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12 min read
Deploying a MERN App to AWS Elastic Beanstalk with CI/CD
Rakesh Potnuru

Deploying a MERN App to AWS Elastic Beanstalk with CI/CD

In the previous article "Automate MERN App Deployment with GitHub Actions CI/CD", we learned till pushing images to the docker hub. So far, you've done an excellent job! But that isn't enough; we now require a server that runs our containers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and should be accessible to anyone with an internet connection. It is not a good idea to set up your own server 😅. So we'll need to rent a server. Who will give us a rented server and how to set it up are what you will learn in this article.

Let's Get Started


  • Get source code from here if haven't followed previous tutorials in this series.
  • Read previous articles in this series so that you won't get confused.
  • AWS account.
  • All the AWS services we use in this tutorial are free but you need a credit/debit card to create an account.

Before we proceed, note that our super simple productivity-app doesn't need AWS. This is just for learning purposes.

aws over-engineering meme

⚠️ Warning: Don't forget to turn off any running instances, and environments as soon as you finish this tutorial to avoid getting billed.

What is AWS?

As I mentioned in the beginning, we need someone who will let us rent a server and that is what AWS is about. Not physically like a room and bunch of boxes but on the cloud means you can rent servers from anywhere in the world.

This is how it looks like if you set up your own servers physically 😂:

managing own servers meme

If you haven't been living under a rock, you've probably heard of AWS. It is an abbreviation for Amazon Web Services. AWS (by Amazon) offers a wide range of cloud computing services, such as computing, storage, database, analytics, machine learning, networking, mobile, developer tools, security, and enterprise applications. for all of your requirements, eliminating the need for you to set up your own servers. It provides a flexible and scalable infrastructure that can be tailored to each user's unique requirements, and it is widely regarded as one of the leading cloud platforms available today. Google Cloud (by Google) and Azure (by Microsoft) are both major competitors to AWS.

Big Brain Time 💡: If you are following from the beginning, in the first article "Let's build and deploy a full stack MERN web application", we deployed our frontend application on Netlify and backend on Heroku. Those are fine but most companies need IaaS (Infrastructure as a Server) over PaaS (Platform as a Server).

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) VS Platform as a Service (PaaS)

This image clearly shows the difference between Iaas and PaaS:

IaaS vs PaaS

Setting up NGINX

NGINX is a popular web server that is frequently used as a load balancer, reverse proxy, and HTTP cache. Consider it a traffic controller that manages traffic across multiple servers based on how busy a server is.

As a reverse proxy, NGINX serves as a go-between for the client and the server. When you (the client) send a request to the server, it is routed through the reverse proxy and then to the web server. This reverse proxy is useful in several ways: it can distribute requests across multiple servers, cache frequently-requested content, reduce response time, and protect against malicious requests.

If you want to learn more about NGINX, I would recommend reading "The NGINX Handbook" written by Farhan Hasin Chowdhury on freeCodeCamp.

Okay! Why do we care? Instead of deploying frontend and backend separately, we can simply use a load balancer like NGINX to combine both the frontend and backend into one web server, which can then distribute incoming requests to the appropriate server based on the type of request and server load. This simplifies the deployment process and helps to ensure better performance and scalability of the application.


Configuring NGINX

Open the project in your code editor. In the root, create a folder called nginx.

In that folder, create a file called nginx.conf and paste this code.

# Defining a server group called `client` that has one server in it called `client` on port `3000`. upstream client { server client:3000; } # Defining a server group called `server` that has one server in it called `server` on port `5000`. upstream server { server server:5000; } # Listening on port 80 and redirecting requests to the client and server. server { listen 80; listen [::]:80; proxy_http_version 1.1; proxy_set_header Upgrade $http_upgrade; proxy_set_header Connection 'upgrade'; proxy_set_header Host $host; proxy_cache_bypass $http_upgrade; location / { proxy_pass http://client; } location /server { rewrite /server/(.*) /$1 break; proxy_pass http://server; } }
  • The upstream directive is used to define the server groups, one for the client on port 3000 and another for the server on port 5000.
  • The server directive is used to define the server that listens on port 80 for incoming requests. The listen directive specifies the port and the proxy_http_version, proxy_set_header, and proxy_cache_bypass directives are used to configure the proxy settings.
  • The location directive is used to define the URL paths that are redirected to each server group. The first location / directive redirects all requests to the client server group. The second location /server directive matches any request with the path /server and uses the rewrite directive to remove /server from the path before redirecting to the server server group using the proxy_pass directive.

Even I'm using NGINX for the first time, so please read the article I mentioned above to clearly understand how to write NGINX config files.

Now, create Dockerfile in that same folder and paste this.

