Deploying AWS Lambdas with Terraform



After reading the comments of this Hackernews post I noticed that a sentiment people seem to share is that Terraform isn't really suited to deploy AWS Lambdas. Whether that's true or not I'll leave that up to you to decide. Nevertheless I have been using a simple Terraform recipe which has proven to be quite useful to myself. In this article I will explain the different parts involved.

Lambda code repository

I believe it's reasonable to assume your Lambda code is stored in some code repository such as Github, Gitlab, Bitbucket and so on. These allow you to download the lambda code (including its dependencies depending how you organize your code) as a ZIP archive similar to the following patterns:

Additionally, like any other code, you probably version your lambda code using the necessary version tags, which makes it useful to deploy a specific version of the lambda code.

Given these 2 properties, let's take a look at how we can leverage that using Terraform.

Terraform resources

In order to keep this article short I'll only cover the Terraform resources relevant to this topic since some additional resources are required to have a working deployment.

Download the archive

resource "null_resource" "download_lambda" {
  triggers = {
    lambda_version = var.lambda_version

  provisioner "local-exec" {
    command = <<BASH
    test -d .tmp || mkdir .tmp
    curl -o .tmp/lambda-${var.lambda_version}.zip "https://some-internal-bitbucket/rest/api/latest/projects/INFRA/repos/lambda-test123/archive?at=refs%2Ftags%2F${var.lambda_version}&format=zip"

Make sure your Terraform code has a var.lambda_version which is expected to correspond to the repository version tag of your lambda code. It allows you to be explicit about which version you want to be deployed.

The triggers definition makes sure the null_resource.download_lambda is only executed when a new version is defined compared to the previous deployment. The local-exec provisioner executes a curl command which downloads the desired ZIP archive and stores it into a local .tmp directory with the var.lambda_version value embedded to the filename. This is important as that will trigger the aws_lambda_function resource as soon as the lambda filename has changed, leading to the actual deployment to AWS Lambda.

Cleanup the archive

resource "null_resource" "cleanup_lambda" {
  provisioner "local-exec" {
    when    = destroy
    command = "rm -rf .tmp"

This null_resource is not really necessary but it does a little house holding by cleaning up the .tmp directory the moment the stack is destroyed.

Deploying the lambda archive

resource "aws_lambda_function" "lambda" {
  filename      = ".tmp/lambda-${var.lambda_version}.zip"
  function_name = "${local.stack}-${local.stack_name}-something"
  role          = aws_iam_role.lambda.arn
  handler       = "main.handler"
  timeout       = 20
  runtime       = "python3.8"

  vpc_config {
    subnet_ids         = var.subnet_ids
    security_group_ids = []
  depends_on = [

The important bit here is the filename value which changes the moment you decide to deploy a new version by setting var.lambda_version triggering the resource to be re-applied effectively leading to the new lambda being deployed to AWS. Additionally it's important to note that the depends_on parameter needs to have the null_resource.download_lambda entry as that makes sure the archive is downloaded first prior to triggering the deployment resource.

Final words

A disadvantage of this approach is that it's platform specific since you'll be shelling out various bash commands. Surely this can be accommodated to fit other platforms. Besides that relying on shelling out CLI commands as part of your Terraform deployment is always a bit hacky. On the other hand it serves its purpose really well and has proven to be quite useful to myself so it might be for you too.

If you have any questions or remarks, don't hesitate to reach out through the comments or via Twitter (@smetj).