Serverless on Heroku License: GPL v3

Heroku is a webservice where users can run simple web applications for free for a limited number of hours per month. The obvious approach would be to run Functions as a Service to match resource supply from the server side and resource requirement from the end users’ side. Such an implementation of a serverless application “sleeps” as long as there is no need for it. Once a user requests the function’s results, the function is started and consumes only resources during its execution. However, Heroku does not offer the option to deploy serverless applications off-the-shelf to bill the customer per second.

In the following tutorial, we describe a way on how to use Heroku’s one-off dynos, which are usually not addressable via HTTP requests, to process Functions as a Service with arguments provided via environment variables.

To avoid issues that your machine behaves differently than expected and free you from the hassle of the little system setup, you can use our Katacoda tutorial for which you only need a webbrowser and a Heroku account. However, bear in mind that Katacoda is not the fastest and you have to pay attention that your interactions with the platform are executed correctly.

Table of Contents

  1. Prerequisites
  2. Architecture
  3. Create One-off Dyno for Serverless Processing
  4. Trigger HTTP Request
  5. Retrieve Log Session
  6. Use With Frontend
  7. Copyright and License


To complete this tutorial, you will need:


We want to create a serverless function on Heroku which only starts and executes some code when it is requested. Therefore, it should not consume any resources when it is not used.

Applications on Heroku are managed within app containers which are called dynos. Usually, each component of an application runs in such an isolated dyno. Scaling the application horizontally means increasing the number of dynos which run the same component. As the different dyno types offer different computing performance, vertical scaling means that the types of the dynos is changed.

The dynos can run in different configurations. One such configuration, the one-off dyno, runs detached from other dynos and runs only as long as it executes a task. One-off dynos have therefore the required functionality for a Function as a Service. However, one-off dynos are not addressable via HTTP requests and are usually attached to a terminal.

We want to fire an external post request via Heroku’s Platform API to start a one-off dyno which is then not bound to a visible terminal. A simple Python script on the dyno should read the environment variables provided by the post request. These environment variables can be considered as the function’s arguments. If the functions return value is required, it can be read from the function logs.

To show that the caller of the function does not have to be in the same network or network region, we host a static website on GitHub which you can use to generate calls to your own one-off dyno. This static website creates a post request to invoke your one-off dyno and shows the logs.

Executing the tutorial does not result in any additional cost as a Heroku account does not cost any fee. Heroku offers some free computing resources which should be sufficient for this tutorial. However, if you request a very high amount of computing resources, be aware that Heroku might charge you some fees.

Create One-off Dyno for Serverless Processing

The heart of our serverless application is a one-off dyno which only starts and executes some code when it is requested.

Required Files

The folder one-off-dyno includes a quite minimal setup required for a one-off-dyno.

The following paragraphs describe on how to implement these files and run them as a one-off dyno on Heroku.

Our Function

The following function in pseudocode is an enhanced “hello world” version and should be run as a service. If we supply a NAME, it greets the name. Otherwise, it greets the world.

function hello_world(NAME)
    if (NAME is set and non-empty) then
        name = NAME;
        name = 'World';
    end if
    return 'Hello ' + name + '!';
end function

The following Python implementation of the previous function does not use traditional function parameters. Instead, we have to request the values from the environment variables. We can also not use return statements and have to print the results to the console and read them from the logs later on. If we do not need any return values, we can even omit to read the function logs.

import os

if 'NAME' in os.environ and len(os.environ['NAME'].strip()) > 0:
  name = os.environ['NAME'].strip()
  name = 'World'

print('Hello ' + name + '!')

We add the Python implementation with the required import statement (see example for reference), under the name to the new folder example-app for the Heroku app.

Upload Code to Heroku

For the interaction between our local machine and the Heroku platform, we use the Herkou CLI. The CLI allows us to perform most of the required interactions with the platform from the local command line.

A Procfile on Heroku is a text file which declares the dynos configurations and tells the platform which commands to execute on the dyno’s startup. We have to create a Procfile in the folder example-app to tell Heroku what to do when we try to start our one-off dyno.

The syntax of a Procfile is quite simple: It should be called Procfile and after an identifier, it tells Heroku what to execute on the commandline. Our identifier is serverless, this is how our one-off dyno can be reached later on. We then tell Heroku to run our newly created Python script As our Python script is finite, the dyno will be a one-off dyno.


serverless: python

Do not forget to also create an empty requirements.txt in the app folder.

We now create an application in our Heroku account. At first, we have to initialise a Git repository with the programme code as Heroku usually manages deployments with Git. We do this by simply initialising a Git repo in example-app and then adding and committing the code to it.

$ cd example-app
$ git init
$ git add .
$ git commit -m "Initial commit"

Since the names of all Heroku apps are in a global namespace, lots of names are already taken and we cannot suggest a name. The Heroku CLI can be used to easily create a Heroku app for an initialised Git repository with an available name. Besides an app with a random name on the Heroku platform, this command results in creating a Heroku remote for the Git repository, i.e. a remote version of the repository on Heroku’s servers.

$ heroku create

For ease of access, we add the newly created app’s name to an environment variable called $APP_NAME.

$ APP_NAME=<YOUR_APP_NAME> # Replace <YOUR_APP_NAME> with name of your newly created app

When having a Git repository with the relevant programme code and a linked app on the Heroku platform, you just have to push the code to Heroku.

$ git push heroku main # Depending on your git version, main should be replaced with master

Read more about pushing code to Heroku in Heroku’s Dev Center.

