This post was written by Luca Mezzalira, Principal Solutions Architect, Media and Entertainment.

Agility enables you to evolve a workload quickly, adding new features, or introducing new infrastructure as required. The key characteristics for achieving agility in a code base are loosely coupled components and strong encapsulation.

Loose coupling can help improve test coverage and create atomic refactoring. With encapsulation, you expose only what is needed to interact with a service without revealing the implementation logic.

Evolutionary architectures can help achieve agility in your design. In the book “Building Evolutionary Architectures”, this architecture is defined as one that “supports guided, incremental change across multiple dimensions”.

This blog post focuses on how to structure code for AWS Lambda functions in a modular fashion. It shows how to embrace the evolutionary aspect provided by the hexagonal architecture pattern and apply it to different use cases.

Introducing ports and adapters

Hexagonal architecture is also known as the ports and adapters architecture. It is an architectural pattern used for encapsulating domain logic and decoupling it from other implementation details, such as infrastructure or client requests.

Ports and adapters

  1. Domain logic: Represents the task that the application should perform, abstracting any interaction with the external world.
  2. Ports: Provide a way for the primary actors (on the left) to interact with the application, via the domain logic. The domain logic also uses ports for interacting with secondary actors (on the right) when needed.
  3. Adapters: A design pattern for transforming one interface into another interface. They wrap the logic for interacting with a primary or secondary actor.
  4. Primary actors: Users of the system such as a webhook, a UI request, or a test script.
  5. Secondary actors: used by the application, these services are either a Repository (for example, a database) or a Recipient (such as a message queue).

Hexagonal architecture with Lambda functions

Lambda functions are units of compute logic that accomplish a specific task. For example, a function could manipulate data in a Amazon Kinesis stream, or process messages from an Amazon SQS queue.

In Lambda functions, hexagonal architecture can help you implement new business requirements and improve the agility of a workload. This approach can help create separation of concerns and separate the domain logic from the infrastructure. For development teams, it can also simplify the implementation of new features and parallelize the work across different developers.

The following example introduces a service for returning a stock value. The service supports different currencies for a frontend application that displays the information in a dashboard. The translation of a stock value between currencies happens in real time. The service must retrieve the exchange rates with every request made by the client.

The architecture for this service uses an Amazon API Gateway endpoint that exposes a REST API. When the client calls the API, it triggers a Lambda function. This gets the stock value from a DynamoDB table and the currency information from a third-party endpoint. The domain logic uses the exchange rate to convert the stock value to other currencies before responding to the client request.

The full example is available in the AWS GitHub samples repository. Here is the architecture for this service:

Hexagonal architecture example

  1. A client makes a request to the API Gateway endpoint, which invokes the Lambda function.
  2. The primary adapter receives the request. It captures the stock ID and pass it to the port:
    exports.lambdaHandler = async (event) => { try{ // retrieve the stockID from the request const stockID = event.pathParameters.StockID; // pass the stockID to the port const response = await getStocksRequest(stockID); return response } };
  3. The port is an interface for communicating with the domain logic. It enforces the separation between an adapter and the domain logic. With this approach, you can change and test the infrastructure and domain logic in isolation without impacting another part of the code base:
    const retrieveStock = async (stockID) => { try{ //use the port “stock” to access the domain logic const stockWithCurrencies = await stock.retrieveStockValues(stockID) return stockWithCurrencies; }
    }
    
  4. The port passing the stock ID invokes the domain logic entry point. The domain logic fetches the stock value from a DynamoDB table, then it requests the exchange rates. It returns the computed values to the primary adapter via the port. The domain logic always uses a port to interact with an adapter because the ports are the interfaces with the external world:
    const CURRENCIES = [“USD”, “CAD”, “AUD”]
    const retrieveStockValues = async (stockID) => {
    try {
    //retrieve the stock value from DynamoDB using a port const stockValue = await Repository.getStockData(stockID);
    //fetch the currencies value using a port const currencyList = await Currency.getCurrenciesData(CURRENCIES);
    //calculate the stock value in different currencies const stockWithCurrencies = { stock: stockValue.STOCK_ID, values: { "EUR": stockValue.VALUE } }; for(const currency in currencyList.rates){ stockWithCurrencies.values[currency] = (stockValue.VALUE * currencyList.rates[currency]).toFixed(2) }
    // return the final computation to the port return stockWithCurrencies; }
    }
    

 

This is how the domain logic interacts with the DynamoDB table:

