Build an email system with Serverless and NodeJS

December 24, 2019

Build an email system for your app could be challenging.

Let's mention some of the things we would like:

  • Easy to use with an API to trigger mails from any of our services.
  • Easy to configure and deploy
  • Highly available
  • Scalable
  • Email templates
  • Avoid html boilerplate and inline-css.
  • Simple usage of images on emails.
  • Cheap (be charged only per use).


My first attempt was to build a NodeJS App with a REST API to send emails. Good solution but not great. It doesn't make sense to have an app running all the time.

AWS Lambda is a great fit to our use case.

AWS Lambda lets you run code without provisioning or managing servers. You pay only for the compute time you consume.

We can cross out cheap and scalable from the list.

How do we trigger Lambda Code?

We could use AWS SDK to call our Lambda Function (which sends an email). I don't like that option because:

  • Our code must know that there's a lambda function behind the scenes.
  • If we change our lambda function, we must update all our calls.
  • If we messed up with our lambda function, we will miss emails.

It would be great to push an email event to some trusted pub/sub service.

Amazon SNS

Some cool thing about cloud services is that they are easy to integrate.

We will introduce another great service by AWS:

Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS) is a highly available, durable, secure, fully managed pub/sub messaging service that enables you to decouple microservices, distributed systems, and serverless applications.

AWS SNS provide us a pub/sub service where we can send notifications from our code and have our lambda code executed when that happens. Learn more here.

Also if no one handled the notification, we can do something about it to avoid losing emails. See more here.

The first step to start using AWS SNS is to create a new topic to which notifications can be published.

Your code to send emails will look like:

const aws = require('aws-sdk');
const sns = new aws.SNS({ /* ... aws params */ });
const sendMail = (to, template, locals) =>
Message: JSON.stringify({ to, locals, template }),
TopicArn: 'your-topic-arn',

Simple, right? We can cross out highly available from the initial list.

Sending emails

The last step is building out a mail function which will be executed whenever a new mail notification is received.

We would like:

  • Use a CSS Sheet instead of inline-css.
  • Include images just like we include them on a website.
  • Use a template engine to render emails.
  • Avoid html boilerplate.

A great NodeJS library that let us have all of these is email-templates.

email-templates let you create, preview, and send custom email templates for Node.js. Highly configurable and supports automatic inline CSS, stylesheets, embedded images and fonts, and much more!

In addition to email-templates, we will use:

  • nodemailer which let us specify AWS SES as service to send emails.
  • nodemailer-base64-to-s3 automatically uploads images on our emails to AWS S3
  • pug as our template engine, to avoid html boilerplate.



* Mailing service. Use this function to send an email
* @module util/mailing_service
const Email = require('email-templates');
const { createTransport } = require('./aws');
const constants = require('./constants');
function send(to, { template, locals }) {
const transport = createTransport();
const email = new Email({
message: {
from: constants.EMAIL_FROM, // sender address
juice: true,
juiceResources: {
preserveImportant: true,
webResources: {
images: true,
// this is the relative directory to your CSS/image assets
// and its default path is `build/`:
// e.g. if you have the following in the `<head`> of your template:
// `<link rel="stylesheet" href="style.css" data-inline="data-inline">`
// then this assumes that the file `build/style.css` exists
relativeTo: `${constants.TEMPLATES_DIR}/assets`,
return email.send({
message: {
to, // list of receivers
// subject, // Subject line
template: `${constants.TEMPLATES_DIR}/${template}`,
module.exports = { send };


// load aws sdk
const aws = require('aws-sdk');
const base64ToS3 = require('nodemailer-base64-to-s3');
const nodemailer = require('nodemailer');
const constants = require('./constants');
// load aws config
aws.config.apiVersions = "2010-12-01";
region: constants.REGION,
accessKeyId: constants.ACCESS_KEY_ID,
secretAccessKey: constants.SECRET_ACCESS_KEY,
sessionToken: constants.SESSION_TOKEN,
function createTransport() {
const transport = nodemailer.createTransport({ SES: new aws.SES() });
if (constants.NODE_ENV === 'production') {
dir: '/mailing',
aws: {
accessKeyId: constants.ACCESS_KEY_ID,
secretAccessKey: constants.SECRET_ACCESS_KEY,
sessionToken: constants.SESSION_TOKEN,
params: { Bucket: constants.S3_BUCKET }
return transport;
module.exports = { createTransport, aws };

See the rest of the code on my repo.


Finally to build our infrastructure, we will use Serverless Framework. See how to configure AWS Credentials here

It let us create and deploy everything with a single command:

sls deploy -v --stage prod

Also we can test locally our mails. See more on my repo's README.md.

If you have any questions, please contact me on twitter.

Santiago Vazquez

Software Engineer from Argentina