Alexa skills are pretty fun to create, but I don't like how messy it is. There is no really easy way to test the skill without using a test harness to simulate an event and lambda's seem too much like magic 🧙♀️.
My other problem is the UI to create an skill. They've put a new front end on recently but I'm not sure how many developers they have consulted about it. Most people I know use shortcuts wherever they can. The UI is good for beginners but once you have made a few it gets to repetitive and copy and pasty.
Also to make a skill in all the English speaking languages requires loads of manual process :(
Also it's stressful to make sure that all the slots are correct on the custom skill and on the definition in the UI.
- To encapsulate the parts of the process that are mostly the same and automate.
- Include a testing framework that gives you a high level of confidence in all scenarios of the skill
- No interaction required with the alexa skills kit UI.
How to get there
There are 2 parts to this. One creating and deploying the endpoint Alexa will talk to and two setting up the Alexa skills kit config that will be downloaded to the user.
Tools we will be using.
- Alexa App -
an abstraction to create valid JSON responses alexa will understand
- ASK (Alexa Skills kit) CLI - to create, deploy and submit the skill for certification instead of using the alexa skills kit UI
- Now - server to deploy the logic for our app.
Creating a repeatable process
For this to work everything has to be automated with ideally zero configuration to get it up and running. The first step is to create a boilerplate to base all the common code.
My first go at the code is here: https://github.com/peterjgrainger/alexa-skill-boilerplate
How to get it.
On my TODO list is to write some more documentation on how to use this thing but until then:
Make a new repo to store your skill
Lets assume you've called your repo
Copy the repo
Make an exact copy of the repo https://github.com/peterjgrainger/alexa-skill-boilerplate
navigate to the folder and run npm to install dependences
cd awesome-skill npm install
This will take a while, get some ☕️
How to use it
Any kind of skill can be created with this method but the example that comes with the kit is a custom skill, so we can start with that one.
Attempt to deploy the example skill.
To make sure all went well deploy this hello world skill
Log in to AWS and now
You will need to log into amazon using your normal details (if you have already registered, otherwise you will have to sign up)
Now requires an email address for the account, you will need to verify the address before continuing.
npm run init
Deploy to AWS developer account and now account.
npm run deploy
Open the testing page
npm run ask:testing
Alexa, ask hello world I would like to say hello to the world and bob alexa should respond
Hello to you bob
That's it. You've successfully created an alexa skill. See below for how to make it your own.
Make your own skill.
There are some key parts to the skill that need updated.
Using this method creates an app deployed on now.sh. After 30 mins of no requests it will freeze and go to sleep. To avoid this happening you can set up an automated ping request in new relic. It's in the synthetics section.
An image to sum up your skill. The image gets people using your app, no matter how good your skill is if your image is crap no one will use it.
- Big image - must be size 512x512 and be named big-image.png
- small image - must be size 108x108 and be named small-image.png
put both of these files in the project under the folder
Information that is displayed on the skill marketplace. This details what the skill is and how to use it. Should all be pretty self explanatory by the names. Make sure the app name is lowercase with no special characters.
Pick a unique name for the app. This ensures a fixed address to access the skill once it has gone live. Set
alias to the same value e.g.
my-awesome-unique-name. Your skill will go live with the address
Not required, but it's good practice to update the
This is the fun part. Creating the logic for the skill that responds to requests.
Alter the response to a friendly welcome
Built in intents and custom intents. There is an example in the
src/intents/hello-world for a custom type. See
src/intents/stop for an example of a built in type. See alexa app documentation for more information on how to write your intents.
There are several built in slot types. See the stop intent
src/skill-definition/intents/stop for details on how to use a built in amazon slot type and
src/skill-definition/intents/hello-world for how to use an custom slot type. Custom slots are
src/skill-definition/models/slots/slot-types for any custom slot types. Make sure any new types are of the same format. If you have no custom slots remove all the types.