How to reduce Lambda invocations using SNS filter-policy

Let AWS filter your messages and save you time and money
Shahar Yakov

November 12 2020 · 4 min read


How to reduce Lambda invocations using SNS filter-policy


At Altostra, we work with a serverless distributed system and use a message bus for communication between our system components. Early on, we implemented our message bus using an SNS topic. See our previous post for other potential solutions.

By design, SNS sends messages to all subscribers - but at some point, we wanted to limit that each subscriber will get only the messages relevant to its functionality.

How it works

We want our system components to receive only relevant messages and nothing more. That's when the filter-policy feature of SNS got into the picture.

SNS filter-policy enables you to filter messages by setting a set of filter-rules on every subscription. We move the message filtering responsibility from our code to AWS, thus reducing Lambda invocations, costs and code(switch cases, over-abstraction and so on). The filter-policy filters the messages according to the MessageAttributes attribute of the SNS message.

For example, a filter-policy which accepts only messages with an event_type of deployment_started looks like this:

  "event_type": ["deployment_started"]

The filter-policy introduces a set of rules, restricted to the types String, String.Array and Number, and several operators such as equals, in, not in, mathematical operators (only for theNumber type), and more. Check out the full list here.

A filter-policy can be a simple condition on a single property or a complex condition, which then operates with the AND operator between properties and the OR operator between the property values. For example, this filter policy:

  "event_type": ["deployment_started", "deployment_finshed",],
  "vendor_id": [{"anything-but": 101}]

accepts messages where the event_type is deployment_started or deployment_finshed AND the vendor_id is not 101.

An SNS message publishing code that passes the filter above would be:

const AWS = require('aws-sdk');

async function publishMessage(message, topicArn) {
  const sns = new AWS.SNS()

  const messageParams = {
    Message: message,
    TopicArn: topicArn,
    MessageAttributes: {
      event_type: {
        DataType: 'String',
        StringValue: 'deployment_started'
      vendor_id: {
        DataType: 'Number',
        StringValue: '200'

  await sns.publish(messageParams).promise()

Lets get our hands dirty

In the example below, I'll demonstrate a full flow of:

  1. Subscribing Lambdas to SNS
  2. Add a filter-policy to each subscription
  3. Publish messages according to the filter policy, and show you the logs of each Lambda

Using Altostra designer, I will quickly build the architecture, subscribe Lambdas to SNS and add filter policy to each subscription. I will show you the logs in the AWS web console.

Subscribe Lambdas to an SNS

First, let's create two Lambda functions and connect them to an SNS topic.

LambdaA handler will print LambdaA: + the message

LambdaB handler will print LambdaB: + the message


Add the filter policy

Now, let's add a filter-policy to each Lambda, LambdaA accepts messages when the type attribute equals hello and LambdaB when the type attribute equals world.



Finally, let's publish two messages to the SNS topic, one with the hello type and the other with the world type. After that, I'll show you the logs for each Lambda.


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