Using Amazon ECS Exec for debugging - Amazon Elastic Container Service

Using Amazon ECS Exec for debugging

With Amazon ECS Exec, you can directly interact with containers without needing to first interact with the host container operating system, open inbound ports, or manage SSH keys. You can use ECS Exec to run commands in or get a shell to a container running on an Amazon EC2 instance or on AWS Fargate. This makes it easier to collect diagnostic information and quickly troubleshoot errors. For example, in a development context, you can use ECS Exec to easily interact with various process in your containers and troubleshoot your applications. And, in production scenarios, you can use it to gain break-glass access to your containers to debug issues.

You can run commands in a running Linux container using ECS Exec from the Amazon ECS API, AWS Command Line Interface (AWS CLI), AWS SDKs, or the AWS Copilot CLI. For details on using ECS Exec, as well as a video walkthrough, using the AWS Copilot CLI, see the Copilot Github documentation.

You can also use ECS Exec to maintain stricter access control policies and audit container access. By selectively turning on this feature, you can control who can run commands and on which tasks they can run those commands. With a log of each command and their output, you can use ECS Exec to audit which tasks were run and you can use CloudTrail to audit who accessed a container.


ECS Exec makes use of AWS Systems Manager (SSM) Session Manager to establish a connection with the running container and uses AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) policies to control access to running commands in a running container. This is made possible by bind-mounting the necessary SSM agent binaries into the container. The Amazon ECS or AWS Fargate agent is responsible for starting the SSM core agent inside the container alongside your application code. For more information, see Systems Manager Session Manager.

You can audit which user accessed the container using AWS CloudTrail and log each command (and their output) to Amazon S3 or Amazon CloudWatch Logs. To encrypt data between the local client and container with your own encryption key, you must provide the AWS Key Management Service (AWS KMS) key.

Considerations for using ECS Exec

For this topic, you should be familiar with the following aspects involved with using ECS Exec:

  • ECS Exec is only supported for Linux containers and the following Windows Amazon ECS Optimized AMIs (with the container agent version 1.56 or later):

    • Amazon ECS-optimized Windows Server 2022 Full AMI

    • Amazon ECS-optimized Windows Server 2022 Core AMI

    • Amazon ECS-optimized Windows Server 2019 Full AMI

    • Amazon ECS-optimized Windows Server 2019 Core AMI

    • Amazon ECS-optimized Windows Server 2004 Core AMI

    • Amazon ECS-optimized Windows Server 20H2 Core AMI

  • ECS Exec is not currently supported using the AWS Management Console.

  • If you are using interface Amazon VPC endpoints with Amazon ECS, you must create the interface Amazon VPC endpoints for Systems Manager Session Manager. For more information, see Create the Systems Manager endpoints.

  • You can't enable ECS Exec for existing tasks. It can only be enabled for new tasks.

  • When a user runs commands on a container using ECS Exec, these commands are run as the root user. The SSM agent and its child processes run as root even when you specify a user ID for the container.

  • The ECS Exec session has a default idle timeout time of 20 minutes. For more information, see see Specify an idle session timeout value in the AWS Systems Manager User Guide.

  • The SSM agent requires that the container file system is able to be written to in order to create the required directories and files. Therefore, making the root file system read-only using the readonlyRootFilesystem task definition parameter, or any other method, isn't supported.

  • Users can run all of the commands that are available within the container context. The following actions might result in orphaned and zombie processes: terminating the main process of the container, terminating the command agent, and deleting dependencies. To cleanup zombie processes, we recommend adding the initProcessEnabled flag to your task definition.

  • While starting SSM sessions outside of the execute-command action is possible, this results in the sessions not being logged and being counted against the session limit. We recommend limiting this access by denying the ssm:start-session action using an IAM policy. For more information, see Limiting access to the Start Session action.

  • ECS Exec will use some CPU and memory. You'll want to accommodate for that when specifying the CPU and memory resource allocations in your task definition.

