How To: Access Your AWS VPC-based Elasticsearch Cluster Locally

AWS recently announced that their Elasticsearch Service now supports VPC, which is awesome, for a number of reasons:

1. No more signing every request

Remember this?

Every request had to be signed with AWS’s SigV4 so that the Elasticsearch endpoint could be properly authorized. That meant additional code to sign all your requests, and additional time for the endpoint to decode it. It might only be a few milliseconds of extra processing time, but those can add up. Now we can call our VPC Elasticsearch endpoint with a simple HTTP request.

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How To: Reuse Database Connections in AWS Lambda

Update 9/2/2018: I wrote an NPM module that manages MySQL connections for you in serverless environments. Check it out here.

I work with AWS Lambda quite a bit. The ability to use this Functions-as-a-Service (FaaS) has dramatically reduced the complexity and hardware needs of the apps I work on. This is what’s known as a “Serverless” architecture since we do not need to provision any servers in order to run these functions. FaaS is great for a number of use cases (like processing images) because it will scale immediately and near infinitely when there are spikes in traffic. There’s no longer the need to run several underutilized processing servers just waiting for someone to request a large job.

AWS Lambda is event-driven, so it’s also possible to have it respond to API requests through AWS’s API Gateway. However, since Lambda is stateless, you’ll most likely need to query a persistent datastore in order for it to do anything exciting. Setting up a new database connection is relatively expensive. In my experience it typically takes more than 200ms. If we have to reconnect to the database every time we run our Lambda functions (especially if we’re responding to an API request) then we are already adding over 200ms to the total response time. Add that to your queries and whatever additional processing you need to perform and it becomes unusable under normal circumstance. Luckily, Lambda lets us “freeze” and then “thaw” these types of connections.

Update 4/5/2018:¬†After running some new tests, it appears that “warm” functions now average anywhere between 4 and 20ms to connect to RDS instances in the same VPC. Cold starts still average greater than 100ms. Lambda does handle setting up DB connections really well under heavy load, but I still favor connection reuse as it cuts several milliseconds off your execution time.

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How To: Install phpMyAdmin on Amazon Linux

I’ve been managing a few small MySQL databases lately that often need record updates but certainly don’t warrant building a separate management interface. The easiest way to accomplish this (assuming you don’t have complicated joins and relationships) is to install phpMyAdmin, a robust, web-based admin utility for MySQL that is built in php. In my case, I’m running these mostly on Amazon Linux instances, so after a little poking around, it turns out the installation is just 3 simple steps.

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How To: Install wkhtmltopdf on Amazon Linux

The other day I was optimizing a reporting engine and needed a quick and easy way to generate PDFs from HTML templates. There are several options out there, but after some research, I decided to use wkhtmltopdf ( It then took me a few hours of scouring the Internet to find the appropriate steps to install it on Amazon Linux. I kept running into a series of problems with the version, required libraries, and font kerning. Some trial and error, and help from some others, finally got me up and running.¬†Here’s what worked for me.

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