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Amazon Lex
Developer Guide

Managing Conversation Context

Conversation context is the information that a user, your application, or a Lambda function provides to an Amazon Lex bot to fulfill an intent. Conversation context includes slot data that the user provides, request attributes set by the client application, and session attributes that the client application and Lambda functions create.

Setting Session Attributes

Session attributes contain application-specific information that is passed between a bot and a client application during a session. Amazon Lex passes session attributes to all Lambda functions configured for a bot. If a Lambda function adds or updates session attributes, Amazon Lex passes the new information back to the client application. For example:

Use session attributes in your Lambda functions to initialize a bot and to customize prompts and response cards. For example:

  • Initialization — In a pizza ordering bot, the client application passes the user's location as a session attribute in the first call to the PostContent or PostText operation. For example, "Location": "111 Maple Street". The Lambda function uses this information to find the closest pizzeria to place the order.

  • Personalize prompts — Configure prompts and response cards to refer to session attributes. For example, "Hey [FirstName], what toppings would you like?" If you pass the user's first name as a session attribute ({"FirstName": "Jo"}), Amazon Lex substitutes the name for the placeholder. It then sends a personalized prompt to the user, "Hey Jo, which toppings would you like?"

Session attributes persist for the duration of the session. Amazon Lex stores them in an encrypted data store until the session ends. The client can create session attributes in a request by calling either the PostContent or the PostText operation with the sessionAttributes field set to a value. A Lambda function can create a session attribute in a response. After the client or a Lambda function creates a session attribute, the stored attribute value is used any time that the client application doesn't include sessionAttribute field in a request to Amazon Lex.

For example, suppose you have two session attributes, {"x": "1", "y": "2"}. If the client calls the PostContent or PostText operation without specifying the sessionAttributes field, Amazon Lex calls the Lambda function with the stored session attributes ({"x": 1, "y": 2}). If the Lambda function doesn't return session attributes, Amazon Lex returns the stored session attributes to the client application.

If either the client application or a Lambda function passes session attributes, Amazon Lex updates the stored session attributes. Passing an existing value, such as {"x": 2}, updates the stored value. When an empty map, {}, is passed, stored values are erased.

To send session attributes to Amazon Lex, you create a string-to-string map of the attributes. The following shows how to map session attributes:

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{ "attributeName": "attributeValue", "attributeName": "attributeValue" }

For the PostText operation you insert the map into the body of the request using the sessionAttributes field, as follows:

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"sessionAttributes: { "attributeName": "attributeValue", "attributeName": "attributeValue" }

For the PostContent operation, you base64 encode the map, and then send it as the x-amz-lex-session-attributes header.

If you are sending binary or structured data in a session attribute, you must first transform the data to a simple string. For more information, see Setting Complex Attributes.

Setting Request Attributes

Request attributes contain request-specific information and apply only to the current request. A client application sends this information to Amazon Lex. Use request attributes to pass information that doesn't need to persist for the entire session. You can create your own request attributes or you can use predefined attributes. To send request attributes, use the x-amz-lex-request-attributes header in a PostContent or the requestAttributes field in a PostText request. Because request attributes don't persist across requests like session attributes do, they are not returned in PostContent or PostText responses.

Note

To send information that persists across requests, use session attributes.

The namespace x-amz-lex: is reserved for the predefined request attributes. Don't create request attributes with the prefix x-amz-lex:.

Setting Predefined Request Attributes

Amazon Lex provides predefined request attributes for managing the way that it processes information sent to your bot. The attributes are not persisted in the session, you must send the predefined attributes in each request. All predefined attributes are in the x-amz-lex: namespace.

Setting the Preferred Time Zone

To set the time zone used to resolve dates so that it is relative to the user's time zone, use the x-amz-lex:time-zone request attribute. If you do not specify a time zone in the x-amz-lex:time-zone attribute, the default is America/New York.

For example, if the user responds tomorrow in response to the prompt "Which day would you like your package delivered?" the actual date that the package is delivered depends on the user's time zone. For example, when it is 01:00 September 16 in New York, it is 22:00 September 15 in Los Angeles. If a person in Los Angeles orders a package to be delivered "tomorrow" using the default time zone, the package would be delivered on the 17th, not the 16th, as expected. However, if you set the x-amz-lex:time-zone request attribute to America/Los_Angeles, the package would be delivered on the 16th.

