Table of Content

What are AWS Step Functions?

AWS Step Functions is a serverless workflow service offered by Amazon Web Services (AWS). It enables developers to build and coordinate applications or microservices using visual interfaces or JSON-based language. With Step Functions, developers define workflows as a series of states and transitions, representing tasks or actions, and define the flow between states.

The service manages the underlying infrastructure, providing scalability and parallel execution capabilities. It also offers integrated API support for seamless integration with other AWS services and external APIs. Step Functions provide visualization, monitoring, and error handling features, simplifying the development and management of complex, scalable applications.

AWS Step Functions
AWS Step Functions

AWS Step Functions are used as an orchestrator to combine multiple AWS Services to achieve a complex use case. They support functionalities like condition-based branching, waiting, error handling and parallel execution of functions.

At Clappia, we use Step Functions to power the Clappia Workflows. All Clappia Apps can have multiple complex workflows which can involve actions like sending emails, mobile notifications, SMS, WhatsApp messages, integrating with external APIs and databases, sending data to other Clappia Apps, waiting for a certain duration and IF/ELSE logic. We translate these user-defined Workflows and generate a State Machine in Step Functions. Know more about Clappia Workflows here.

AWS Step Functions pricing

AWS Step Functions

One of the major downsides of AWS Step Functions is its pricing. It charges $0.025 per 1,000 state transitions. For small scale projects, it’s a good solution - easy to set up, very less implementation effort, good integration with most of the other AWS Services. But for Enterprise-grade orchestration that requires hundreds of steps, each with millions of executions, the cost can grow exponentially. 

For example, we have an Enterprise customer whose one of the workflows involves 70+ IF Condition Blocks, which translates to 140+ Choice Steps and 100+ other action Steps like sending notifications or making external API Calls in Step Functions and it gets executed 2000 times in a day. The cost of this single State Machine can come around $200 per month. And we have hundreds of other similar use cases for other Enterprise customers. So we needed an alternative solution but with a similar ease of setup.

What are Express Step Functions?

Express Workflows are a type of AWS Step Functions that are ideal for high-volume, short-running, event-processing workloads. While the Standard Step Functions can run upto a year, the Express Step Functions have a maximum running duration of 5 minutes. Express Step Functions are billed by the number of executions, the duration of execution, and the memory consumed. Number of state transitions within the State Machine is not factored in for billing. 

This was a major factor for us in moving towards using Express Step Functions.

How do we use Express Step Functions at Clappia?

In Clappia, users can define workflows by adding nodes such as the Wait node, the IF node, and other platform-related actions. Then we translate the user-defined Workflow to a Step Functions State Machine and decide whether it can be executed in less than 5 minutes or not.

AWS Step Functions

If yes, then we set the type of Workflow to Express. These workflows can be modified at any time by the user, so if a user decides to change the flow such that the total time of workflow execution is likely to go beyond 5 minutes, we automatically convert this into a Standard Workflow. As a result, the end-user workflow will be unaffected, and we will get a significant cost reduction.

Benefits of Express Step Functions

  1. Pricing - Standard Workflow executions are billed according to the number of state transitions processed while Express Workflow executions are billed by the number of executions, the duration of execution, and the memory consumed. This gives a major cost benefit for large workflows that can get executed quickly.
  1. Long history - In Express Step Functions, the logs are stored in Cloudwatch so we can see the execution history of all the executions but in Standard Step Functions, it's limited to 1000 executions.
  1. Handle high volume data - Express Step Functions can start over 100,000 executions per second and unlimited state transitions while Standard Step Functions can start over only 2,000 per second and the state transitions are also limited to 4000 per second.

Drawbacks of Express Step Functions

  1. 5-minute limit - This is the biggest drawback of Express Step Functions. The total time of each execution can’t be more than 5 minutes. But Standard Step Functions allow the execution to run upto one year so it reduces the use cases of using Express Step Functions.
  2. No visual debugging - We do not have an execution flow at our disposal to easily monitor and debug processes on the AWS console. Instead, we rely solely on CloudWatch logs to trace.

