A real project with CodeCatalyst – Our hackathon gave us a good insight into what works and what doesn’t

As Matt already wrote in his project introduction post we have been using Amazon CodeCatalyst to handle all of our project activities. This gives a very good indication into where CodeCatalyst is already “ready for prime time” and where further adjustments need to be made in order to develop the service into a fully fledge, all-or-nothing, integrated DevOps service.
The one pushing for using CodeCatalyst was myself, as I wanted to try out the new Amazon service that recently went “GA” after being announced at re:invent 2023 in a bigger team and in a real project. It was great fun – and we learned a lot, too!
Let’s look at some details.

How we planned our tasks using “issues”

Our journey with CodeCatalyst started with a – very agile and intense – planning session using the “issues” component of CodeCatalyst. Given the nature of an hackathon, we created roughly the first ten issues in the system. Three of us were “new users” for CodeCatalyst, but they were able to quickly interact with the issues component – by default, this is a simple Kanban board and has a well structured user interface. One thing we directly missed was the ability to copy/paste images into comments within the issues…and to attach files to the issues themselves. Linking issues to one another is also only hardly possible right now.
We used a simple workflow and did a regular planning (twice per week) and created/updated/closed more than 50 issues (of partly very small scope) throught the course of less than four weeks. Overall, the available functionalities were good enough for our project and supported our project.

Collaborating source code – working with Git repositories and pull requests

The four of us are (Community) Builders from the bottom and all we need to be happy is a Git repository that we can push code to 🙂
Of course this is not currect, but CodeCatalyst allows you to host you own, private Git repositories. You can have multiple repositories per project. In our case, we had decided to go with a mono-repo approach and so we strickly worked in a single repository. Working with the source code repository was “just fine” and working as expected. We also decided to merge as early and as often as possible to our “main” branch. The team however struggled in working with setting up Pull Requests and working in the UI when reviewing pull requests.
The most problematic things: UI response time, working with comments on pull requests (e.g. threaded comments) and creating pull requests. The whole UI does not yet feel as “structured” as in other competitors (e.g. Github) – examples: PR title/description proposals when creating a PR, link in terminal/commandline that allows your to create a PR.
Another thing we missed is “git blame” online – not to blame each other but to understand what changed and broke our “hacked” “hackathon” source code 🙂
Cool: the markdown rendering for files named *.md. Missing here: including local images is not possible.

CodeCatalyst usage increased a lot in this project!

Working with Workflows – Github actions for the rescue!

We started off building our workflows with natively available actions in Amazon CodeCatalyst – using the “cdk deploy” action to deploy out infrastructure and the “s3 deploy” action to deploy our front end – but quickly shifted away from that and switched over to using Github Actions within the workflow to allow building our Flutter application as a CDK asset. As our Continuous Integration pieces matured within our npm implementation, there was less reason to go back to the native actions as the CI part was handled through npm.
Our current workflow and CI/CD pipeline:

The main preference here is to allow a continuous deployment to our production environment. This goes through an intial “sandbox” deployment, promotes to a “test” environment and then deploys to “production”. The pipeline is prepared to execute integration tests, but they are not yet implemented – which is the nature of a _hack_athon 🙂
This would definately one of the next things to change – adding real integration tests and also adding some security verifications.

Our workflow is, as I mentioned, pretty basic – here an excerpt of it until the deployment to our sandbox environment:

    Identifier: aws/github-actions-runner@v1
      Type: EC2
        - WorkflowSource
        - Name: AWS_REGION
          Value: us-east-1
        - Name: NODE_ENV
          Value: sandbox
        Enabled: true
        ReportNamePrefix: rpt
          - ./coverage/lcov.info
        - name: Flutter Build Web
          uses: subosito/flutter-action@v2.8.0
            channel: stable
        - name: Java Install
          uses: actions/setup-java@v2
            distribution: zulu
            java-version: "11"
        - name: Setup Android SDK
          uses: android-actions/setup-android@v2
        - uses: actions/setup-node@v3
            node-version: 16
        - run: npm ci
        - run: npm run
        - run: npm run synth
        - Role: CodeCatalystWorkflowDevelopmentRole-AWSCommunityBuilders
          Name: community-builders-sandbox
      Name: speakers_sandbox
      - BuildAndTestCDKApp
        Identifier: aws/github-actions-runner@v1
          Type: EC2
            - WorkflowSource
            - Name: AWS_REGION
              Value: us-east-1
            - Name: NODE_ENV
              Value: sandbox
            - name: Flutter Build Web
              uses: subosito/flutter-action@v2.8.0
                channel: stable
            - name: Java Install
              uses: actions/setup-java@v2
                distribution: zulu
                java-version: "11"
            - name: Setup Android SDK
              uses: android-actions/setup-android@v2
            - uses: actions/setup-node@v3
                node-version: 16
            - run: npm ci
            - run: npm run deploy
            - Role: CodeCatalystWorkflowDevelopmentRole-AWSCommunityBuilders
              Name: community-builders-sandbox
          Name: speakers_sandbox
    Identifier: aws/build@v1
        - WorkflowSource
        - Run: ls -al
      Type: Lambda
      - DeploySandboxCDKApp

