Overall design of the stacks

In this note, my goal is to have a web service perform dot graph rendering on the cloud. The overall design is not entirely serverless because I still have a front end and a thin server dealing with UI and post, but the the real service which is run graphviz within Lambda is indeed “serverless”. Here is the workflow: User types in the textbox some dot text and hit a button to do post, to API-gateway, which is merely a pass-through, then dot text is passed to AWS lambda, the lambda package also contains the executables of graphviz, at there, lambda makes a system call, get the results, in terms of SVG text and return back as a response, for browser to display.

		  post                        pass
+---------------+ dot text  +---------------+ dot text  +---------------+
| Front end &   +-----------+ API gateway   +-----------+ Lambda calls  |        +-------------+
| thin server   |-----------+ pass through  |-----------+ dot_static    +--------| dot_static -Tsvg /tmp/sample.dot -/tmp/sample.svb
+---------------+  return   +---------------+           +------+--------+        +--------+----+                        |
		   svg                                                                    |                             |
											  READ       lambda's temp      |
											  |          directory          |
											  |         +-------------+     |

Compile a statically linked Graphviz

Graphviz program itself has a lot dependencies to other lower level libraries(because the wide range of image format it supports). Additionally when we install graphviz in a fresh OS (like AWS EC2), we do observe that the package manager will also pull in lots of other libraries to be installed, these libraries will be loaded dynamically during the runtime.

However, if we want to deploy graphviz in an AWS Lambda enviornment, in which case user will have to pack up all the dependencies in a zip file himself, collecting all the libraries that graphviz depends on is a very daunting task. Fortunately, the graphviz maintainer offers a build command to compile dot statically, it does not necessary pulls the entire libraries needed, but the build process does produced a static executable, which is self sustained and can be ran independently, and contains the major functionalties, some of the functionalities might be lacking(my assumption): One can at least take a dot format text file, and produce a vectorized file( SVG, EPS etc).

Because binary executable is platform dependent, in order to deploy it on Lambda, we will have to compile the graphviz on a ubuntu machine at least. To be safe, I would just rent a EC2 (which enivorment will be at least the closest to lambda), and build process, and uploading the lambda should be done within 1 hour. Below is the excerpt of EC2 terminal log, demonstrating how to build dot into a statically linked executables

$ wget http://www.graphviz.org/pub/graphviz/stable/SOURCES/graphviz-2.40.1.tar.gz
$ tar -xvf graphviz-2.40.1.tar.gz 
$ // cd into the directory
$ ./configure
$ // install missing dependencies if there is any 
$ make 
$ cd cmd/dot
$ make dot_static


An api-gateway is necessary for external service to call the lambda( Lambda can be callled directly using AWS-SDK but via api-gateway is a choic in this notes). In this case: One would simpliy

  • create a resource
  • create a post method
  • point the request to the lambda (we are about to create in the next section)
  • deply the api

AWS Lambda that calls to graphviz

The zip file we will upload to AWS lambda contains the dot_static as well as the index.js. The dot command accepts a file as input and write the result to another file. Because essentially lambda runs within a container, the program does have the write permission to a temp directory. which is /tmp. So we first write the incoming dot text to a disk and then call graphviz on it to generate a SVG file on the disk, and then read its contents and pass it back as response.

var fs    = require('fs') ;
var spawn = require('child_process').spawn
var AWS   = require('aws-sdk')
var uuid = require("uuid");      // used for random name generation.

exports.handler = (event, context, callback) => {
    var name = uuid.v4();
    var dotname = "/tmp/"+name+".dot";
    var svgname = "/tmp/"+name+".svg";

    // dot text comes in as event.data

    // call external exectuable
    var gendot = spawn('./dot_static',['-Tsvg', dotname,'-o',svgname])



	console.log('child process exited with code: '+ code);
	// if the child_process is finished correctly 
	// read its generated svg and pass the contents back 
	var svgtext = fs.readFileSync(svgname,"utf8").toString(); 

Some caveats, due to cold start time of lambda and in this example , the disk time and actually called an externa program within a lambda. Sometime the code takes more than default time(3000ms) to finish, so on the safe side, I set the time limit to be 5000ms.

Frontend design

The front end is as simple as the following: a text area for user to type in the dot text, the button’s callback will make a post to the api-gateway. If you do not want your api-gateway’s address to be seen by the user, the button will post the text to a thin server which on the server side, contains the code to call api-gateway. After the response is received, fill the svg onto the canvas

+-text area-----------------+
|                           |                                        

| button  |                 

+--canvas  -----------------+
|                           |
|                           |