Build & Deploy serverless apps on AWS with SAM CLI

AWS changed the game in 2015 when they launched AWS Lambda which enabled developers build applications without needed a server.

Since then, Lambda and Serverless in general has grown in leaps and bounds with launch of API Gateway, among many other services that allows developers to build full-fledged serverless apps.

While CloudFormation (an IaaC tool) has existed for years, it is usually cumbersome to write CloudFormation templates with simplest ones going upto hundres of lines of codes. This had led to developers preferring third-party tools such as Terraform or Pulumi, but with AWS launching their SAM CLI that is changing fast.

Within AWS Ecosystem, there are a plethora of options available, the details of which we will cover in another lesson, but the two that we will use for this lesson are

  1. AWC CLI: This allows a developer to manage all of their AWS services using CLI
  2. AWS SAM-CLI: This is a separate CLI tool that covers a subset of AWS CLI but is also a wrapper on CloudFormation and in fact generate a CloudFormation template as part of its build process.

In this tutorial, we will use AWS CLI and SAM-CLI to build a simple Lambda application using Python 3.8 and deploy it to AWS.

The application of our choice is a Lambda function behind API Gateway that will return Hello World message when invoked.

AWS Lambda API Gateway Hello world

Setting up the development environment

Download and install Python 3.9 for your OS from Python Website.

IMPORTANT: The latest supported Python version on AWS Lambda is 3.8, thus you need 3.9 to be able to build your Lambda application

You can refer to this tutorial if you need help in installing python correctly.

Check your Python version to confirm

python --version

Install AWS CLI

Installation method varies by OS. Steps below.

On Windows Download the 64-bit installer and run to install.

On Linux, run

curl "" -o "" \
   && unzip

Then Install the AWS CLI by running the following command:

sudo ./aws/install

On MacOS Download the MacOS PKG and run to install.

To check if the installation was successful, run a version check

aws --version


Again, installation varies by Operating System, choose from below as appropriate.

On Windows Download and run the 64-bit installer.

On Linux, run the below

wget "" \
   -O "" \
   && unzip -d sam \
   && sudo ./sam/install

On MacOS run

brew tap aws/tap
brew install aws-sam-cli

Verify the installation by running a version check

sam --version

Configuring AWS & AWS CLI

Both AWS CLI and SAM CLI relies on "Programmatic Access" credentials. So you will need to either create a new user or use your own Access Keys.

Ideally, create a user with only programmatic access as shown below.

Create a new admin user with programmatic access

  1. Login to your AWS Console Home and navigate to IAM
  2. On the left pane, click on Users
  3. Then Click on Add users
  4. Choose a username & select only Programmatic access under Select AWS access type, then click Next: Permissions

Create an AWS IAM user

Then click on Attach existing policies directly and choose AdministratorAccess then click on Next: Tags.

Leave the tags blank for now, and click on Next: Review then click on Create user. This will create a new user.

Keep this window open for now, and notice the Access key ID & Secret access key. This will be needed in next step.

WARNING: Never store this credentials anywhere or share them with anyone. An attacker can user your credentials to create AWS resources in your account. If you need to reconfigure, you can generate a new credentials from IAM screen.

AWS New IAM User

Configure AWS CLI

Open a terminal window and run the below to start the configuration

aws configure

This will start an interactive session, copy paste your access keys and secret access keys when prompted

aws configure
Default region name [None]: us-east-1
Default output format [None]: 

Create a new app

Now run the below to create a new SAM App

sam init

This will prompt you to choose between Quick Start & Custom Template, choose 1 and press Enter followed by choose Zip (1). Then finally, choose python3.8 (option 2) when asked to choose the runtime as shown below. Leave the name as default (sam-app).

Which template source would you like to use?
        1 - AWS Quick Start Templates
        2 - Custom Template Location
Choice: 1
What package type would you like to use?
        1 - Zip (artifact is a zip uploaded to S3)
        2 - Image (artifact is an image uploaded to an ECR image repository)
Package type: 1

Which runtime would you like to use?
        1 - nodejs14.x
        2 - python3.9
        3 - ruby2.7
        4 - go1.x
        5 - java11
        6 - dotnetcore3.1
        7 - nodejs12.x
        8 - nodejs10.x
        9 - python3.8
        10 - python3.7
        11 - python3.6
        12 - python2.7
        13 - ruby2.5
        14 - java8.al2
        15 - java8
        16 - dotnetcore2.1
Runtime: 2

Project name [sam-app]: 

Cloning from

Once the clone process is complete, you will be prompted to choose the application template, choose 1 - Hello World Example, as shown below

AWS quick start application templates:
        1 - Hello World Example
        2 - EventBridge Hello World
        3 - EventBridge App from scratch (100+ Event Schemas)
        4 - Step Functions Sample App (Stock Trader)
        5 - Elastic File System Sample App
Template selection: 1

    Generating application:
    Name: sam-app
    Runtime: python3.8
    Dependency Manager: pip
    Application Template: hello-world
    Output Directory: .

