Episode 4: Importing JSON into DynamoDB


Disclaimer: In this series we’ll describe how we move from Parse to AWS. In no way do we claim that this is the best way to do things. This is simply a narration of steps we took. In fact, if you have found better ways of doing the same, we’d love to hear about it!

Ok! Now we’re at the final step of data migration. By the end of this episode, we will have our data all ported over from Parse to DynamoDB and we’ll be ready to move on to addressing other features like Push Notifications, User management etc. Let’s quickly review our migration plan so far.

Plan Progress

  1. Export our data out of parse (Done)
  2. Export our images out of parse (Done)
  3. Format Parse data into dynamoDB compatible data (Done)
  4. Put all our images into an S3 bucket with the same unique name that parse gave them (Done)
  5. Import the JSON data we get out of Parse into DynamoDB along with the unique image names for our files.

For step 5, we’ll be using the JSON files we created at the end of Episode 2

Method 1: Data Pipelines ( We ended up not using this )

If you google, “importing data into aws dynamoDB”, you’ll be bombarded with links that tell you that Data Pipelines are the way to go. It sounds great, but there are some things we discovered that is worth considering before you go that route.

  • What is the correct format?? – We had no idea how to format our JSON files for data pipelines to work. There doesn’t seem to be an easy to find sample which we could replicate (or at least there wasn’t when we were doing this). So we resorted to trial and error. Don’t worry, we’ll share with you exactly what format you need… You’re Welcome!
  • Oh dang, it costs money! – The default box that aws uses to Import DynamoDB backup data from S3  is m3… which is not covered under the free tier. Not knowing this, we kept trying data pipelines with various wrong formats of data and incurred about $10 in fees in one day! Ok, lesson learned, let’s use a smaller box. We edited our config to use a smaller m1 linux box which spit out the following in our faces:

    ERROR: Instance type m1.small is not supported on AMI ‘3.8.0’

    • It gets more complicated but We wanted to get this entire migration done without spending $$ and too much time and effort… data pipelines was looking like a no-go

So in case you still want to go ahead and use the data pipelines, the correct format for input files is the following:

{"Name": {"S":"Amazon DynamoDB"},"Category": {"S":"Amazon Web Services"}}
{"Name": {"S":"Amazon push"},"Category": {"S":"Amazon Web Services"}}
{"Name": {"S":"Amazon S3"},"Category": {"S":"Amazon Web Services"}}

As you can see, the file should contain dynamoDB JSON objects separated by newline. Make sure you go over the dynamoDB format – don’t have empty strings etc because each time the import fails, it’ll cost you to try again.

Method 2: Old faithful Node app (recommended)

Node has certainly been our friend throughout this process. So once more we resorted to a simple Node app to push data into DynamoDB. What’s even better is that AWS SDK’s DynamoDB DocClient supports regular JSON… so we don’t need to try to get the perfect dynamoDB json format. Well, we can keep talking about this… but you probably wanna just see the code already! so … here it is

Simple Demo for loading files into

//package to read json files
var jsonfile = require('jsonfile');
//AWS node sdk
var AWS = require('aws-sdk');

//need to update region in config
    region: "us-east-1"

//create a doc client to allow using JSON directly
var docClient = new AWS.DynamoDB.DocumentClient();

//prepared JSON file
//[{ ... }, { ... }]
var placeFile = "data/places.ddb.json";
var placeArray = jsonfile.readFileSync(placeFile);

//utility function to create a single put request
function getPlace(index){
    return {
        TableName: 'Places',
        Item: placeArray[index]

//recursive function to save one place at a time
function savePlaces(index){
    if(index == placeArray.length){
        console.log("saved all.");

    var params = getPlace(index);
    //spit out what we are saving for sanity
    //use the client to execute put request.
    docClient.put(params, function(err, data) {
        if (err) {
            console.log("saved Place item "+index);
            index += 1;
            //save the next place on the list
            //with half a second delay
            }, 500);

//start saving from index - 0

So… all we’re doing here is the following:

  • Read our prepared JSON file from Episode 2. Hold the array of objects in memory
  • Read the first item, create a JSON object to put in dynamoDB, send out put request
  • Upon successful put, wait half a second, send out second push.
  • The console log methods help us determine what exactly we’re pushing (and what index we’re on)
  • Now lets say the app throws after pushing item 35. We know that something was wrong with item 36… so we quickly check our file, fix it… then edit “savePlaces(0)” (line 59) to say “savePlaces(36)” … and we will continue from 36 again.

