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AWS State Machine

AWS State Machine
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In this blog, we will be covering all you need to know for working with state machines. We will be exploring step-by-step working of State Machines along with learning how to create and integrate it with different AWS services.

Table of Content

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Introduction to State Machines

State machines are the core building blocks of AWS Step Functions, a flexible and powerful orchestration service. They define the workflows of Step Functions, and each step within a workflow is represented as a state. States dictate the logic and flow of your application.

Introduction to State Machines

State machines help you organize and control complicated sets of tasks and services in your AWS setup, making it easier to automate business processes and create strong applications without needing servers. These state machines are made and set up using the Amazon States Language (ASL). It’s like giving a clear set of instructions for the working flow of step functions. 

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Here in this Workflow, we can see how different states of step function are declared inside the Lambda function:

Features and Working of State Machine

Amazon State Machine in AWS Step Functions is a versatile tool for orchestrating workflows efficiently. It uses state machines, where each state represents a specific task or operation. Let’s explore its key features and understand how it works, illustrated with an example.

Features of State Machine

States are the fundamental elements in your state machine. Each state is uniquely identified by its name and can make decisions based on input, perform actions, and pass output to other states, here are some key features of state machines that are important to define a state:

  • Type Field: Each state must have a ‘Type’ field indicating its type (e.g., Task, Choice, Succeed, Fail, Pass, Wait, Parallel, Map).
  • Comment Field: States can include an optional ‘Comment’ field for adding human-readable descriptions.
  • Next or End Field: Most states require a ‘Next’ field to determine the next state in the workflow, while terminal states can specify an ‘End’ field to indicate the end of execution.

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Let’s now understand these features with help of an example:

Consider an e-commerce order processing system to illustrate the working of states in a state machine:

State A (Task State): State A represents the task of receiving and validating an order. In this example, we’ll use an AWS Lambda function to perform this task. It checks the incoming order for validity.

"ReceiveAndValidateOrder": {
  "Type": "Task",
  "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:us-east-1:123456789012:function:ReceiveAndValidateOrderFunction",
  "End": true
  • Type: Specifies that this is a Task state.
  • Resource: Specifies the AWS Lambda function ARN responsible for this task.
  • End: Indicates that this state is a terminal state, concluding the execution successfully.

State B (Choice State): State B involves making a choice based on specific conditions. In this example, we check the count of matching items in the order and transition to different states based on the count.

"MakeChoiceBasedOnItemCount": {
  "Type": "Choice",
  "Choices": [
      "Variable": "$.orderItemCount",
      "NumericEquals": 0,
      "Next": "NoItemsFoundState"
      "Variable": "$.orderItemCount",
      "NumericEquals": 1,
      "Next": "ProcessSingleItemState"
      "Variable": "$.orderItemCount",
      "NumericGreaterThan": 1,
      "Next": "ProcessMultipleItemsState"

State C (Succeed or Fail State): States C represents terminal states that conclude the execution, either successfully or with an error message.

  • Succeed State:
    • Type: Specifies that this is a Succeed state, indicating successful execution.
  • Fail State:
    • Type: Specifies that this is a Fail state, indicating an error.
    • Cause: Describes the cause of the failure.
    • Error: Defines the error type.

State D (Wait State): State D introduces a delay, either for a specified duration or until a specified timestamp.

"WaitForProcessing": {
  "Type": "Wait",
  "Seconds": 180,  // Wait for 3 minutes
  "Next": "CheckProcessingStatus"
  • Type: Specifies that this is a Wait state.
  • Seconds: Defines the duration to wait in seconds.
  • Next: Indicates the next state to transition to after the wait.

State E (Pass State): Pass states pass input to output without performing additional work. They are useful for data transformation or debugging.

"DataTransformation": {
  "Type": "Pass",
  "Result": "Data transformed successfully.",
  "ResultPath": "$.transformedData",
  "Next": "ProcessTransformedData"
  • Type: Specifies that this is a Pass state.
  • Result: Provides a message indicating the result of the state.
  • ResultPath: Specifies where to place the result in the output.
  • Next: Indicates the next state to transition to.