DynamoDB interaction

  1. The domain logic uses the Repository port for interacting with the database. There is not a direct connection between the domain and the adapter:
    const getStockData = async (stockID) => { try{
    //the domain logic pass the request to fetch the stock ID value to this port const data = await getStockValue(stockID); return data.Item; } }
    
  2. The secondary adapter encapsulates the logic for reading an item from a DynamoDB table. All the logic for interacting with DynamoDB is encapsulated in this module:
    const getStockValue = async (stockID) => { let params = { TableName : DB_TABLE, Key:{ 'STOCK_ID': stockID } } try { const stockData = await documentClient.get(params).promise() return stockData }
    }
    

 

The domain logic uses an adapter for fetching the exchange rates from the third-party service. It then processes the data and responds to the client request:

 

  1. Currencies API interactionThe second operation in the business logic is retrieving the currency exchange rates. The domain logic requests the operation via a port that proxies the request to the adapter:
    const getCurrenciesData = async (currencies) => { try{ const data = await getCurrencies(currencies); return data } }
    
  2. The currencies service adapter fetches the data from a third-party endpoint and returns the result to the domain logic.
    const getCurrencies = async (currencies) => { try{ const res = await axios.get(`http://api.mycurrency.io?symbols=${currencies.toString()}`) return res.data } }
    

These eight steps show how to structure the Lambda function code using a hexagonal architecture.

Adding a cache layer

In this scenario, the production stock service experiences traffic spikes during the day. The external endpoint for the exchange rates cannot support the level of traffic. To address this, you can implement a caching strategy with Amazon ElastiCache using a Redis cluster. This approach uses a cache-aside pattern for offloading traffic to the external service.

Typically, it can be challenging to evolve code to implement this change without the separation of concerns in the code base. However, in this example, there is an adapter that interacts with the external service. Therefore, you can change the implementation to add the cache-aside pattern and maintain the same API contract with the rest of the application:

const getCurrencies = async (currencies) => { try{ // Check the exchange rates are available in the Redis cluster let res = await asyncClient.get("CURRENCIES"); if(res){
// If present, return the value retrieved from Redis return JSON.parse(res); }
// Otherwise, fetch the data from the external service const getCurr = await axios.get(`http://api.mycurrency.io?symbols=${currencies.toString()}`)
// Store the new values in the Redis cluster with an expired time of 20 seconds await asyncClient.set("CURRENCIES", JSON.stringify(getCurr.data), "ex", 20);
// Return the data to the port return getCurr.data } } 

This is a low-effort change only affecting the adapter. The domain logic and port interacting with the adapter are untouched and maintain the same API contract. The encapsulation provided by this architecture helps to evolve the code base. It also preserves many of the tests in place, considering only an adapter is modified.

Moving domain logic from a container to a Lambda function

In this example, the team working on this workload originally wrap all the functionality inside a container using AWS Fargate with Amazon ECS. In this case, the developers define a route for the GET method for retrieving the stock value:

// This web application uses the Fastify framework fastify.get('/stock/:StockID', async (request, reply) => { try{ const stockID = request.params.StockID; const response = await getStocksRequest(stockID); return response } })

In this case, the route’s entry point is exactly the same for the Lambda function. The team does not need to change anything else in the code base, thanks to the characteristics provided by the hexagonal architecture.

This pattern can help you more easily refactor code from containers or virtual machines to multiple Lambda functions. It introduces a level of code portability that can be more challenging with other solutions.

Benefits and drawbacks

As with any pattern, there are benefits and drawbacks to using hexagonal architecture.

The main benefits are:

  • The domain logic is agnostic and independent from the outside world.
  • The separation of concerns increases code testability.
  • It may help reduce technical debt in workloads.

The drawbacks are:

  • The pattern requires an upfront investment of time.
  • The domain logic implementation is not opinionated.

Whether you should use this architecture for developing Lambda functions depends upon the needs of your application. With an evolving workload, the extra implementation effort may be worthwhile.

The pattern can help improve code testability because of the encapsulation and separation of concerns provided. This approach can also be used with compute solutions other than Lambda, which may be useful in code migration projects.

Conclusion

This post shows how you can evolve a workload using hexagonal architecture. It explains how to add new functionality, change underlying infrastructure, or port the code base between different compute solutions. The main characteristics enabling this are loose coupling and strong encapsulation.

To learn more about hexagonal architecture and similar patterns, read:

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