Seamless AWS Lambda Function Deployments with Serverless

October 6, 2019 · 4 minutes


While CloudFormation is an invaluable tool for provisioning AWS resources, it has some notable shortcomings. One such shortcoming is the inability to deploy an AWS Lambda function and the S3 bucket where its deployment package is located in the same CloudFormation template at the same time. Even if the CloudFormation stack is syntactically correct, the deployment will fail when CloudFormation attempts to fetch the Lambda function deployment package from the S3 bucket defined in your CloudFormation template.

Before diving into a solution, let’s revisit the ways in which a Lambda function can be deployed via CloudFormation.

Deploying an AWS Lambda function via CloudFormation

There are two ways to deploy a Lambda function using CloudFormation:

  1. Inline
  2. Using Amazon S3


For Node.js and Python functions, you can specify the function code inline in the template. This can be accomplished by using the literal style block indicator (|) and the ZipFile property of the AWS::Lambda::Function resource.

Using Amazon S3

Additionally, you can specify the location of a deployment package in Amazon S3 by providing an S3 bucket (S3Bucket) and S3 key (S3Key).

This is where a Lambda deployment can become cumbersome. It is impossible to define a Lambda function resource and the S3 bucket from which the Lambda function deployment package is retrieved in the same CloudFormation template.


There are various ways to address this limitation.

The Naive Solution

In order to deploy both a Lambda function and the S3 bucket in which it resides, you must first deploy the CloudFormation stack with the S3 bucket, put the Lambda function deployment package in the S3 bucket, then specify the S3 bucket and object key in the CloudFormation template for the Lambda function resource before deploying the template again.

This solution has the following workflow.

  1. Create an AWS Lambda function using Zipfile and the deployment S3 bucket:

      Type: AWS::Lambda::Function
          # S3Bucket: !Ref LambdaS3Bucket
          # S3Key: ‘’
          # Use ZipFile to address ‘chicken and egg’ problem
          ZipFile: |
            def handler(event, context):
      Type: AWS::S3::Bucket
        AccessControl: AuthenticatedRead
        BucketName: ‘${AWS::StackName}-lambda’
          Status: Enabled

    Note: The deployment S3 bucket is commented out for the first deployment.

  2. Deploy the CloudFormation stack:

    aws cloudformation deploy \
      --stack-name $STACK_NAME \
      --template-file template.yaml \
      --parameter-overrides $(cat
  3. Deploy the AWS Lambda function to the deployment S3 bucket:

    aws s3api put-object \
      --body \
      --bucket $STACK_NAME-lambda \
  4. Uncomment the deployment S3 bucket ( S3Bucket) in the Lambda function, comment out the Zipfile:

      Type: AWS::Lambda::Function
          S3Bucket: !Ref LambdaS3Bucket
          S3Key: ‘’
          # Use ZipFile to address ‘chicken and egg’ problem
          # ZipFile: |
          #   def handler(event, context):
          #     return
  5. Redeploy the CloudFormation stack.

The Better Solution

Just use Serverless!


This is where Serverless Framework comes in.

Serverless uses the same methodology, but in a seamless, deterministic way. There is no need to execute two initial deploys, Serverless handles this maladroit process transparently for the user.

  1. First, Serverless creates a CloudFormation template with only the deployment S3 bucket and deploys the CloudFormation stack:

    Serverless: Packaging service...
    Serverless: Excluding development dependencies...
    Serverless: Creating Stack...
    Serverless: Checking Stack create progress...
    Serverless: Stack create finished...
  2. Serverless then packages the AWS Lambda function and uploads the deployment package to S3:

    Serverless: Uploading CloudFormation file to S3...
    Serverless: Uploading artifacts...
  3. Any IAM Roles, Functions, Events and Resources are added to the AWS CloudFormation template and the CloudFormation stack is updated:

    Serverless: Validating template...
    Serverless: Updating Stack...
    Serverless: Checking Stack update progress...
    Serverless: Stack update finished...

Voilà! Painless AWS Lambda function deploys.


Amazon has enabled entire companies to be created around specific shortcomings in their platform. Serverless, a framework that facilitates seamless deployments of AWS Lambda functions, addresses the chicken and egg problem when deploying a CloudFormation stack that defines an AWS Lambda function and the S3 bucket in which it resides.

As software development moves toward more serverless technology (architectures leveraging AWS Lambda, Azure Functions, Google Cloud Functions, etc.), the need to develop robust continuous deployment pipelines becomes more important. In the case of AWS Lambda, Serverless provides a simple solution to a common problem and we plan to continue to use their service as we grow our serverless infrastructure.