Let it run till all your objects are pushed…. and Boom! Your DynamoDB is now ready to start serving your client side applications.

A Quick Recap

At this point, we have all our data extracted from Parse and imported into DynamoDB. All our images are stored in S3 Bucket and their names are stored with respective items in DynamoDB. We are now ready to start connecting the dots and pulling, pushing data via a mobile app. I hope you are finding the series useful so far… we would love to hear from you about your experience/tips etc. Please feel free to leave us comments, feedback or maybe an emoji! Until next time… Eat Responsibly!


13 thoughts on “Episode 4: Importing JSON into DynamoDB

  1. I am loving these posts! Thanks so much for sharing. I am currently frozen trying to decide if I want to dive head first into Amazon for my application development or invest in a parse like service such as appery.io or Appcelerator. This is my first attempt at app development since the world went all cloudy and the choices are a bit overwhelming. I think I have the most control with Amazon but at the tax of maintaining things at a much lower level than some of these other frameworks+mbaas.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment, Paul!
      We went through a very similar experience. There are a lot of choices out there and it can all get quite overwhelming. We ended up making a quick list of our requirements and went from there. One of the top things on our list was not having to go through another migration in the near future. We are a small company with very limited resources for now and having another Parse like service go down after we have migrated over, would quickly have us crying in a corner!
      You are absolutely right that AWS is much lower level than these other services and the trade off here is the big learning curve even for doing something relatively simple. We decided to go with AWS 1) because we are relatively sure about the fact that AWS will not end its services anytime soon and 2) the scalability offered will reduce the likelihood of having to go through these painful migration steps again.
      Having said that, AWS is heavy duty… lots of learning, lots of understanding… so the beginning is definitely not as easy… we’re hoping that it will pay off in the future though 🙂


      1. Did parse going away have any effect on how you approach the client aspect of your application or will you be complete with your transition once you have api’s in place for the back end? I’m hoping these blog posts include some information on the tools/stack/framework you use for the client development as well.

        I’m following along with you on your blog posts. I didn’t have any data to transfer over but I have gone ahead and created a small DynamoDB instance with some test data. Its funny because 6 months or so ago I was going to do everything with Amazon services until a friend of mine suggested I take a look at parse. I’m back to exactly where my previous journey with Amazon ended… a test database in DynamoDB. I intend to follow through all the way to having a small fully functioning application in Amazon, appery.io, and Appcelerator then make my final choice. I’m just a one man operation so the lure of taking some of the heavy lifting off my plate is pretty strong. I’m confident I’ve narrowed it down to one of those 3 choices.

        Thanks again for sharing! You guys rawk!


      2. Paul, sorry for the delay in response! We have fully moved over and released our app for both android and apple and that took up pretty much all of our very limited resources. I bet by now you have developed your app already! We would love to hear about it. As for us, we’d continue with the blog once we get some free cycles to help make it a little bit easier for others. Thanks for encouraging us!


  2. Im joining Paul question about client side. where or when did you uploaf the parse server to beanstalk? or did you not meant to do it?
    if (no) – what would you do with your mobile app? how would you talk with the server?
    else – can you write about it?


    1. Hi Ninashmit, We actually moved our entire app to AWS. We’re not using parse at all.. all the webhooks were converted to lambda. Our apps now interact directly with dynamo and S3 and we have Lambdas set up to run on put events for each to run the logic. Most of our (very limited) resources are tied up with active development right now. But we will write about it as soon as we get some free cycles!


  3. Apurv Tyagi

    After run the above node script the data is saved in the table 60record/minutes i.e very less.
    So is there any method to increase the speed of saved data.


    1. Hi Apurv, if you look at the code snippet under method 2 – line 53 sets the time interval at 500ms or half a second. you can always lessen this to whatever you want. Keep in mind though that it also depends on the dynamoDB write capacity that you’ve set for your tables.


    1. Hey Fernando, we had about 5-10k records. and yeah, while the calls are asynchronous, we’re deliberating making the import iterative to not exceed the DynamoDB read/write threshold.


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