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Create an SMS bot on AWS Lambda with Claudia.js

SMS chat bots and AWS Lambda go well together if you want to build a bot that can reach people all over the world without worrying about your underlying infrastructure. In just a few steps we’re going to see how easy it is to deploy a Node.js chat bot on Lambda using Claudia.js.

What is Claudia.js?

I’ve always liked the idea of Amazon’s Lambda service, but the first time I tried to use it I found the deployment process troubling. As I uploaded the zip file of my project to the AWS dashboard, yes that is how you deploy to Lambda, to test my work I thought to myself, “There must be a better way.”

Thankfully I wasn’t the only one, so tools like Claudia.js, Serverless and Seneca were born. Each of them offer various features and different methods of deploying apps to Lambda. I was recently drawn to Claudia.js not only because it makes deploying applications to Lambda easier, but because it comes with Claudia Bot Builder, a framework that abstracts away the differences between a host of bot platforms. Together they make it really easy to write and deploy bots to Lambda, so let’s build an SMS bot to see how it all works.

Before we start

There are a few things we’re going to need to get this project off the ground

Don’t worry if you’re just trying this out, both Twilio and AWS have free tiers that you can use to build this bot.

Now we need to prepare AWS for use with Claudia.js.

Setting up AWS

Claudia.js will need access to your AWS account, so it’s best to create a profile that only contains the permissions that Claudia.js needs to deploy our bot. To do so, go to the Users section of the Identity & Access Management service. Create a new user and give it a recognisable name.

Fill in a user name in the User name field and check the box for Programmatic Access.

Make sure “Programmatic Access” is checked. Click “Next: Permissions”. On the next screen you will be able to select the permissions the user has. We need three permissions for this user: AWSLambdaFullAccess, IAMFullAccess and AmazonAPIGatewayAdministrator.

Choose 'Attach existing policies directly' and use the search box to find the three permissions we need to add to the user. 

Click “Next: Review” to review your user and ensure they have the correct permissions, click “Create User”. You should see the success screen and your new user’s Access Key ID and Secret Access Key. Don’t move on from this screen yet, these credentials will only be shown to you once!

The success screen shows the user credentials for your new user.

Claudia.js uses the AWS Node.js module so we need to store the credentials in the conventional location; either ~/.aws/credentials on Mac or Linux and C:\Users\USER_NAME\.aws\credentials on Windows. If you don’t already have a credentials file, create one in the location described previously and add the following:

[claudia]
aws_access_key_id = YOUR_ACCESS_KEY_ID
aws_secret_access_key = YOUR_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY

We’ve now setup a profile called “claudia” that we can use with Claudia.js.

If you’d like to learn more, there is an in depth tutorial on setting permissions up for the AWS Node.js SDK in the AWS documentation.

Creating our bot

Now that we’ve set up the permissions for Claudia.js we can start our bot. First up jump into the command line, create a directory to keep the bot’s code in and and start a new Node.js project:

$ mkdir quote-bot
$ cd quote-bot
$ npm init --yes

Not seen --yes before? It accepts all the defaults from npm init without you have to tap enter the whole way through!

Install Claudia.js as a development dependency.

$ npm install claudia --save-dev

We’ll also need the Claudia Bot Builder as a dependency.

$ npm install claudia-bot-builder --save

Create a file called bot.js and open the project in your favourite editor.

Some helpful npm scripts

Before we write our bot, we’re going to put a couple of helpful npm scripts in place. We have installed Claudia.js as a development dependency and we need to run the executable, so npm scripts is the easiest place to do that. Open package.json and add the following to the scripts section:

  "scripts": {
    "test": "echo \"Error: no test specified\" && exit 1",
    "create": "claudia create --region us-east-1 --api-module bot --profile claudia",
    "update": "claudia update --profile claudia"
  },

The create script will do all our initial setup, adding the Lambda function and configuring AWS API Gateway so that we have URLs for the bot platforms’ webhooks. If you named your AWS profile differently in ~/.aws/credentials use that as the --profile argument.

The update script will deploy updates to your bot. Enough of this config, let’s write a bot!

Writing the bot

Open up bot.js and start by requiring the Claudia Bot Builder.

