How I built a serverless runtime for learning

Send passionate developers on vacation, and they usually return with a product idea. Because that’s mostly when their creativity ticks. In my case, I came back with a small toy project that helped me understand and materialize what are cloud functions (aka serverless technology) at the core.

Disclaimer: I am no expert in serverless technology. The only drive has been my curiosity of breaking into pieces to understand a technology I have been using for the past 8 months to deploy services. Mostly using tools like Firebase and Serverless that really abstract the inner working away from me. Also bear in mind that this is just a toy project for learning therefore very minimal and careless about performance.


So I took a week off a few days ago from work to relax and change settings. Since we are still in theses hard times of COVID-19, I could not do much staying at home. Third day into my time off, I decided to implement a fun project that I could learn from. I usually head over to Build your own X. But this time the idea was already clear in my head. I wanted to know if I could make my own serverless runtime. Although I love Rust for doing most of my learning these days, choosing Golang was this time obvious for the following reasons:

Lessons learned

In the most basic form, a cloud function is a function or routine written in a programming language that our runtime is going to package in a docker container. The container will serve as a sandboxing mechanism to isolate the third-party code from affecting our server environment. Yes, you heard it server environment. Serverless is not actually serverless 😉.

I implemented my serverless runtime around the Docker container technology. The runtime is a Golang web application with a single endpoint to create or update the functions. A serverless runtime being in charge of packaging and running code from all sorts of companies and developers. Code structures and API should be in place to make those third-party code play by the runtime rules. From my learning experience, I think it’s more complicated to come up with these rules and API than implementing the serverless runtime itself. Mostly because as a serverless runtime provider, you want to provide as many programming environments as possible with all sorts of differences. In my case, I wanted to provide a way of creating cloud functions in Golang and NodeJS. However, this post will focus on the NodeJS bit and provide a link to the Golang code.

Cloud functions structure

As I said previously, we need to dictate the structure and the conventions in order to make things work nicely while being also flexible enough to support other programming environments in the future. So without beating around the bush much longer, here is how a cloud function project should be structured for our runtime.

    │   .eserveless.yaml
    │   functions.js
    │   package.json

The .eserveless.yaml is our project’s manifest that should contain a declaration of functions available in our project and their properties. The functions.js is the entry point where all functions declared in the manifest file should be exported from. The following is a listing of the manifest and the function code.

As you can see from the .eserveless.yaml file:

Our toy runtime implementation works on public projects available on Github since I was not lazy to start implementing authentication and/or support for other git providers. So to create or update a project on our serverless platform, you would run a POST request with curl or even better use our CLI tool $ ./eserveless evanxg852000/node-eserveless-example.

curl -X POST -H "Content-Type: application/json" \
    -d '{ "repository": "" }' \

Once the runtime service receives this request, the followings happen:

This last step still needs some clarifications thought. How do we consume code in functions.js for instance? The answer is in the other half of the serverless protocol. When packaging the client function code, we provide the main code that will call the functions specified in the developer or third-party code. The following is an example of such a main code for a HTTP function handler type.

As you can see we import the functions.js file here and mount the HTTP request handler function onto a NodeJS HTTP server. Pretty simple right, just putting conventions in place. Usually, the main code is a template as we need to replace API with the specified function name when building; hard coding it won’t make it dynamic. In our runtime implementation, these templates files are located inside the runtimes folder.

With all in place, once a function is invoked: we just run the corresponding container, wait for it to be ready if it’s a HTTP function before redirecting the HTTP request to the container. We also need to timeout after some time to prevent malicious functions from holding the connection longer. Eventually harming our service.

Missing pieces

As this is a learning project, there are many pieces missing in this implementation:

Short demo


I had fun writing this learning project and exploring some corner cases. It was a great learning experience and I could not resist sharing. Please give your feedback in the comments and share your experience working with this awesome technology. The full source code of our serverless platform is available on Github. Please feel free to fix some hidden features (aka Bugs).

I hope this post taught you something interesting about serverless and until next time, stay safe. May God bless & protect us all 🙏.