Over the years, customers have used Amazon DynamoDB for lots of different use cases, from building microservices and mobile backends to implementing gaming and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions. For example, Capital One uses DynamoDB to reduce the latency of their mobile applications by moving their mainframe transactions to a serverless architecture. Tinder migrated user data to DynamoDB with zero downtime, to get the scalability they need to support their global user base.

Developers sometimes need to implement business logic that requires multiple, all-or-nothing operations across one or more tables. This requirement can add unnecessary complexity to their implementation. Today, we are making these use cases easier to build on DynamoDB with native support for transactions!

Introducing Amazon DynamoDB Transactions

DynamoDB transactions provide developers atomicity, consistency, isolation, and durability (ACID) across one or more tables within a single AWS account and region. You can use transactions when building applications that require coordinated inserts, deletes, or updates to multiple items as part of a single logical business operation. DynamoDB is the only non-relational database that supports transactions across multiple partitions and tables.

Transactions bring the scale, performance, and enterprise benefits of DynamoDB to a broader set of workloads. Many use cases are easier and faster to implement using transactions, for example:

  • Processing financial transactions
  • Fulfilling and managing orders
  • Building multiplayer game engines
  • Coordinating actions across distributed components and services

Two new DynamoDB operations have been introduced for handling transactions:

  • TransactWriteItems, a batch operation that contains a write set, with one or more PutItem, UpdateItem, and DeleteItem operations. TransactWriteItems can optionally check for prerequisite conditions that must be satisfied before making updates. These conditions may involve the same or different items than those in the write set. If any condition is not met, the transaction is rejected.
  • TransactGetItems, a batch operation that contains a read set, with one or more GetItem operations. If a TransactGetItems request is issued on an item that is part of an active write transaction, the read transaction is canceled. To get the previously committed value, you can use a standard read.

Each transaction can include up to 10 unique items or up to 4 MB of data, including conditions.

With this new feature, DynamoDB offers multiple read and write options to meet different application requirements, providing huge flexibility to developers implementing complex, data-driven business logic:

  • Three options for reads—eventual consistency, strong consistency, and transactional.
  • Two for writes—standard and transactional.

For example, imagine you are building a game where players can buy items with virtual coins:

  • In the players table, each player has a number of coins and an inventory of purchased items.
  • In the items table, each item has a price and is marked as available (or not) with a Boolean value.

To purchase an item, you can now implement a single atomic transaction:

  1. First, check that the item is available and the player has the necessary coins.
  2. If those conditions are satisfied, the item is marked as not available and owned by the player.
  3. The purchased item is then added to the player inventory list.

In JavaScript, using the AWS SDK for JavaScript in Node.js, you would have code similar to this:

data = await dynamoDb.transactWriteItems({
    TransactItems: [
            Update: {
                TableName: 'items',
                Key: { id: { S: itemId } },
                ConditionExpression: 'available = :true',
                UpdateExpression: 'set available = :false, ' +
                    'ownedBy = :player',
                ExpressionAttributeValues: {
                    ':true': { BOOL: true },
                    ':false': { BOOL: false },
                    ':player': { S: playerId }
            Update: {
                TableName: 'players',
                Key: { id: { S: playerId } },
                ConditionExpression: 'coins >= :price',
                UpdateExpression: 'set coins = coins - :price, ' +
                    'inventory = list_append(inventory, :items)',
                ExpressionAttributeValues: {
                    ':items': { L: [{ S: itemId }] },
                    ':price': { N: itemPrice.toString() }

Using Transactions

Transactions are enabled for all single-region DynamoDB tables and are disabled on global tables by default. You can choose to enable transactions on global tables by request, but replication across regions is asynchronous and eventually consistent. You may observe partially completed transactions during replication to other regions. Additionally, simultaneous writes to the same item in different regions are not guaranteed to be serially isolated.

Items are not locked during a transaction. DynamoDB transactions provide serializable isolation. If an item is modified outside of a transaction while the transaction is in progress, the transaction is canceled and an exception is thrown with details about which item or items caused the exception.

When creating an AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) policy, there are no new permissions for TransactGetItems and TransactWriteItems. Existing DynamoDB UpdateItem, PutItem, DeleteItem, and GetItem actions authorize the use of those operations also within transactions. For example, if an IAM user has only PutItem permission, they can send a transaction with one or more put, but if they add a delete to the write set, it will get rejected because they do not have DeleteItem permission.

For any committed operation that was part of a transaction, DynamoDB Streams adds a new field, transaction-id, as a universally unique identifier (UUID) for the transaction. The in-order and exactly once semantics of DynamoDB Streams guarantee that eventually all updates of a TransactWriteItems request will be propagated through streams in an order that is consistent with the transaction serialization order.

Pricing, Monitoring, and Availability

There is no additional cost to enable transactions for DynamoDB tables. You only pay for the reads or writes that are part of your transaction. DynamoDB performs two underlying reads or writes of every item in the transaction, one to prepare the transaction and one to commit the transaction. The two underlying read/write operations are visible in your CloudWatch metrics. You should plan your costs, capacity, and performance needs assuming each transactional read performs two reads and each transactional write performs two writes.

DynamoDB transactions are available globally in all commercial regions.

I am really intrigued by these new capabilities. Please let me know what you are going to use them for!