Creating a custom AWS Lambda Runtime for LUA

published on November 4, 2019

In this post take a look at a simple aws lambda runtime implementation for Lua.

AWS Lambda is the serverless platform offered by Amazon, which lets developers create services without having to worry about provisioning and managing servers. You can learn more about AWS Lambda in the official documentation

Out-of-the-box AWS Lambda comes with support for a series of languages, which includes python, node.js, Go, Rust, Ruby, Java. More interestingly, it offers developers the ability to implement a custom runtime for any programming language, so that if your favourite programming language is not supported you can still use it to create Lambda functions.

Lua and LuaJIT

Lua is a lightweight programming language, used mostly for embedded use in applications. For instance, both Redis and Tarantool use Lua as a scripting language; they however differ in the version they use: while redis uses the standard Lua interpreter, Taratool opts to use the more performant LuaJIT. For my runtime I chose to use LuaJIT, which should have a smaller memory footprint and faster execution times, with consequent lower aws lambda costs.

Custom Runtime & AWS Lambda Runtime

There are two runtimes which I am going to talk about: the AWS Lambda runtime, and the custom runtime. The AWS Lambda runtime provides functions that the custom runtime can use to get information about the invocation of the function and to return the result of the function

Diagram showing how the custom runtime, the AWS Lambda runtime and the Lambda function interact

We have two options when creating a custom runtime: we can implement it as a AWS Lambda Layer or we can implement it as a library that will then be included in the function executable. The first option works well with interpreted languages, as you can include the full interpreter in the layer, so that it can be shared between all the functions that use the layer. For this reason, the Lua custom runtime will be implemented as a Lambda Layer.

Lambda Layer

In this section I discuss the actual code of the custom runtime. You can find all the code I reference in this repo:

Contents of the Layer

For the custom runtime I need the following:

Lua interpreter

As I mentioned before, I decided to use the LuaJIT interpreter, which can be downloaded at

Lua HTTP library

In order to communicate with the AWS Lambda runtime, my custom runtime needs an http library. I used luasocket; the easier way to install it is using luarocks, so I needed to install it as well.

luarocks is useful to install many additional libraries; I used it to install the dkjson library too, which can be used from the lambda function to decode JSON events received for instance when the lambda is invoked through the AWS API Gateway.

Bootstrap Script

The bootstrap script sets some configuration environment variables and executes the LUA interpreter, running the runtime script:

export LUA_PATH="/opt/runtime/?.lua;/opt/rocks/share/lua/5.1/?.lua;;"
export LUA_CPATH="/opt/rocks/lib/lua/5.1/?.so;;"
/opt/bin/luajit /opt/runtime/runtime.lua

Runtime Script

The runtime script does some initialization, loads the user-provided function and then starts a loop to process the lambda invocations. I created a separate file to encapsulate the interaction with the AWS Lambda Runtime.

The main function takes care of the initialization:

local json = require "dkjson"
local lambda_runtime = require "lambda"

--- initialize the runtime and start the event loop
function main()
    -- this is needed to save `print` output to cloudwatch
    local handler_name = os.getenv("_HANDLER")
    local i = string.gmatch(handler_name, "[^.]+")
    local file_name = i()
    local func_name = i()
    -- check for errors
    local loaded, module = pcall(require, file_name)
    if not loaded or module[func_name] == nil then
        local err = {
    local handler = module[func_name]
    while true do

The actual handler loop only takes a few lines of code:

-- handle the communication with the lambda runtime interface
function handle_event(handler)
    local event, context = lambda_runtime.next_invocation()
    local success, res = pcall(handler, event, context)
    if success then
        lambda_runtime.send_response(context.request_id, res)
        lambda_runtime.invocation_error(context.request_id, res)

This function wraps the call to the handler with pcall, catching possible errors and notifying the AWS Lambda runtime when they occur; in the case everything works and there is no error, it forwards the response.

The next_invocation function takes a few more lines, because it needs to create the context object.

local http = require "socket.http"

--- get the next invocation to process
-- @return the event received by the lambda function
-- @return @{context} 
function lambda_runtime.next_invocation()
    local event, _, headers = http.request(runtime_api .. "/invocation/next")
    local context = {
    return event, context

The other functions are actually just wrappers around http.request calls.

There are a few things that are missing from my implementation:

Building the Layer

When building the layer, one thing to keep in mind is that any executable that is dynamically linked on your system may not work once uploaded to AWS Lambda, because there may be different versions of libraries installed.

To solve this problem, I took advantage of docker to build everything, using the official Amazon Linux Image, which is the same OS on top of which lambda functions are executed2.

The Dockerfile I use to build the layer can be found in the repo I mentioned above, along with a build script that downloads the LuaJIT and luarocks packages.


In this post I described how I implemented a custom AWS Lambda runtime for Lua; the concepts I described can be used to create custom runtimes for other interpreted languages as well.

Maybe in a future post I will describe how to create a custom runtime for a compiled language. Feel free to reach out if you have any question or comment!

  1. Environment Variables Available to Lambda Functions ↩︎

  2. Lambda Runtimes ↩︎