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Shadow Terminology

Device Shadow Service Document

The Device Shadow Service Document is a JSON document maintained by the Shadow service in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud. It is used to store and retrieve current state information for a device.

Example document:

"state" : {
"desired" : {
"color" : "RED"
"reported" : {
"color" : "GREEN"
"metadata" : {
"desired" : {
"color" : {
"timestamp" : 12345
"reported" : {
"color" : {
"timestamp" : 12345
"version" : 10,
"clientToken" : "UniqueClientToken",
"timestamp": 123456789

Device Shadow Service Document Properties

A device's shadow service document contains the following properties:


The desired state of the device (thing). Applications can write to this portion of the document to update the state of a thing without having to directly connect to a thing. An example state as shown above is "color": "RED".


The reported state of the thing is the current state. A thing writes to this section of the document to report a new state.


Information about the data stored in the state section, such as timestamps (in Epoch time) for each attribute in the state section. This enables you to determine when these sections were updated.


Indicates when the message was transmitted by AWS IoT. By using the timestamp in the message and the timestamps for individual attributes in the desired or reported section, a thing can determine how old an updated item is, even if it doesn't implement an internal clock.


A string which is unique to the device and that enables you to associate responses with requests in an MQTT environment.


The document version is incremented with each document update. It is used to ensure the version of the document being updated is the most recent.

Shadow Update

A Shadow Update operation creates a device's shadow (if it doesn't exist), or updates the contents of a device's shadow service document. Any content change is stored with a timestamp to show when it was last updated. Messages are sent to all subscribers with the difference between the desired and the reported state (delta). Things or apps that receive these messages can perform an action based on the difference between the desired and reported states. For example, a device can update its state to the desired state, or an app can update its UI to show the change in the device's state.

Shadow Get

A Shadow Get operation retrieves the latest state stored in the device's shadow. For example, at startup, a device connects to AWS IoT Core to retrieve configuration data and the last state of operation. This method returns the full JSON document, including metadata.

Shadow Delete

A Shadow Delete operation deletes a device's shadow, including all of its content. This removes the JSON document from the database. Once a Device Shadow has been deleted, it can't be restored, but a new Device Shadow (with the same name) can be created.

Shadow Delta Callback

A Shadow Delta Callback returns the Shadow Delta State, a virtual state that contains the difference between the desired and reported states. Fields in the desired section that do not match the reported section are included in the Delta. Fields that are in the reported section and not in the desired section are not included in the delta. When a device's shadow is updated, and this results in a Shadow document with different desired and reported states, a message is published to the topic $aws/things/thing-name/shadow/update/delta.

This message contains only the difference between the desired and reported sections of the device's shadow document. Upon receiving this message, the device should decide whether to make the requested change. In the Shadow library, the delta state can be retrieved by registering a Shadow Delta Callback.

Shadow Updated Callback

A Shadow Updated Callback returns a state document to this topic from AWS IoT whenever an update to the shadow is successfully performed:


The JSON document will contain two primary nodes: previous and current. The previous node will contain the contents of the full shadow document before the update was performed while current will contain the full shadow document after the update is successfully applied. When the shadow is updated (created) for the first time, the previous node will contain null. In the Shadow library, the updated state document can be retrieved by registering a Shadow Updated Callback.

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