FROM nginx:stable-alpine RUN rm /etc/nginx/conf.d/* COPY ./nginx.conf /etc/nginx/conf.d/ CMD [ "nginx", "-g", "daemon off;" ]

Setting up AWS

We are going to use three AWS services:

  1. Elastic Beanstalk - A fully-managed service that makes it easy to deploy applications.
  2. EC2 - Elastic Compute is a computing service that offers scalable computing capacity. You can quickly start a virtual machine with your preferred configurations such as operating system, software, storage, and more.
  3. S3 Bucket - A highly scalable storage service. All of your app data will be stored here.

Only Elastic Beanstalk needs to be configured; the other two will be configured automatically.

So, go ahead and log in to your AWS management console.

Create a user

To begin, we must create a user who will manage cloud resources. Because we're automating the deployment with GitHub Actions, we need a way for Actions to modify our resources, such as deploying code to AWS, and that's what this user is for. Make sure to grant the appropriate permissions.

In the search bar, type "IAM" (Identity and Access Management) and click on Users under Access management.


Click on Add users and give your user a name -> click Next.

create user in IAM

In Set permissions select Attach policies directly -> check AdministratorAccess-AWSElasticBeanstalk -> click Next -> finally click Create user.

set permissions for user

Create and configure an application in Elastic Beanstalk

Again in the search bar, type "Elastic Beanstalk".

Click Create Application.

AWS Elastic Beanstalk

Give your application a name, leave Application tags blank, select "Docker" as Platform, and leave the rest default. Click Create application.

create application in elastic beanstalk

Congrats 🎊! Your application has been created. You can visit it by clicking the URL shown in the application environment. This is a sample application provided by EB.

sample application

Configure environment variables

Before we deploy our application we need to add environment variables in EB.

To do so, go to the application Configuration page and click Edit under the Software category.

adding environment variables

Scroll to the very bottom of the page -> under Environment variables and add the following env variables.

REACT_APP_BACKEND_URL = /server MONGODB_URI = your MongoDB URI TOKEN_KEY = random string EMAIL = email PASSWORD = password

That's it! It's now time to add the deployment step to our CI/CD pipeline.

Deploying MERN App on AWS with CI/CD

Open pipeline.yml and add this step right below pushing images to the docker hub step.

1 # This is the step that is deploying the application to Elastic Beanstalk. 2 - name: Deploy to Elastic Beanstalk 3 uses: einaregilsson/beanstalk-deploy@v21 4 with: 5 aws_access_key: ${{ secrets.AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID }} 6 aws_secret_key: ${{ secrets.AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY }} 7 application_name: ${{ secrets.EB_APP_NAME }} 8 environment_name: ${{ secrets.EB_ENV_NAME }} 9 region: ${{ secrets.EB_REGION }} 10 version_label: "version-${{ github.run_number }}" 11 deployment_package: docker-compose.yml
  • Here we are using a pre-defined GitHub action einaregilsson/beanstalk-deploy@v21 so that we don't need to write from scratch. There's nothing needed to explain, it's pretty straightforward.
  • Add AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID, AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY to GitHub secrets. You can get these from the IAM dashboard. Just click on the user you created and go to the Security credentials tab and copy from there.
  • EB_APP_NAME is your EB application name and EB_ENV_NAME is your application environment name (ends with "-env" in my case it is "Productivityapp-env").
  • EB_REGION is the region assigned to you.

elastic beanstalk region

Because docker-compose cannot read GitHub environment variables, we are now creating a second image with the word 'latest' at the end of the image tag instead of github.run_number. This is the final YAML file. (You can build a single image if you want, just remove the tag with github.run_number)