// bot.js
var botBuilder = require('claudia-bot-builder');

Then we pass a handler function to the botBuilder which will deal with incoming messages. We also pass an object of options, in this case so that we can limit the platforms we are creating our bot for to just Twilio for now.

// bot.js
var botBuilder = require('claudia-bot-builder');

var bot = botBuilder(function(message) {
  return 'Hello world!';
}, { platforms: ['twilio'] });

Then export the bot.

// bot.js
var botBuilder = require('claudia-bot-builder');

var bot = botBuilder(function(message) {
  return 'Hello world!';
}, { platforms: ['twilio'] });

module.exports = bot;

And that’s it! We’ve created a bot that will respond to every incoming message with “Hello world!”.

Ok, that’s a pretty boring bot. Let’s have it do something a bit more interesting. I found the simplicity of building my first bot with Claudia so inspirational I wanted to share some more inspiration with you. I called this bot quote-bot, so we’re going to have it return inspirational quotes when you ask for one, otherwise it will return a greeting.

We’ll first install a couple more dependencies:

$ npm install greeting node-fetch --save

Let’s do a simple test to check if the incoming message wants a quote. For this we’re going to look for the string “quote” in the incoming text. For more complicated use cases, I’d start looking at natural language processing or a cognitive service like the Watson Conversation API, Luis or wit.ai.

If we do need a quote, we’ll use the node-fetch module to look up a random quote from the Forismatic API. For asynchronous tasks like this, Claudia Bot Builder requires us to return a Promise which later resolves to the message to respond with. If you want to learn more about Promises, including more node-fetch examples, check out this guide to Promises by Dominik.

If we don’t ask for a quote, we’ll generate a random greeting with the greeting module.

// bot.js
var botBuilder = require('claudia-bot-builder');
var greeting = require('greeting');
var fetch = require('node-fetch');

var bot = botBuilder(function(message) {
  if (message.text.match(/quote/i)) {
    return fetch('http://api.forismatic.com/api/1.0/?method=getQuote&format=text&lang=en').then(function(res) {
      return res.text();
    });
  } else {
    return greeting.random();
  }
}, { platforms: ['twilio'] });

module.exports = bot;

As you can see, the message object that is passed to our handler contains the text of the message sent to our bot. You can also get the original request sent to the endpoint with message.originalRequest.

Deploying the bot

We are now ready to deploy our bot. On the command line run our create script:

$ npm run create

This is where Claudia.js is doing all the magic. It creates the Lambda function and configures the AWS API Gateway for all our potential bots. In the output at the end you can see the URLs you can use for webhooks for all the supported services.

We’re not quite done yet as we need to configure our bot for receiving Twilio webhooks. Run:

$ npm run update -- --configure-twilio-sms-bot

This will update your bot, though we haven’t changed anything just yet, and finally ask for your Twilio account details. Enter your Account SID, your Auth Token (which you can find in your Twilio console) and the phone number you want to use.

At the end of the script a number of URLs are produced, make sure to copy the one for Twilio.

From the phone numbers page of the Twilio console, click on the number you want to use. You should be on the number edit page now, so take the webhook URL that was output from the script and enter it into the webhook field for the messaging settings of that Twilio phone number:
 
In the Twilio console, edit your phone number and enter the Twilio URL from Claudia into the webhook field for messaging.

Everything is in place to send your first message to your bot. Grab your phone, enter your number and ask for a quote.

Now when you send an SMS to your number it will respond with a greeting. If you ask for a quote you will receive back an inspirational quote.

Want to give this a go yourself? Send an SMS message to my bot at +447481345328 if you’re in the UK or +12016903488 if you’re in the US.

Bots, bots, bots

That is all you need to do to get a bot running on AWS Lambda with Claudia.js. If you want to check out the complete code for this, take a look at the GitHub repo for this project.

Now you can create any bot you fancy, run it on AWS Lambda and have the power of Node.js and a world of APIs and AI at your fingertips.

Why not try hooking your bot up to another service as well? Claudia Bot Builder supports Twilio as well as Facebook Messenger, Slack, Telegram, Skype, Kik and GroupMe.

What do you think about Claudia.js and AWS Lambda? Have you built a bot of your own yet and what did you use? Drop me a note in the comments or hit me up on email or Twitter.

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