As you can see, a lot of the CD (and also the “deployment”) runs within the corresponding task definitions in package.json.

No “Open Source” or “Readonly” view

We would really love to open-source our whole projet, to give you the possibility to get involved and learn from what we build, but unfortunately Amazon CodeCatalyst does currrently not offer an Open Source or a “Readonly” view and forces you to create an account for CodeCatalyst – these are things that make it difficult for us as we cannot link to our sources.
If you are an AWS Community Builder, please reach out to either of us in Slack and we can give you access to the project.

What did we really miss in the workflow component

  • manual approvals before promotion to our “production” environment
  • Notifications from workflows – could have been done through this implementation but we did not take time to implement that
  • Integration of actions deployed through “npm – cdk deploy” with making the changes in infrastructure visible
  • importing existing pipelines or render CDK pipelines to CodeCatalyst workflows The “killer feature” of the workflows, at least as far as we see it, is the possibility to use Github actions as part of the workflow. With only minor adjustmends an existing Github workflow can be transformed to a CodeCatalyst workflow. If either of you know about an existing tool that converts existing Github workflows to CodeCatalyst workflows in an automated way – please let me know.

The hidden gem: Development Environments

One of the “hidden gems” of CodeCatalyst are the Dev Environments – also known as Development Enviroments. Essentially, its a “service in the service” similar to Gitpod where you can host your IDE or the environment that you develop on. In our project we all didn’t use it as the architecture was small and we only had this single project. Also, we were developing mainly on our main machines without switching between machines too often. That’s why we all did not consider really using the DevEnvironments for this project. Last but not least, Flutter is not natively supported on the Dev Environments which would have forced us to prepare a devfile that includes the Flutter dependencies – and thats something that would have taken too much time out of the project.
Still, the De Environments within CodeCatalyst are hidden gems that I believe should get more traction than they are getting until now.

A summary of what we think works and what doesn’t – and our biggest wishes

For a hackathon like this (3-6 weeks working time) CodeCatalyst seems to be a very good choice for a project that starts with a “new” or “fresh” codebase. The tool has most of the minimal requirements implemented to allow simple project management and good integration with AWS.
It also allowed us to quickly get started and to collaborate on our sources.

We really missed workflow notifications as well as manual approvals in the workflows.
As the tool matures I personally hope that more and more AWS internal teams will be using CodeCatalyst to develop, plan and deploy out their internal AWS services and with that the “flow” in the User Interface will definately be improved, too – as today there are some hickups in a real developers workflow.

And, last but not least – we would love to share this project with you, but given CodeCatalyst does not allow to “Open Source” a project, that’s not possible 🙂

Maybe something for the next hackathon?

If you would like to get involved in this project and help us to shape and build our AWS Speakers directory to make it easier for AWS User Group Leaders to find speakers – please reach out to either of us four about collaborating!

Who to reach out to?
DanielleMattJulian or myself.

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Amazon Codecatalyst reaches “GA” status and becomes available for general use

The new service announced by Amazon in Las Vegas at re:Invent 2022 which is an integrated DevOps service to empower development teams to develop and deliver software faster finally reaches the “general availability” status. As I have previously outlined, this achievement is very important for Amazon and the CodeCatalyst team. Congratulations to the team for reaching this goal, which I can imagine is not an easy step for this product. The tool touches a lot of very sensitive parts of a software project and I can imagine the security standards being really high. 