You can set the attribute to any of the Internet Assigned Number Authority (IANA) time zone names. For more information, see Time Zone Database on the IANA website.

Setting User-Defined Request Attributes

A user-defined request attribute is data that you send to your bot in each request. You send the information in the amz-lex-request-attributes header of a PostContent request or in the requestAttributes field of a PostText request.

To send request attributes to Amazon Lex, you create a string-to-string map of the attributes. The following shows how to map request attributes:

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{ "attributeName": "attributeValue", "attributeName": "attributeValue" }

For the PostText operation you insert the map into the body of the request using the requestAttributes field, as follows:

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"requestAttributes: { "attributeName": "attributeValue", "attributeName": "attributeValue" }

For the PostContent operation, you base64 encode the map, and then send it as the x-amz-lex-request-attributes header.

If you are sending binary or structured data in a request attribute, you must first transform the data to a simple string. For more information, see Setting Complex Attributes.

Setting the Session Timeout

Amazon Lex retains context information—slot data and session attributes—until a conversation session ends. To control how long a session lasts for a bot, set the session timeout. By default, session duration is 5 minutes, but you can specify any duration between 0 and 1,440 minutes (24 hours).

For example, suppose that you create a ShoeOrdering bot that supports intents such as OrderShoes and GetOrderStatus. When Amazon Lex detects that the user's intent is to order shoes, it asks for slot data. For example, it asks for shoe size, color, brand, etc. If the user provides some of the slot data but doesn't complete the shoe purchase, Amazon Lex remembers all of the slot data and session attributes for the duration of the session. If the user returns to the session before it expires, he or she can provide the remaining slot data, and complete the purchase.

In the Amazon Lex console, you set the session timeout when you create a bot. With the AWS command line interface (AWS CLI) or API, you set the timeout when you create or update a bot with the PutBot operation by setting the idleSessionTTLInSeconds field.

Sharing Information Between Intents

Amazon Lex supports sharing information between intents. To share between intents, use session attributes.

For example, a user of the ShoeOrdering bot starts by ordering shoes. the bot engages in a conversation with the user, gathering slot data, such as shoe size, color, and brand. When the user places an order, the Lambda function that fulfills the order sets the orderNumber session attribute, which contains the order number. To get the status of the order, the user uses the GetOrderStatus intent. the bot can ask the user for slot data, such as order number and order date. When the bot has the required information, it returns the status of the order.

If you think that your users might switch intents during the same session, you can design your bot to return the status of the latest order. Instead of asking the user for order information again, you use the orderNumber session attribute to share information across intents and fulfill the GetOrderStatus intent. The bot does this by returning the status of the last order that the user placed.

For an example of cross-intent information sharing, see Example Bot: BookTrip.

Setting Complex Attributes

Session and request attributes are string-to-string maps of attributes and values. In many cases, you can use the string map to transfer attribute values between your client application and a bot. In some cases, however, you might need to transfer binary data or a complex structure that can't be easily converted to a string map. For example, the following JSON object represents an array of the three most populous cities in the United States:

{
   "cities": [
      {
         "city": {
            "name": "New York",
            "state": "New York",
            "pop": "8537673"
         }
      },
      {
         "city": {
            "name": "Los Angeles",
            "state": "California",
            "pop": "3976322"
         }
      },
      {
         "city": {
            "name": "Chicago",
            "state": "Illinois",
            "pop": "2704958"
         }
      }
   ]
}

This array of data doesn't translate well to a string-to-string map. In such a case, you can transform an object to a simple string so that you can send it to your bot with the PostContent and PostText operations.

For example, if you are using JavaScript, you can use the JSON.stringify operation to convert an object to JSON, and the JSON.parse operation to convert JSON text to a JavaScript object:

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// To convert an object to a string. var jsonString = JSON.stringify(object, null, 2); // To convert a string to an object. var obj = JSON.parse(JSON string);

To send session attributes with the PostContent operation, you must base64 encode the attributes before you add them to the request header, as shown in the following JavaScript code:

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var encodedAttributes = new Buffer(attributeString).toString("base64");

You can send binary data to the PostContent and PostText operations by first converting the data to a base64-encoded string, and then sending the string as the value in the session attributes:

"sessionAttributes" : {
   "binaryData": "base64 encoded data"
}