Cost Optimization using Express Workflow

Let's take a sample workflow. This workflow has 9 nodes

AWS Step Functions

If we run this workflow 100k times in a month, and the average duration of the workflows is 10 seconds, then:

  • Cost of Standard workflows:

Total state transitions = State transitions per execution * executions of workflow 

Total states transitions = 9 * 100,000 = 900,000

Monthly charges = 900,000 * $0.000025 = $22.50

  • Cost of Express workflows:

i. Monthly request charges

The price is $1.00 per million requests

Monthly Request Charges = 100K requests x $1.00 = $0.1

ii. Monthly duration charges 

100k workflows x 10 seconds of duration = 1,000,000 seconds

1,000,000,000 x 64 MB (billed memory) /1024 MB = 62,500 GB-s

62,500 GB-s / 60 / 60 = 17.36111 GB-hours

$0.06000 per GB-hour x 17 GB-Hours = $1.02

Monthly duration charges = $1.02

iii. Total monthly charges:

Total Monthly Charges = Request Charges + Duration Charges

Total Monthly Charges = $0.1 + $1.02= $1.12


  • Simplified Workflow Development: Step Functions offers a visual interface and JSON-based language for easy workflow development.
  • Serverless and Managed Service: It eliminates the need for infrastructure management, allowing developers to focus on application logic.
  • Scalability and Parallel Execution: Step Functions automatically scales resources and supports parallel execution for efficient workflow handling.
  • Integrated API and Service Integration: It seamlessly integrates with other AWS services and external APIs, enabling end-to-end solutions.
  • Error Handling and Retries: Step Functions provides built-in error handling and retry mechanisms for robust and fault-tolerant workflows.
  • Visualization and Monitoring: It offers visual representation, logging, and monitoring features for better workflow understanding and performance optimization.


AWS Step Functions

Standard Step Functions can solve very dynamic use cases, especially when we have to wait for long hours or when we need to do lots of retries and error handling. But they are costly. So we can replace them with Express Step Functions, which are cheaper than the Standard ones and save about 15-20 times of cost but have limited use cases due to the 5-minute run duration limit.


What is AWS Step Function?

AWS Step Functions is a serverless workflow service by Amazon Web Services (AWS) that enables developers to build and coordinate applications or microservices using visual interfaces or JSON-based language. Clappia utilizes AWS Step Functions to power its workflows, streamlining complex actions like sending emails, mobile notifications, SMS, WhatsApp messages, and integrating with external APIs.

AWS Step Function Pricing

For AWS Step Functions Standard Workflows, pricing is based on the number of state transitions, with a free tier of 4,000 state transitions per month, and additional state transitions incurring a charge of $0.000025 each thereafter, billed at $0.025 per 1,000 state transitions; retry error handling in steps results in additional state transition charges (AWS Step Functions Pricing Details).

AWS Step Function examples

An AWS Step Function example is coordinating an order processing workflow, where states include verifying payment, updating inventory, and sending a shipping confirmation, ensuring a seamless and automated order fulfillment process.

How to create a Step Function in AWS?

To create a Step Function in AWS:Define the workflow using the Step Functions visual interface or JSON-based language.Specify states and transitions to represent tasks or actions.Utilize integrated API support for seamless integration with other AWS services.Set up error handling, logging, and monitoring features.Deploy the Step Function for execution and management.

AWS Step Function vs Lambda

AWS Step Functions and AWS Lambda serve different purposes. Step Functions orchestrate workflows by coordinating tasks, while Lambda executes individual functions in response to events. They can be used together, with Step Functions managing the overall workflow and Lambda functions performing specific tasks within that workflow.

How does Clappia use Express Step Functions to optimize costs?

Clappia identifies workflows that can be executed in less than 5 minutes and designates them as Express Workflows to benefit from cost optimization. If a workflow's complexity increases or its total execution time exceeds 5 minutes, Clappia automatically converts it into a Standard Workflow without affecting the end-user workflow.

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