A hugh achievement – thank you everyone in the team for investing into CodeCatalyst and for listening as closely to the customer feedback as you are!

What changes did get implemented for GA?

As part of the GA release we see a lot of minor improvements in the User Interface and color changes. In the last weeks, we have seen a few “bigger” changes – like the possibility to use Dev Environments for Github based projects. We also got “graviton based” execution environments for CI/CD workflows which, according to AWS, should reduce our costs.

It is still hard to track down all of the changes in CodeCatalyst, as there is – to my knowledge – no public or semi-public roadmap. This is one of the things that I’d love to see, as for an integrated service that is at the core of the Developer Experience for teams, any minor change can either improve or destroy the “usage experience”. If you as a team invest into adoption a new tool like CodeCatalyst, they will need to know how changes in workflow, features or user interface can influence their day-to-day activities. Let’s see, maybe the team can share “something” like a “changelog” with us (or even an RFC process like Amplify or AppSync)?

Reached “GA” – so who can start using it now?

As of today CodeCatalyst is only availble in US regions and this means that it can be adopted mainly by US enterprise customers. CodeCatalyst already gives you the possibility to set up different Spaces for your account and within a space you can manage multiple projects. So in theory, CodeCatalyst is “ready to be used” by everyone. 

Practically speaking, it is easier to adapt the service for new projects than for existing projects , as there is no real “import” functionality. Yes, you can integrate existing Github projects, but that only integrates the source code. Unfortunately that does not make all of the “cool” things available right from the start of integrating the source: existing workflows (CI/CD pipelines) are lost and need to be re-build, issues/tickets are not imported into CodeCatalyst (tho they can be made available through the JIRA integration). 

I have been regularly using CodeCatalyst (both for imported and “new” projects) – and I really think that the tool already works very well. 

The “killer feature” that I see for new projects are the “blue prints” which essentially get you started within minutes, e.g. to deploy a SPA application, or to have a “true” CI/CD pipeline for a full stack application following the DPRA

Right now I would recommend using CodeCatalyst for any new project that you start to start building out your workflows and best practices.

So what do I still need to recommend CodeCatalyst for existing projects?

There are a few things that I have already been writing about:

  • “Import” of existing CI/CD workflows (e.g. Github actions, CDK Pipelines or CodePipelines)
  • Fully import projects
    • existing issues from Github or JIRA
    • Git-based projects including the history
  • Tighter security settings and permissions
    • Fine granular roles to allow or forbid access to specific parts of a project
    • Options to allow or forbid execution of workflows (or to deployments)
  • Additional workflow options
    • Manual approvals are very high on my wish list
    • Integration of other AWS services natively

A question for the readers: What do YOU think that you need to adopt CodeCatalyst?


Where do I see the potential for CodeCatalyst?

CodeCatalyst is a big bet by AWS. There is a big potential that can really improve the life of development teams and these are the main things that I believe that can out-grow other existing solutions:

  • Integration of AWS Services / deployments metrics
    • the true integration with AWS APIs
    • Integration into “post-deployment” verifications (e.g. auto roll-back after failed CloudWatch metrics)
  • “At-hand” developer support to improve efficiency
    • with CodeWhisperer (who recently reached GA) AWS already aims to support developers during the development phase, but with CodeCatalyst AWS can take this to the next level:
    • AI support during Pull Request Reviews (or automated approvals for PRs – e.g. by including CodeGuru, etc., automated merges, etc.)
    • AI support during workflow executions (when to approve, when to deloy, when to promote, etc.)
    • With improvement proposals for workflows if the “AI model” recognizes patterns (in issue workflows or CI/CD workflows)
  • With automated improvements for existing projects based on blue prints
    • Best practices change – and so blue prints change – and if the CodeCatalyst team can automatically apply them for existing projects, customers will benefit from it

And last but not least:

I trully believe that every software project should start with a CI/CD pipeline – and with the Blue Prints including the CI/CD workflow that follows DPRA and other AWS best practices, we can trully make this possible: Empower developers to deliver their software projects in minutes right after starting their project.

Do you see the potential in CodeCatalyst? If you do not see any potential in the tool – why not?

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What can we expect for the General Availability (GA) of Amazon CodeCatalyst?