    Next steps can be found in the README file at ./sam-app/

Understandign the project structure

Go to the sam-app directory

cd sam-app

You should see the following files

├── events
│   └── event.json
├── hello_world
│   ├──
│   ├──
│   └── requirements.txt
├── template.yaml
└── tests

The key files to look at are 1. event.json: Invocation events that can be used to invoke the Lambda function 2. hello_world/ Contains the code for the Lambda function 3. template.yaml: The SAM's template that declare the AWS resources that will be used for this app

Building the app

With SAM CLI, building the app is easy, just run

sam build

NOTE: If your Python versio is not 3.8, you will get an error on the build. Reinstall Python 3.8 version.

You should get a Build Succeeded message along with a few other debug messages, if the build completed successfully. You can see the built lambda function in .aws-sam folder which will contain the dependencies and the application.

Deploy the app

Now to deploy the app run

sam deploy --guided

This will first throw a warning

Looking for config file [samconfig.toml] :  Not found

But then if will continue and ask you a few questions, choose as per below

        Setting default arguments for 'sam deploy'
        Stack Name [sam-app]: 
        AWS Region [us-east-1]: 
        #Shows you resources changes to be deployed and require a 'Y' to initiate deploy
        Confirm changes before deploy [y/N]: y
        #SAM needs permission to be able to create roles to connect to the resources in your template
        Allow SAM CLI IAM role creation [Y/n]: y
        #Preserves the state of previously provisioned resources when an operation fails
        Disable rollback [y/N]: 
        HelloWorldFunction may not have authorization defined, Is this okay? [y/N]: y
        Save arguments to configuration file [Y/n]: 
        SAM configuration file [samconfig.toml]: 
        SAM configuration environment [default]: 

If there are any unreferenced ECR repositories, it will ask you to confirm the deletion.

         Delete the unreferenced repositories listed above when deploying? [y/N]: y

SAM CLI will print out a lot of debug information, but you should get a prompt asking for confirmation

Deploy this changeset? [y/N]: y

Finally you app is deployed. You should see a final output similar to the below

CloudFormation outputs from deployed stack
Key                 HelloWorldFunctionIamRole                                                                             
Description         Implicit IAM Role created for Hello World function                                                    
Value               arn:aws:iam::268674271179:role/sam-app-HelloWorldFunctionRole-M6IZJ8JLWL61                            

Key                 HelloWorldApi                                                                                         
Description         API Gateway endpoint URL for Prod stage for Hello World function                                      

Key                 HelloWorldFunction                                                                                    
Description         Hello World Lambda Function ARN                                                                       
Value               arn:aws:lambda:us-east-1:1364247115578:function:sam-app-HelloWorldFunction-AxJdejTmhKx3                

Successfully created/updated stack - sam-app in us-east-1

Test the app

In the output above, note the URL in the format https://<api-id>, you should have got a similar URL, copy that and run the below

curl https://<api-id>

This should produce the output

{"message": "hello world"}

Congratulations, you just deployed your Serverless app using SAM-CLI. Go to AWS Console and navigate to Lambda and see the app configuration.

Delete the App

Now you have created the app but SAM CLI doesn't provide you a method to delete it. For this we will use AWS CLI.

aws cloudformation list-stacks

Stack is basically a cloudformation term for a combination of resources that you've created together. This should list all of your stacks + 2 more (one for AWS CLI and another for SAM CLI).

Notice the first one has StackName value as sam-app, we will now delete this.

If you get stuck press 'q' to exit.

Now runt he below to delete the app

aws cloudformation delete-stack --stack-name sam-app

Confirm deletion

List all your stacks again

aws cloudformation list-stacks

You should still see the stack sam-app, however, if notice the StackStatus key, this should be DELETE_COMPLETE.

Need Help? Open a discussion thread on GitHub.

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