State F (Parallel State): Parallel states enable branching execution, running multiple tasks concurrently.

"ProcessInParallel": {
  "Type": "Parallel",
  "Next": "AggregateResults",
  "Branches": [
      "StartAt": "Task1",
      "States": {
        "Task1": {
          "Type": "Task",
          "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:us-east-1:123456789012:function:Task1Function"
      "StartAt": "Task2",
      "States": {
        "Task2": {
          "Type": "Task",
          "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:us-east-1:123456789012:function:Task2Function"
  • Type: Specifies that this is a Parallel state.
  • Next: Indicates the state to transition to after all parallel branches are complete.
  • Branches: Defines multiple branches, each starting with a Task state.

State G (Map State): Map states process a dataset in parallel, performing a set of workflow steps for each item in the dataset.

"ProcessItemsInParallel": {
  "Type": "Map",
  "ItemsPath": "$.orderItems",
  "Iterator": "item",
  "MaxConcurrency": 10, // Maximum number of parallel executions
  "End": true,
  "ResultPath": "$.processedItems",
  "Next": "FinalState",
  "Retry": [
      "ErrorEquals": ["States.ALL"],
      "IntervalSeconds": 5,
      "MaxAttempts": 3,
      "BackoffRate": 2
  "Catch": [
      "ErrorEquals": ["CustomError"],
      "Next": "HandleCustomError"
  "Items": [
      "StartAt": "ProcessItem",
      "States": {
        "ProcessItem": {
          "Type": "Task",
          "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:us-east-1:123456789012:function:ProcessItemFunction",
          "End": true
  • Type: Specifies that this is a Map state.
  • ItemsPath: Defines the path to the array of items to process.
  • Iterator: Specifies the variable representing each item in the array.
  • MaxConcurrency: Sets the maximum number of parallel executions.

Working of Amazon State Machine

Here’s a step-by-step explanation of how a AWS state machine works:

Step 1:State Definition: Define states within the state machine, specifying their types, comments, and transition logic (Next or End fields).

Step 2:State Machine Definition: Define the entire state machine by connecting states and determining the flow of execution based on state outcomes.

Step 3:Execution: Initiating an execution triggers the state machine, which processes states sequentially, performing tasks, making choices, and transitioning based on outcomes.

Step 4:Parallelism and Error Handling: Parallel and choice states enable concurrent execution and graceful error handling, ensuring robust workflow management.

Step 5:Completion: Upon executing all states, the state machine concludes its operation, offering outputs and statuses for examination.

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Creation of State  Machine

By following these steps, you can easily set up and control state machines using AWS Step Functions to automate and organize a variety of workflows and business tasks.

Step 1:Go to the AWS Step Functions console and choose Create state machine.

Step 2:In the Definition section, enter a name for your state machine.

Step 3:Now choose an Author from scratch.

Step 4:The Workflow Studio opens. This is where you will define your state machine using  the Amazon States Language (ASL).

Step 5:To add a state, drag and drop a state from the States browser on the left to the Workflow Studio canvas.

Step 6:To configure a state, double-click on the state in the Workflow Studio canvas.

Step 7:To add a transition, click on the + button next to the source state and drag the line to the target state.

Step 8:To configure a transition, double-click on the transition line in the Workflow Studio canvas.

Step 9:To add an action, double-click on the state in the Workflow Studio canvas and then click the Add action button, choose an action from the list and configure it.

Step 10:Repeat steps 6-11 to add more states, transitions, and actions to your state machine.When you are finished, click the Save button.

Step 11:To publish your state machine, click the Publish button.

Advanced State Machine Concepts

Once you understand the basics of state machines, you can use more advanced features and techniques to manage complex workflows and handle different situations. Let’s look at some of these advanced concepts:

Nested State Machines:

Nested state machines offer the advantage of dividing a workflow into more manageable parts. Each part is represented as its state machine. This approach promotes modularity, reusability and simplified maintenance. By incorporating these nested state machines within the state machine you can achieve organized orchestration of your workflow.

Choice State with Dynamic Conditions:

While basic choice states evaluate conditions based on predefined values, advanced choice states can dynamically determine conditions during execution. This is particularly useful when you need to make decisions based on real-time data or external factors. Dynamic choice states enhance flexibility and responsiveness in your workflows.