At re:Invent 2022, as usualy, different new AWS Services or functionalities have been announced in Preview. Now, at the beginning of April 2023, a few of them have already reached the “General Availability” (GA) status – Application Composer (in early march), Latice (in late march). My favourite new service, Amazon CodeCatalyst, has not yet reached this goal – but I have a feeling that now is the right time to think about what and when we can expect this status.

You wonder what CodeCatalyst is? Watch this video on my YouTube channel or read my two initial posts about it.

Why is reaching the “GA” milestone so important?

Before starting with my assumptions on what we can expect for GA, lets clarify why reaching this milestone is so important. Being “in Preview” can mean a lot of different things. In a lot of organizations this usually translate to “limited availability”, a service not being available in all regions or not being reliable or scalable. For other organizations, it means that specific aspects of the product can be immature or not reliable. It can also mean that bigger API change are yet to be implemented or missing security guardrails. 

In general, this can be seen as a “beta” offering which is not appropiate to use for productive workloads.

Because of these reasons and maybe others, a lot of organizations (especially US based) do not allow using or adapting services that are in “Preview”.

For all of my experiences, tests, videos and projects I was so far able to only be on the free tier. And I assume that this will also be the truth for most of my readers: You can get a long way using the Free Tier that Amazon CodeCatalyst offers today.

So thats another big reason for AWS to push this service out of “Preview”: It gives organizations that are forbidden to use the service in “Preview” the possibility to start using and adopting the service – and with that Amazon can start earning money with the service which unil now might be difficult.

And as we know, AWS tries to “work backwards” from client requirements and the early usage of CodeCatalyst will drive further investments into the service.

What to expect for GA of CodeCatalyst?

Simple: Nothing big – most probably only regional rollout.

I do personally not expect any major new features for the service as the team has been constantely releasing new features and functionalities to the service on a regular cadance. There was simply not more time to work on bigger features while preparing the “General Availability” (GA).

What the CodeCatalyst already has delivered until today…

Let’s look at what has been added to CodeCatalyst since its official release in december 2022:

  • Additional Reporting auto-discovery
  • Change Tracking – the possibility to see which changes have been deployed to a certain environment
  • Additional Workflow native actions and improvements, E.g.
    • a problem with the CDK action to be able to define the “workpath” of a CDK app
    • Additional native actions
  • Linked issues to Pull Requests – you are now able to link issues to a pull request
  • UX improvements
    • Log files wider accessible in UI – at the beginning you where not able to make the log view larger, now this is possible
    • Page title adjustments
  • New Blue Prints (like the “Textract” one)
  • Development environments for Github based projects

This is not a complete list, but the things that I personally noticed and that I liked to see.

So…when is “the date”?

Hard to guess, but I would expect “soon”. Ideally right before a month starts, which will make the billing cycle easier 🙂 

So I would guess “end of april” which would bring the service right in time for the Berlin Summit (3rd of May).

Next steps for CodeCatalyst

In my last posts I have already been communicating my thoughts and features that I would love to see. But what will AWS implement?

Given reaching the “GA” status opens the way to “enterprise clients” I would expect that one of the first features will be Single-Sign-On functionalities, maybe with an integration to Okta, Ping, Azure Active Directory or other already existing IdPs.

In addition to that I believe that the User Interface needs to get some tweaks to streamline the navigation and workflow – that’s something that I personally experience every day: not knowing when and where to click to get on the rigth place. Also I think that additional service integrations will be added – e.g. StepFunctions or SNS, maybe SQS – see also my post about sending notifications from workflows.

And then there is one last thing which has been getting only limited attention so far: APIs and CLI integrations that can be used – so I would expect a major update there.

I’m really looking forward to see CodeCatalyst reaching GA – I’ve had various conversations with the team in the last months and I know that they have a true vision to make CodeCatalyst successfull as a trully AWS integrated and fully functional DevOps tool.

Are there features you are missing? Please let me know and I will forward them to the team.

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Sending notifications from CodeCatalyst Workflows in March 2023

As Amazon CodeCatalyst is still in Preview, it has only limited integration possibilities with other AWS services or external tools.
Sending notifications from a Workflow execution is something that I believe is critical for a CI/CD system – and as I focus on CI/CD at the moment I’ll focus on the notifications on Workflows in this article.

What kind of notifications do I need or expect?

