 'Content-Type: application/json' \
--data-raw '{"message":" This is bad service"}'

The POST request returns a 200 status response. The output field of the response contains the sentiment results (negative) and the generated ticketId (jc4t8i).

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Putting it all together

You can use this application to power a web form backend to help expedite customer complaints. In the following example, a frontend application submits form data via an AJAX POST request. The application waits for the response, and presents the user with a message appropriate to the detected sentiment, and a case reference number.

If a negative sentiment is returned in the API response, the user is informed of their case number:

Screenshot 2020 11 19 at 13.28.13

Setting IAM permissions

Before a user or service can start a Synchronous Express Workflow, it must be granted permission to perform the states:StartSyncExecution API operation. This is a new state-machine level permission. Existing Express Workflows can be run synchronously once the correct IAM permissions for StartSyncExecution are granted.

The example application applies this to a policy within the HttpApiRole in the AWS SAM template. This role is added to the HTTP API integration within the api.yaml file.


Step Functions Synchronous Express Workflows allow developers to receive a workflow response without having to poll additional services. This helps developers orchestrate microservices without needing to write additional code to handle errors, retries, and run parallel tasks. They can be invoked in response to events such as HTTP requests via API Gateway, from a parent state machine, or by calling the StartSyncExecution API action.

This feature is available in all Regions where AWS Step Functions is available. View the AWS Regions table to learn more.

For more serverless learning resources, visit Serverless Land.