AWS Lambda Error Handling and Monitoring

November 30, 2017

This started as a simple “hey here’s how you make Sentry good in Lambda,” and then I just kept going and now it’s how we manage all the things that could go wrong in Lambda in production.

I’ve been doing a lot with AWS Lambda lately. Coupling it with AWS’s API Gateway, where I work we’ve built an entire API for our control plane. It’s been a lot of fun.

But error reporting in Lambda sucks. Without a little help. Here are a few things we’ve done to make it better.


If you’re like me, the first thing you’ll try to do is install Sentry and just expect things to work. Except they won’t, because the Node Sentry client fires asynchronously and your Lambda’s going to exit more often than not before you even know something went wrong.

I’ll write more later on how we manage our decently sized API, but here’s what the error handling looks like now:

const sentry = require("./sentry");

  try {
    return this.applyFilters(event)
      .then(() => this.dispatch(event))
      .catch((error) => {
        return sentry(error).then(() => ...);
  } catch (err) { 
    return sentry(err).then(() => ...);

This way we handle rejected promises and uncaught exceptions. As with everything, reading the underlying code helps a lot (see below). Here’s what our sentry wrapper looks like:

const Raven = require("raven");
const Promise = require("bluebird");

const SENTRY_DSN = process.env.SENTRY_DSN;

Raven.config(SENTRY_DSN, { release: "RELEASE_SHA" }).install();

const capture = Promise.promisify(Raven.captureException, { context: Raven });

module.exports = function sentry(err, extra = {}) {
  if (process.env.NODE_ENV === "test") {
    return Promise.resolve();

  console.log("sentrying!", err);
  return capture(err, extra);

It’s obvious in hindsight, but yes, there’s a callback arg in the captureException call that you can promisify, and then you can keep on keeping your promises the rest of the time.

Release Tracking

We publish each release to Lambda to Sentry, using their nifty release tracking feature. This yelps us isolate defects to specific releases in specific branches. I just track our releases with the git SHA. Because this is backend and we don’t deal with source maps, that’s as easy as putting in the release in the extra data when configuring Raven.

Here’s the relevant webpack config section to keep Lambda error reporting tied to its commit (you’ll need to find the right envvar to track the SHA/commit yourself):

    test: /\.js$/,
    use: [
        loader: StringReplacePlugin.replace({
          replacements: [
              pattern: /RELEASE_SHA/g,
              replacement: function (match, offset, string) {
                return process.env.GIT_SHA;

Memory Limits and Timeouts

Lambda will (kinda) silently fail when you either (a) try to allocate more memory than prescribed, or (b) run past your declared timeout. At this point you won’t get a chance to send an event to Sentry, so you’ll need to have another way to catch it when it happens.

(Really if you exceed any of their limits it’ll blow up, but these are the causes we’ve run into most often.)

Fortunately, Lambda will log that it exited prematurely. We can use that!

We set up some CloudWatch subscriptions that look for premature exits. I’d suggest placing these in their own CF template because it’s easy to run into the CloudFormation template size limit.

Here’s an example CloudFormation log filter subscription definition (the important part is the filter pattern):

"YourServicePrematureSubscriptionFilter": {
  "Type" : "AWS::Logs::SubscriptionFilter",
  "Properties" : {
    "DestinationArn" : {
      "Fn::Sub": "arn:aws:lambda:${AWS::Region}:${AWS::AccountId}:function:premature-catcher"
    "FilterPattern" : "Process exited before completing",
    "LogGroupName" : "/aws/lambda/YourService"

Any time that log message is seen, it gets sent to a Lambda that notifies us via Slack.

Here’s a sanitized version of the Lambda that gets invoked when the subscription sees an event:

const zlib    = require("zlib");

exports.handler = function handler(event, context, callback) {
  console.log("event: ", event);
  const payload = new Buffer(, "base64");

  zlib.gunzip(payload, (err, res) => {
    if (err) {
      return callback(err);
    const parsed = JSON.parse(res.toString("utf8"));
    console.log("Decoded payload:", JSON.stringify(parsed));

    const msg = `Lambda premature exit detected in: ${parsed.logGroup} / ${parsed.logStream}`;

    return yourNotifyHook()
      .then(() => callback(null, `Successfully processed ${parsed.logEvents.length} log events.`));

If you have Sentry, release tracking, and alert when Lambdas exit before they’re expected, you’ll know about a lot of errors at the same time your customers do, instead of finding out after support does.

© Terry Heath 2020