1# The name of the workflow. 2name: Build and Deploy 3 4# Run the workflow when code is pushed to the main branch 5on: 6 push: 7 branches: 8 - main 9 10# Set environment variables 11env: 12 MONGODB_URI: ${{ secrets.MONGODB_URI }} 13 TOKEN_KEY: ${{ secrets.TOKEN_KEY }} 14 EMAIL: ${{ secrets.EMAIL }} 15 PASSWORD: ${{ secrets.PASSWORD }} 16 17# This is the workflow that is being run. 18jobs: 19 build-and-deploy: 20 # This is telling GitHub to run the workflow on the latest version of Ubuntu. 21 runs-on: ubuntu-latest 22 steps: 23 # Checkout the code from the GitHub repository 24 - name: Checkout code 25 uses: actions/checkout@v3 26 27 # Install dependencies and run tests for the client application 28 - name: Install and Test Client 29 working-directory: ./client 30 run: | 31 npm install 32 npm run test 33 34 # Install dependencies, export environment variables to be used by application and run tests for the server application 35 - name: Install and Test Server 36 working-directory: ./server 37 run: | 38 npm install 39 export MONGODB_URI=$MONGODB_URI 40 export TOKEN_KEY=$TOKEN_KEY 41 export EMAIL=$EMAIL 42 export PASSWORD=$PASSWORD 43 npm run test 44 45 # Build a Docker image for the client application 46 - name: Build Client Docker Image 47 working-directory: ./client 48 # Build image with tag rakeshpotnuru/productivity-app:client 49 run: | 50 docker build -t rakeshpotnuru/productivity-app:client-${{github.run_number}} -t rakeshpotnuru/productivity-app:client-latest . 51 52 # Build a Docker image for the server application 53 - name: Build Server Docker Image 54 working-directory: 55 ./server 56 # Build image with tag rakeshpotnuru/productivity-app:server 57 run: | 58 docker build -t rakeshpotnuru/productivity-app:server-${{github.run_number}} -t rakeshpotnuru/productivity-app:server-latest . 59 60 # Build a Docker image for the NGINX reverse proxy 61 - name: Build NGINX Docker Image 62 working-directory: ./nginx 63 # Build image with tag rakeshpotnuru/productivity-app:nginx 64 run: | 65 docker build -t rakeshpotnuru/productivity-app:nginx-${{github.run_number}} -t rakeshpotnuru/productivity-app:nginx-latest . 66 67 # Login to Docker Hub using credentials from repository secrets 68 - name: Log in to Docker Hub 69 uses: docker/login-action@v2 70 with: 71 username: ${{ secrets.DOCKER_USERNAME }} 72 password: ${{ secrets.DOCKER_PASSWORD }} 73 74 # Push the Docker images to Docker Hub 75 - name: Push Docker Images to Docker Hub 76 run: | 77 docker push rakeshpotnuru/productivity-app:client-${{github.run_number}} 78 docker push rakeshpotnuru/productivity-app:server-${{github.run_number}} 79 docker push rakeshpotnuru/productivity-app:nginx-${{github.run_number}} 80 docker push rakeshpotnuru/productivity-app:client-latest 81 docker push rakeshpotnuru/productivity-app:server-latest 82 docker push rakeshpotnuru/productivity-app:nginx-latest 83 84 # This is the step that is deploying the application to Elastic Beanstalk. 85 - name: Deploy to Elastic Beanstalk 86 uses: einaregilsson/beanstalk-deploy@v21 87 with: 88 aws_access_key: ${{ secrets.AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID }} 89 aws_secret_key: ${{ secrets.AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY }} 90 application_name: ${{ secrets.EB_APP_NAME }} 91 environment_name: ${{ secrets.EB_ENV_NAME }} 92 region: ${{ secrets.EB_REGION }} 93 version_label: "version-${{ github.run_number }}" 94 deployment_package: docker-compose.yml


There are two ways you can provide a package for deployment package - 1. Zip file or 2. docker-compose file. Since we are pushing images to the docker hub we will use the docker-compose.yml file.

Rename the previous docker-compose.yml file as and create a new docker-compose.yml file. Paste this code.

1version: "3.8" 2 3services: 4 nginx: 5 image: rakeshpotnuru/productivity-app:nginx-latest 6 restart: always 7 depends_on: 8 - client 9 - server 10 ports: 11 - "80:80" 12 13 client: 14 image: rakeshpotnuru/productivity-app:client-latest 15 environment: 16 - CHOKIDAR_USEPOLLING=true 17 - REACT_APP_BACKEND_URL=${REACT_APP_BACKEND_URL} 18 19 server: 20 image: rakeshpotnuru/productivity-app:server-latest 21 environment: 22 - MONGODB_URI=${MONGODB_URI} 23 - TOKEN_KEY=${TOKEN_KEY} 24 - EMAIL=${EMAIL} 25 - PASSWORD=${PASSWORD}
  • Instead of re-building Docker images with Dockerfile, we pull pre-built images from Docker Hub. And those environment variables are derived from variables we previously defined in the EB application environment.

That's all! Push the code to GitHub and allow all checks in the GitHub Actions workflow to pass. You can see your application in action 🎉🚀🤩.

login page of deployed application

main page of deployed application

Terminating the Environment

turn off aws instance meme

Don't forget to terminate the environment after finishing this tutorial if you no longer use that application.

To terminate, go to Environments -> select the environment you want to terminate -> click Actions -> click Terminate environment. This will also terminate any instances that were created by your application.

terminating elastic beanstalk environment

If you've made it this far from "Let's build and deploy a full stack MERN web application", kudos. Give yourself a shoulder pat.

This is not the end of the story. Many exciting articles are on the way! Subscribe to the newsletter for more - Onwards and Upwards 🚀!



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