Prerequisites for using ECS Exec

Before you start using ECS Exec, make sure you that you have completed these actions:

  • Install and configure the AWS CLI. For more information, see AWS CLI.

  • Install Session Manager plugin for the AWS CLI. For more information, see Install the Session Manager plugin for the AWS CLI.

  • ECS Exec has version requirements depending on whether your tasks are hosted on Amazon EC2 or AWS Fargate:

    • If you're using Amazon EC2, you must use an Amazon ECS optimized AMI that was released after January 20th, 2021, with an agent version of 1.50.2 or greater. For more information, see Amazon ECS optimized AMIs.

    • If you're using AWS Fargate, you must use platform version 1.4.0 or higher. For more information, see AWS Fargate platform versions.

Enabling and using ECS Exec

IAM permissions required for ECS Exec

The ECS Exec feature requires a task IAM role to grant containers the permissions needed for communication between the managed SSM agent (execute-command agent) and the SSM service. For more information, see Amazon ECS task IAM role. You should add the following permissions to a task IAM role and include the task IAM role in your task definition. For more information, see Adding and Removing IAM Policies.

Use the following policy for your task IAM role to add the required SSM permissions.

{ "Version": "2012-10-17", "Statement": [ { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": [ "ssmmessages:CreateControlChannel", "ssmmessages:CreateDataChannel", "ssmmessages:OpenControlChannel", "ssmmessages:OpenDataChannel" ], "Resource": "*" } ] }

Optional task definition changes

If you set the task definition parameter initProcessEnabled to true, this starts the init process inside the container, which removes any zombie SSM agent child processes found. The following provides an example.

{ "taskRoleArn": "ecsTaskRole", "networkMode": "awsvpc", "requiresCompatibilities": [ "EC2", "FARGATE" ], "executionRoleArn": "ecsTaskExecutionRole", "memory": ".5 gb", "cpu": ".25 vcpu", "containerDefinitions": [ { "name": "amazon-linux", "image": "amazonlinux:latest", "essential": true, "command": ["sleep","3600"], "linuxParameters": { "initProcessEnabled": true } } ], "family": "ecs-exec-task" }

Enabling ECS Exec for your tasks and services

You can enable the ECS Exec feature for your services and standalone tasks by specifying the --enable-execute-command flag when using one of the following AWS CLI commands: create-service, update-service, start-task, or run-task.

For example, if you run the following command, the ECS Exec feature is enabled for a newly created service. For more information about creating services, see create-service.

aws ecs create-service \ --cluster cluster-name \ --task-definition task-definition-name \ --enable-execute-command \ --service-name service-name --desired-count 1

After you have enabled ECS Exec for a task, you can run the following command to confirm the task is ready to be used. If the lastStatus property of the ExecuteCommandAgent is listed as RUNNING and the enableExecuteCommand property is set to true, then your task is ready.

aws ecs describe-tasks \ --cluster cluster-name \ --tasks task-id

The following output snippet is an example of what you might see.

{ "tasks": [ { ... "containers": [ { ... "managedAgents": [ { "lastStartedAt": "2021-03-01T14:49:44.574000-06:00", "name": "ExecuteCommandAgent", "lastStatus": "RUNNING" } ] } ], ... "enableExecuteCommand": true, ... } ] }

Running commands using ECS Exec

After you have confirmed the ExecuteCommandAgent is running, you can open an interactive shell on your container using the following command. If your task contains multiple containers, you must specify the container name using the --container flag. Amazon ECS only supports initiating interactive sessions, so you must use the --interactive flag.