Even though Heroku tries to find an appropriate buildpack and deploys the programme code, it cannot be reached via the web address of this app as only dynos of the type web can receive HTTP requests. However, you can already try to call the one-off dyno via the Heroku CLI: We just have to tell Heroku to run the dyno which we defined in the Procfile.

$ heroku run serverless

If you implement the function from above, you will see Hello World! on the console as we did not set any environment variable.

Trigger HTTP Requests

Subsequently, we will explain how the request to trigger an HTTP request to the one-off dyno is composed. If you already feel confident enough with the Heroku Platform API, you can skip this section and proceed with the final request.

The Heroku Platform API gives the option to trigger service like the ones of the Heroku CLI via typical HTTP REST calls. It therefore frees authenticated entities from the need of an installed Heroku CLI and offers an option to create dynos with a POST request, which can be used to start a one-off dyno. We just have to insert the name of the app for $APP_NAME, which we exported as an environment variable already.

$ curl -X POST$APP_NAME/dynos

This POST request on its own, however, would not succeed. We have to specify the API’s version in the header.

$ curl -X POST$APP_NAME/dynos \
-H "Accept: application/vnd.heroku+json; version=3"

Additionally, we have to authenticate the caller (ourselves). One easy way of authentication is through an API key which we get from the Heroku CLI. We directly store it in the variable $TOKEN which we can then use as a Bearer token.

$ TOKEN=$(heroku auth:token)
$ curl -X POST$APP_NAME/dynos \
-H "Accept: application/vnd.heroku+json; version=3" \
-H "Authorization: Bearer $TOKEN"

However, this request still does not specify which dyno to start. Similar to the command we ran on the Heroku CLI, we also want to inform Heroku that it should run a specific command. The command should be the dyno defined in the Procfile: serverless. As we pass these data in JSON format, we also have to add this information to the header.

$ curl -X POST$APP_NAME/dynos \
-H "Accept: application/vnd.heroku+json; version=3" \
-H "Authorization: Bearer $TOKEN" \
-H "Content-Type: application/json" \
-d '{
  "command": "serverless",
  "type": "run"

Finally, we can also set the environment variables in the body of the request and can therefore achieve arguments of the function.

Final Request and Response


$ curl -X POST$APP_NAME/dynos \
-H "Accept: application/vnd.heroku+json; version=3" \
-H "Authorization: Bearer $TOKEN" \
-H "Content-Type: application/json" \
-d '{
  "command": "serverless",
  "type": "run",
  "env": {
    "NAME": "Daniela"


    "name": "<DYNO_NAME>",

The logs from the execution is however not included in the response of the request. To get the resulting logs, we have to request a specific URL for them. The prior response will include the name of the dyno under the JSON key name in the response, as well as additional information about the created dyno.

To make the following commands easier to execute, export the returned dyno name under the key name in the response object to an environment variable called $DYNO_NAME.

$ DYNO_NAME=<DYNO_NAME> # Replace <DYNO_NAME> with name of newly created dyno

Retrieve Log Session

When we have invoked the command on Heroku, the API will respond with a JSON object containing the name of the dyno in which our command is being executed (see above).

To stream the log generated by the dyno, we can create a log session that will connect to the log stream of the specified dyno and stream the result. We include the parameters "source": "app" and "tail": true to specify that we only want the logs generated by the command itself and that the ongoing logs should be streamed.

For passing our $DYNO_NAME environment variable as a JSON string, we need to surround it with single quotes surrounded by double quotes.


$ curl -n -X POST$APP_NAME/log-sessions \
-H "Content-Type: application/json" \
-H "Authorization: Bearer $TOKEN" \
-H "Accept: application/vnd.heroku+json; version=3" \
-d '{
  "dyno": "'"$DYNO_NAME"'",
  "source": "app",
  "tail": true


  "logplex_url": "<LOGPLEX_URL>",

The response from creating the log session will include a URL to the log session, specified under the key logplex_url. You can fetch this URL with curl and it does not require additional authentication. To ensure a correct output from calling the logplex URL on different devices, remember to put quotation marks (“ “) around the URL.


$ curl "<LOGPLEX_URL>" # Replace <LOGPLEX_URL> with value under key "logplex_url" in previous JSON response


app[<DYNO_NAME>]: Hello Daniela!

If you cannot get such a response, proceed to the next section as it will work with our frontend implementation.

Use With Frontend

As the caller does not have to be in the same network or network region, we implemented an example form on GitHub pages which you can use to try out your one-off dyno and see how Heroku can be used to implement serverless Functions as a Service. You just have to provide the name of your Heroku app, your Heroku API key, the name of your dyno and the name which should be used in the Python function above. It will return the logs of the app in which you can see the return value.

You can also see a description on how we managed to implement the calling site of the one-off dyno. This approach can be used to trigger a function which runs independently of the calling service and process its result later on.

Thank You

Thank you for reading this tutorial !

If you have valuable feedback you want to share, create a comment on this issue to inform us. If you have any questions or other thoughts, do not be afraid to create a new issue.

Copyright © 2021, Axel Pettersson and Felix Seifert

This tutorial is free. It is licensed under the GNU GPL version 3. That means you are free to use this tutorial for any purpose; free to study and modify this tutorial to suit your needs; and free to share this tutorial or your modifications with anyone. If you share this tutorial or your modifications, you must grant the recipients the same freedoms. To be more specific: you must share the texts and the source code under the same license. For details see