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Is it possible to access the local filesystem in an AWS lambda function? If so, is there any downside to doing so?

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It can be done. You can use this Python function:

localFilename = '/tmp/{}'.format(os.path.basename(key))

s3.download_file(Bucket=bucket, Key=key, Filename=localFilename)

inFile = open(localFilename, "r")

You can use this for the temporary storage and directory /tmp, not to maintain any state.

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