The following command will run an interactive /bin/sh command against a container named container-name for a task with an id of task-id.

aws ecs execute-command --cluster cluster-name \ --task task-id \ --container container-name \ --interactive \ --command "/bin/sh"

Logging and Auditing using ECS Exec

Enabling logging and auditing in your tasks and services

Amazon ECS provides a default configuration for logging commands run using ECS Exec by sending logs to CloudWatch Logs using the awslogs log driver that's configured in your task definition. If you want to provide a custom configuration, the AWS CLI supports a --configuration flag for both the create-cluster and update-cluster commands. It’s also important to know that the container image requires script and cat to be installed in order to have command logs uploaded correctly to Amazon S3 or CloudWatch Logs. For more information about creating clusters, see create-cluster.


This configuration only handles the logging of the execute-command session. It doesn't affect logging of your application.

The following example creates a service and then logs the output to your CloudWatch Logs LogGroup named cloudwatch-log-group-name and your Amazon S3 bucket named s3-bucket-name.

You must use an AWS KMS customer managed key to encrypt the log group when you set the CloudWatchEncryptionEnabled option to true. For information about how to encrypt the log group, see Encrypt log data in CloudWatch Logs using AWS Key Management Service, in the Amazon CloudWatch Logs User Guide.

aws ecs create-cluster \ --cluster-name cluster-name \ --configuration executeCommandConfiguration="{ \ kmsKeyId=string, \ logging=OVERRIDE, \ logConfiguration={ \ cloudWatchLogGroupName=cloudwatch-log-group-name, \ cloudWatchEncryptionEnabled=true, \ s3BucketName=s3-bucket-name, \ s3EncryptionEnabled=true, \ s3KeyPrefix=demo \ } \ }"

The logging property determines the behavior of the logging capability of ECS Exec:

  • NONE: logging is disabled

  • DEFAULT: logs are sent to the configured awslogs driver (If the driver isn't configured, then no log is saved.)

  • OVERRIDE: logs are sent to the provided Amazon CloudWatch Logs LogGroup, Amazon S3 bucket, or both

IAM permissions required for Amazon CloudWatch Logs or Amazon S3 Logging

To enable logging, the Amazon ECS task role that's referenced in your task definition needs to have additional permissions. These additional permissions can be added as an inline policy to the task role. They are different depending on if you direct your logs to Amazon CloudWatch Logs or Amazon S3.

Amazon CloudWatch Logs

The following example inline policy adds the required Amazon CloudWatch Logs permissions.

{ "Version": "2012-10-17", "Statement": [ { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": [ "logs:DescribeLogGroups" ], "Resource": "*" }, { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": [ "logs:CreateLogStream", "logs:DescribeLogStreams", "logs:PutLogEvents" ], "Resource": "arn:aws:logs:region:account-id:log-group:/aws/ecs/cloudwatch-log-group-name:*" } ] }
Amazon S3

The following example inline policy adds the required Amazon S3 permissions.

{ "Version": "2012-10-17", "Statement": [ { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": [ "s3:GetBucketLocation" ], "Resource": "*" }, { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": [ "s3:GetEncryptionConfiguration" ], "Resource": "arn:aws:s3:::s3-bucket-name" }, { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": [ "s3:PutObject" ], "Resource": "arn:aws:s3:::s3-bucket-name/*" } ] }

IAM permissions required for encryption using your own AWS KMS key (KMS key)

By default, the data transferred between your local client and the container uses TLS 1.2 encryption that AWS provides. To further encrypt data using your own KMS key, you must create a KMS key and add the kms:Decrypt permission to your task IAM role. This permission is used by your container to decrypt the data. For more information about creating a KMS key, see Creating keys.

You would add the following inling policy to your task IAM role which requires the AWS KMS permissions. For more information, see IAM permissions required for ECS Exec.

{ "Version": "2012-10-17", "Statement": [ { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": [ "kms:Decrypt" ], "Resource": "kms-key-arn" } ] }

For the data to be encrypted using your own KMS key, the user or group using the execute-command action must be granted the kms:GenerateDataKey permission.

The following example policy for your user or group contains the required permission to use your own KMS key. You must specify the Amazon Resource Name (ARN) of your KMS key.