Error Handling and Retries:

Advanced state machines implement robust error handling and retry strategies. They can detect errors, log diagnostic information, and decide whether to retry a failed state or proceed with an alternative path. This ensures fault tolerance and graceful recovery in case of transient issues.

Parallel Execution with Dynamic Branches:

In complex workflows, you may need to parallelize tasks with varying numbers of branches. Advanced state machines support dynamic generation of parallel branches based on data or conditions. This dynamic branching enables efficient resource utilization and adaptable workload distribution.

Dynamic Input Transformation:

State machines frequently need to transform data as they transition between states. Sophisticated state machines even have the capability to dynamically transform input based on runtime conditions. This guarantees that the processing of data adjusts seamlessly, to the context of each execution.

Conditional State Execution:

In intricate scenarios, advanced state machines can conditionally execute or skip specific states based on the outcome of previous states. Conditional state execution enhances workflow efficiency by bypassing unnecessary steps and optimizing resource utilization.

State Machine Composition:

State machine composition involves assembling complex workflows from reusable components. Advanced state machines support composition by allowing you to define libraries of state machine templates. These templates can be reused across multiple workflows, promoting consistency and maintainability.

Event-Driven Architecture:

Advanced state machines can be integrated into event-driven architectures. They listen for external events, such as messages from message queues or trigger events from other AWS services. When an event occurs, the state machine dynamically responds, initiating the appropriate workflow based on the event content.

Logging, Monitoring, and Analytics:

Robust logging, monitoring, and analytics capabilities are integral to advanced state machines. They provide visibility into workflow execution, performance metrics, and error tracking. Leveraging services like AWS CloudWatch, you can gain insights into state machine behavior and optimize your workflows.

State Machine Versioning and Rollbacks:

Advanced state machines support versioning, allowing you to manage changes and updates to your workflows systematically. If necessary, you can roll back to previous versions of a state machine to maintain operational stability and mitigate issues introduced by updates.

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Integration with AWS Services

Integrating AWS Step Functions with AWS services involves connecting your state machines to other AWS services to utilize their functionality and data. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to integrate AWS Step Functions with AWS services:

Step 1:Identify the AWS services to integrate with

Determine the AWS services that your state machine needs to interact with to fulfill its workflow. Consider services like Amazon S3 for storing data, Amazon EKS for running containerized applications, or Amazon SNS for sending notifications.

Step 2:Choose an integration pattern

AWS Step Functions provides three integration patterns for interacting with other AWS services:

  • AWS SDK Service Integrations: Use the AWS SDK to directly call API actions of the integrated service from within your state machine’s tasks.
  • Task Token Service Integrations: Use task tokens to pass data between your state machine’s tasks and the integrated service.
  • Optimized Integrations: Utilize pre-built integrations for specific services that provide enhanced functionality and simplified usage.

Step 3:Create IAM roles and permissions

IAM roles and permissions control which AWS resources your state machine can access and what actions it can perform. Create IAM roles with the appropriate permissions for the AWS services you plan to use.

Step 4:Define the state machine

Use the Amazon States Language (ASL) to define your state machine. Specify the states of your workflow, the events that trigger transitions between states, and the actions to execute when a state is entered.

Step 5:Integrate tasks with AWS services

Within your state machine’s tasks, use the chosen integration pattern to interact with the corresponding AWS services. For example, use the AWS SDK to make API calls or utilize task tokens to exchange data.

Step 6:Test and deploy the state machine

Test your state machine thoroughly to ensure it functions as expected. Use automated testing tools or manual testing to verify the workflow logic, data handling, and integration with AWS services. Once testing is complete, deploy the state machine to your production environment.


AWS State Machine is a tool that allows you to automate and manage complex workflows. It seamlessly integrates with AWS services providing the flexibility required for cloud applications. By harnessing its capabilities you can efficiently orchestrate workflows. Quickly respond to real time events taking your AWS projects to levels of success. Its strong features, scalability and ability to handle event driven scenarios make it an invaluable asset, in the world of cloud computing and application development.

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