AWS: Using Elastic Beanstalk as a private backend for the API Gateway

Sun Jan 20 2019

When working with an API Gateway in Amazon Web Services (AWS) you typically don't want the services themselves to be publicly available on the Internet. A public service would only create the need for extra layers of protections such as client certificates or service keys, neither of which would properly prevent a, for example, a DoS attack. A better approach is to either use Lambdas (which are private by default) or (if you can't use Lambdas) simply keep the services within a private cloud (a «VPC» in Amazon terminology) and provide access to them only through the API itself.

This quick-guide intends to explain the basics of configuring a private backend/service utilizing an Elastic Beanstalk app (EBS) residing within a VPC. The methods of the EBS will be made available through the API Gateway using a VPC Link.

Note: As of this writing the AWS API Gateway only allows a maximum of 5 VPC Links for one API Gateway in the same account. You can ask to have this limit increased through AWS support.


First, you will need to configure a Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), I will not cover this step here since it would require a separate post. However, I would recommend that you take a look at the following video for directions if you're unsure how to accomplish this step.

Elastic Beanstalk

The second step is setting up an Elastic Beanstalk (EBS) application. (This guide assumes you're using the AWS console). One of the advantage of using EBS over pure EC2 instances is that EBS comes with a bunch of pre-configured features such as auto scaling and rolling updates. You can achieve the same goal (private service) using a just some EC2 instances and a Network Load Balancer (click the link to see how) of course, but for this guide I'll assume that you are using an EBS application.

The first step is to create an EBS application, followed by creating a new environment. The environment is actually where all the configuration takes place. Refer to for more information on how EBS actually works.

When setting up a new environment choose the "Web server environment" for now. Give your environment a name and choose a platform (I'm using Node.js). Just use the "Sample application" if you don't have a finished app bundle.

Important: Click the «Configure more options» button, not the «Create Environment»!

Beanstalk setup

After you have clicked the «Configure more options» button you’ll find yourself on the «Configure <your env name>» page and you’ll see three radio buttons titled «Configuration presets». Choose the «High availability» option. This will give us the option to configure a Load Balancer. Now open / «modify» the «Load Balancer» tile. Choose the «Network Load balancer» and click «Save». The API Gateway VPC Link will only work with Network load balancers.

In the «Network» tile (left bottom one), select the VPC you have already created. Under «Load Balancer settings» the «Visibility» setting should be «Internal» since this service should not be accessible from the Internet. Select the private subnets (for all zones in your VPC) for both the load balancer and the subnets. No public subnets should be checked. Click «Save».

Setup anything else like scaling and so on and then click "Create environment».

API Gateway

Create an API Gateway if you haven't done so already.

  • In the left menu, select «VPC links»
  • Give the VPC link a name and select the Load Balancer you created under the EBS section in the «Target NLB». It will only show the (cryptic) name of the load balancer here, but if you go to the EC2 service, and select «load balancers» you can match any tags to the Load Balancer name.
  • Click «Create».

While you wait for the connection to be created you can configure the API. I would recommend using stage variables to store a reference to the VPC link id. This would allow you to easier maintain several stages pointing to separate backends. AWS documentation for using stage variables to refer to a VPC link.

To configure a method in the api using the VPC link, see the following image.

API Gateway VP link setup

In this example the «VPC link» is set as a stage variable, the same goes for the «Endpoint URI». As already stated, but worth repeating, this is a good idea because it makes it considerable easier to deal with multiple stages. You have to set this up for each of the methods in your api.

That’s it.

Useful links / sources

A simple drawing app using JavaScript

Thu Mar 13 2014

The HTML Canvas element was introduced by Apple in 2004. It was originally created to power the Dashboard concept introduced in OS X 10.4. The Canvas element was a part of Apple WebKit from 2004, in 2005 it became a part of Mozilla browsers and then Opera. Today, all browsers worth using sports support for the Canvas element. In this article I'll be creating a demo involving a simple line drawing on a Canvas element.

Two people drawing with different input devices

To be a proper red line drawing application today there are several considerations to be taken into account.

  • You must support both touch devices and dusty old mouse enabled devices
  • You must take Hi-res or retina devices into consideration. You wouldn't want blurry red lines now would you.
  • The thing needs to be performant

Take a look at the full CoffeeScript code for the demo. It has a bunch of comments.

