State machine application patterns - AWS Lambda

State machine application patterns

In Step Functions, you orchestrate your resources using state machines, which are defined using a JSON-based, structured language called Amazon States Language.

State machine components

State machines contain elements called states that make up your workflow. The logic of each state determines which state comes next, what data to pass along, and when to terminate the workflow. A state is referred to by its name, which can be any string, but which must be unique within the scope of the entire state machine.

To create a state machine that uses Lambda, you need the following components:

  1. An AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) role for Lambda with one or more permissions policies (such as AWSLambdaRole service permissions).

  2. One or more Lambda functions (with the IAM role attached) for your specific runtime.

  3. A state machine authored in Amazon States Language.

State machine application patterns

You can create complex orchestrations for state machines using application patterns such as:

  • Catch and retry – Handle errors using sophisticated catch-and-retry functionality.

  • Branching – Design your workflow to choose different branches based on Lambda function output.

  • Chaining – Connect functions into a series of steps, with the output of one step providing the input to the next step.

  • Parallelism – Run functions in parallel, or use dynamic parallelism to invoke a function for every member of any array.

Applying patterns to state machines

The following shows how you can apply these application patterns to a state machine within an Amazon States Language definition.

Catch and Retry

A Catch field and a Retry field add catch-and-retry logic to a state machine. Catch ("Type": "Catch") is an array of objects that define a fallback state. Retry ("Type": "Retry") is an array of objects that define a retry policy if the state encounters runtime errors.


A Choice state adds branching logic to a state machine. Choice ("Type": "Choice") is an array of rules that determine which state the state machine transitions to next.


A "Chaining" pattern describes multiple Lambda functions connected together in a state machine. You can use chaining to create reusable workflow invocations from a Task ("Type": "Task") state of a state machine.


A Parallel state adds parallelism logic to a state machine. You can use a Parallel state ("Type": "Parallel") to create parallel branches of invocation in your state machine.

Dynamic parallelism

A Map state adds dynamic "for-each" loop logic to a state machine. You can use a Map state ("Type": "Map") to run a set of steps for each element of an input array in a state machine. While the Parallel state invokes multiple branches of steps using the same input, a Map state invokes the same steps for multiple entries of the array.

In addition to application patterns, Step Functions supports various service integration patterns, including the ability to pause a workflow for human approval, or to call a legacy system or other third party.

Example branching application pattern

In the following example, the WhichCoat state machine defined in the Amazon States Language (ASL) definition shows a branching application pattern with a Choice state ("Type": "Choice"). If the condition of one of the three Choice states is met, the Lambda function is invoked as a Task:

  1. The WearHeavyCoat state invokes the wear_heavy_coat Lambda function and returns a message.

  2. The WearLightJacket state invokes the wear_light_jacket Lambda function and returns a message.

  3. The None state invokes the no_jacket Lambda function and returns a message.

The WhichCoat state machine has the following structure:

Example Amazon States Language definition

The following Amazon States Language definition of the WhichCoat state machine uses a Variable context object called Weather. If one of the three conditions in StringEquals is met, the Lambda function defined in the Resource field's Amazon Resource Name (ARN) is invoked.

{ "Comment":"Coat Indicator State Machine", "StartAt":"WhichCoat", "States":{ "WhichCoat":{ "Type":"Choice", "Choices":[ { "Variable":"$.Weather", "StringEquals":"FREEZING", "Next":"WearHeavyCoat" }, { "Variable":"$.Weather", "StringEquals":"COOL", "Next":"WearLightJacket" }, { "Variable":"$.Weather", "StringEquals":"WARM", "Next":"None" } ] }, "WearHeavyCoat":{ "Type":"Task", "Resource":"arn:aws:lambda:us-west-2:01234567890:function:wear_heavy_coat", "End":true }, "WearLightJacket":{ "Type":"Task", "Resource":"arn:aws:lambda:us-west-2:01234567890:function:wear_light_jacket", "End":true }, "None":{ "Type":"Task", "Resource":"arn:aws:lambda:us-west-2:01234567890:function:no_coat", "End":true } } }

Example Python function

The following Lambda function in Python (wear_heavy_coat) can be invoked for the state machine defined in the previous example. If the WhichCoat state machine equals a string value of FREEZING, the wear_heavy_coat function is invoked from Lambda, and the user receives the message that corresponds with the function: "You should wear a heavy coat today."

from __future__ import print_function import datetime def wear_heavy_coat(message, context): print(message) response = {} response['Weather'] = message['Weather'] response['Timestamp'] ="%Y-%m-%d %H-%M-%S") response['Message'] = 'You should wear a heavy coat today.' return response

Example invocation data

The following input data runs the WearHeavyCoat state that invokes the wear_heavy_coat Lambda function, when the Weather variable is equal to a string value of FREEZING.

{ "Weather":"FREEZING" }

For more information, see Creating a Step Functions State Machine That Uses Lambda in the AWS Step Functions Developer Guide.