As a user of a CI/CD and Workflow tool there are different levels of notifications that I would like to receive:

  1. Start / End and Status of Workflow execution
  2. State / Stage transitions (for longer running workflows)
  3. Approvals (if required)

In addition to that, based on the context of the notification I would like to get context-specific information:

a) For the “Start” event I would like to know who or which trigger started the workflow, which branch and version it is running on, which project and workflow has been triggered. If possible getting the expected execution time / finish time would be good
b) For the “End” event I would like to know how long the execution took and if it was successful or not. I would also like to know if artifacts have been created or if deployments have been done. If the “End” is because of a failure, I would love to know the failure reason (e.g. tests failed, deployment failed, …)
c) For the state transitions I’d love to know the “time since started” and “expected completion time”. I would also like to, obviously, know the state that has been completed and the one that will now be started.
d) For approvals I’d love to be able to get the information about the approval ask and all required information (commit Id, branch) to do the approval

What does CodeCatalyst Support today?

Right now CodeCatalyst allows to set up notifications to Slack.
Please see details on how to set this up here.
This notifications are also minimal right now:

In Slack this looks like this:

How can I enhance the notification possibilities?

Luckily one of the “core actions” is the possibility to trigger a Lambda function and this is what we are going to use here to be able to trigger advanced notifications using Amazon SNS.
In our example we are going to use this to send an eMail to a specific address, but you can also use any other destinations supported by SNS like SMS or AWS ChatBot.

Setting up pre-requisites

Unfortunately we will need to set up an SNS topic and a Lambda function in a dedicated AWS account in order to use these advanced notifications.
This means that we are “breaking” the concept of CodeCatalyst not requiring access to the AWS Console, but this is the only way that I found so far to be able to send additional notifications.

Ideally we would be setting up the SNS topic and the lambda function using CDK, but that increases the complexity of the workflow and of the setup and because of that I’m not including that in this blog post.

Setting up the SNS topic

Please create a SNS topic following the AWS documentation through the console.
We assume the topic to be in “eu-central-1” and the name to be “codecatalyst-workflow-topic“.

After the topic has been set up, you will need to subscribe your eMail address to it.

Setting up the lambda function

You can follow this blog post to manually set up the lambda function through the AWS console, please ensure to give the Lambda functions permissions to use the SNS topic.
The required code using Python will look like this:

import boto3

sns = boto3.client('sns')

def lambda_handler(event, context):
        message = event['message']
        topic_arn = 'arn:aws:sns:eu-central-1:<accountID>:codecatalyst-workflow-topic'

        response = sns.publish(
        print('Message sent to SNS topic:', response['MessageId'])
    except Exception as e:
        print('Error sending message: ', e)

Obviously the same can be achieved using Typscript, Go or any other supported function.
Please adjust the topic_arn to match the topic that you just created.
After creation this Lambda function will now have an ARN which should look similar to this:

We will need this ARN when setting up the notification in our Workflow.

Integration into the workflow

Integrating this Lambda function into a workflow is easy:

    Identifier: aws/lambda-invoke@v1
        - Role: CodeCatalystPreviewDevelopmentAdministrator-wzkn0l
          Name: "<connection>"
      Name: development
        - WorkflowSource
      Type: Lambda
      RequestPayload: '{"message":"branchName: ${WorkflowSource.BranchName}\nCommitID: ${WorkflowSource.CommitId}\nWorkflow-Name: NOT-AVAILABLE\nSTATUS: EXECUTED"}'
      ContinueOnError: false
      AWSRegion: eu-central-1
      LogType: Tail
      Function: arn:aws:lambda:eu-central-1:<accoutId>:function:send-sns-notification-python

As you can see, we are integrating an “aws/lambda-invoke@v1” action which then points to the lambda function that we just created.

In the “RequestPayload” we are passing a few information to the Lambda function which will then be passed to the SNS topic as part of the message.
This is how the message will look when received as eMail:

Missing information and next steps for enhanced notifications

As you can see we are able to send notifications from CodeCatalyst to multiple targets, including eMail with this option.

What we are missing is – and I am not sure if thats possible or not – is all of the “metadata” of the workflow execution like:

  • Workflow-Name
  • State-Name
  • Project Name and additional information

In the documentation I was not able to find out the available environment variables about these information…. If you do have any ideas on how to access this metadata, please let me know!

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