Supporting touch and mouse events

if 'ontouchstart' of window
      # .. then switch to touch mode
      @mode = 'touch'

From line 8 in the code. Here we check if the event «ontouchstart» exists in the window object. If it does we know that this device supports touch events. We then keep this result in the «mode» property for use later on. Easy peasy. Let's add som listeners.

if @mode is 'touch'
  canvas.addEventListener 'touchstart', @, false
  canvas.addEventListener 'touchmove', @, false
  canvas.addEventListener 'touchcancel', @, false
  canvas.addEventListener 'mousedown', @, false
  canvas.addEventListener 'mouseup', @, false

We use the «mode» property and add touch and mouse listeners. Note that we do not add any listeners for when the mouse is moving, this we do in the mouse up and down events. See the section at the end of the article as an explanation as to why.

So, what the hell does it mean to add a listener to "@"? In CoffeeScrip the "@" is the same as "this" in JavaScript. By adding event listeners to "this" we can implement the half-magical «handleEvent» method. This method will not only handle all events on "this", but it will also maintain scope, removing the need for «Function.bind». If you didn't know that, you mind has just been blown - right?! Moving on.

Supporting retina quality graphics

This is a tiny bit trickier, but not much. What we need is to know the scale factor of the display of the device. We can then use this number to calculate the size of the canvas itself and how lines are drawn.

Let's start with finding the scale factor.

@scaleFactor = window.devicePixelRatio || 1;

If there is a property on window called «devicePixelRatio» we use that value, if not we default to 1, which basically means that it's a "normal" display or a piece of shit old browser. The «devicePixelRatio» will output a multiplier, like 2 for the iPad Mini Retina. This number gives us the value on which to multiply.

Scaling the canvas element correctly

Calculating the size of the actual canvas element looks something like this (if you want the canvas to span the entire browser window).

canvas.width = window.innerWidth * @scaleFactor
canvas.height = window.innerHeight * @scaleFactor

On a "normal" display the width of the canvas would be equal to the inner width of the window. On an iPad Mini Retina it would be «innerWidth x 2», because the «scaleFactor» of the iPad Mini Retina is 2.

It's important to note that the canvas element is now twice or more the size of what you intend to display it at. You fix that by setting the style width and height to the intended display size, which in the case of an iPad Mini Retina will be half the size of the canvas backing store (the actual drawing size).

Scaling the drawing context

@ctx = canvas.getContext '2d'
@ctx.strokeStyle = 'rgba(255,0,0,1)'
@ctx.lineWidth = 5 * @scaleFactor

The «ctx» property holds the 2d drawing context of the canvas. On the second line we tell the context that any lines drawn, should be red - of course. On the third line the thickness of the line is set and like we did with the canvas backing store we multiply with the scale factor. Remember that a canvas on the iPad Mini Retina is twice the size of what it's displayed as (yep, yep). If we didn't multiply the line thickness if would actually display at 2.5..and that would be stupid because we want it to look the same everywhere, except it will look sharper on retina displays.

@ctx.moveTo e.touches[0].pageX * @scaleFactor, e.touches[0].pageY * @scaleFactor
@ctx.lineTo e.touches[0].pageX * @scaleFactor, e.touches[0].pageY * @scaleFactor

The same multiplication also needs to happen every time we either move the drawing pointer or draw a line. If we didn't do this the line would be drawn with an offset of the finger or the cursor - again, we don't want that. And that's it, ha!

Other stuff

For mouse mode, it's also a good idea to remove the «mosemove» listener when the move isn't pressed. This way you won't get a bunch of events firing all over the place when you really don't need them.

That's all folks.

A simple rich-text editor

Tue Feb 18 2014

Chances are you have tried some rich-text editors embedded in webpages, like TinyMCE and others. In the past, it used to be quite the task to create tools like these. This changed with the introduction of the HTML 5 «contentEditable» attribute. Now, you can with little effort create your own basic rich-text editor.

The «contentEditable» attribute can be set as true or false on any element and will enable or disable design mode for the element. In short, design mode means that the user can edit the content of the element.

In this example I've created a simple text-editor. There are buttons to toggle «bold» and «italic» styles on any selected text. When the user clicks one of the buttons or changes the text, the content gets saved.

To create this, the first step is to enable design mode on an item. To do this we add the «contentEditable = true» attribute to, in this case, a div element.

<section id="editbox" contenteditable="true">..</section>

Then to apply the styling we need a bit of CoffeeScript. Since this demo has quite a bit of script I'll draw your attention to the important bit, the «document.execCommand». This method takes one of several commands, in our case "bold" or "italic" and applies this to the selection. For a complete reference of the available commands see this article over at Mozilla.

To set the selected text to bold you only need one simple command.


Take a look at the demo and the CoffeeScript code for a reference on how to create the complete demo.