{ "Version": "2012-10-17", "Statement": [ { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": [ "kms:GenerateDataKey" ], "Resource": "kms-key-arn" } ] }

Using IAM policies to limit access to ECS Exec

You can limit user access to the execute-command API action by using one or more of the following IAM policy condition keys:

  • aws:ResourceTag/clusterTagKey

  • ecs:ResourceTag/clusterTagKey

  • aws:ResourceTag/taskTagKey

  • ecs:ResourceTag/taskTagKey

  • ecs:container-name

  • ecs:cluster

  • ecs:task

  • ecs:enable-execute-command

With the following example IAM policy, users can run commands in containers that are running within tasks with a tag that has an environment key and development value and in a cluster that's named cluster-name.

{ "Version": "2012-10-17", "Statement": [ { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": "ecs:ExecuteCommand", "Resource": "arn:aws:ecs:region:aws-account-id:task/cluster-name/*", "Condition": { "StringEquals": { "ecs:ResourceTag/environment": "development" } } } ] }

With the following IAM policy example, users can't use the execute-command API when the container name is production-app.

{ "Version": "2012-10-17", "Statement": [ { "Effect": "Deny", "Action": [ "ecs:ExecuteCommand" ], "Resource": "*", "Condition": { "StringEquals": { "ecs:container-name": "production-app" } } } ] }

With the following IAM policy, users can only launch tasks when ECS Exec is disabled.

{ "Version": "2012-10-17", "Statement": [ { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": [ "ecs:RunTask", "ecs:StartTask", "ecs:CreateService", "ecs:UpdateService" ], "Resource": "*", "Condition": { "StringEquals": { "ecs:enable-execute-command": "false" } } } ] }

Because the execute-command API action contains only task and cluster resources in a request, only cluster and task tags are evaluated.

For more information about IAM policy condition keys, see Actions, resources, and condition keys for Amazon Elastic Container Service in the Service Authorization Reference.

Limiting access to the Start Session action

While starting SSM sessions on your container outside of ECS Exec is possible, this could potentially result in the sessions not being logged. Sessions started outside of ECS Exec also count against the session quota. We recommend limiting this access by denying the ssm:start-session action directly for your Amazon ECS tasks using an IAM policy. You can deny access to all Amazon ECS tasks or to specific tasks based on the tags used.

The following is an example IAM policy that denies access to the ssm:start-session action for tasks in all Regions with a specified cluster name. You can optionally include a wildcard with the cluster-name.

{ "Version": "2012-10-17", "Statement": [ { "Effect": "Deny", "Action": "ssm:StartSession", "Resource": "arn:aws:ecs:*:111122223333:task/cluster-name/*" } ] }

The following is an example IAM policy that denies access to the ssm:start-session action on resources in all Regions tagged with tag key Task-Tag-Key and tag value Exec-Task.

{ "Version": "2012-10-17", "Statement": [ { "Effect": "Deny", "Action": "ssm:StartSession", "Resource": "*", "Condition": { "StringEquals": { "aws:ResourceTag/Task-Tag-Key": "Exec-Task" } } } ] }

Troubleshooting issues with ECS Exec

The following are troubleshooting notes to help diagnose why you may be getting an error when using ECS Exec.

Verify using the Amazon ECS Exec Checker

The Amazon ECS Exec Checker script provides a way to verify and validate that your Amazon ECS cluster and task have met the prerequisites for using the ECS Exec feature. The tool requires the latest version of the AWS CLI and that the jq is available. For more information, see Amazon ECS Exec Checker on GitHub.

Error when calling execute-command

If a The execute command failed error occurs, the following are possible causes.

  • The task does not have the required permissions. Verify that the task definition used to launch your task has a task IAM role defined and that the role has the required permissions. For more information, see IAM permissions required for ECS Exec.

  • The SSM Agent is not connected due to slowness or network latency. Wait and try the execute-command action again.