Use an IAM role in the AWS CLI - AWS Command Line Interface

Use an IAM role in the AWS CLI

An AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) role is an authorization tool that lets a user gain additional (or different) permissions, or get permissions to perform actions in a different AWS account.


To run the iam commands, you need to install and configure the AWS CLI. For more information, see Install or update to the latest version of the AWS CLI.

Overview of using IAM roles

You can configure the AWS Command Line Interface (AWS CLI) to use an IAM role by defining a profile for the role in the ~/.aws/config file.

The following example shows a role profile named marketingadmin. If you run commands with --profile marketingadmin (or specify it with the AWS_PROFILE environment variable), the AWS CLI uses the credentials defined in a separate profile user1 to assume the role with the Amazon Resource Name (ARN) arn:aws:iam::123456789012:role/marketingadminrole. You can run any operations that are allowed by the permissions assigned to that role.

[profile marketingadmin] role_arn = arn:aws:iam::123456789012:role/marketingadminrole source_profile = user1

You can then specify a source_profile that points to a separate named profile that contains user credentials with permission to use the role. In the previous example, the marketingadmin profile uses the credentials in the user1 profile. When you specify that an AWS CLI command is to use the profile marketingadmin, the AWS CLI automatically looks up the credentials for the linked user1 profile and uses them to request temporary credentials for the specified IAM role. The CLI uses the sts:AssumeRole operation in the background to accomplish this. Those temporary credentials are then used to run the requested AWS CLI command. The specified role must have attached IAM permission policies that allow the requested AWS CLI command to run.

To run a AWS CLI command from within an Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instance or an Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS) container, you can use an IAM role attached to the instance profile or the container. If you specify no profile or set no environment variables, that role is used directly. This enables you to avoid storing long-lived access keys on your instances. You can also use those instance or container roles only to get credentials for another role. To do this, you use credential_source (instead of source_profile) to specify how to find the credentials. The credential_source attribute supports the following values:

  • Environment – Retrieves the source credentials from environment variables.

  • Ec2InstanceMetadata – Uses the IAM role attached to the Amazon EC2 instance profile.

  • EcsContainer – Uses the IAM role attached to the Amazon ECS container.

The following example shows the same marketingadminrole role used by referencing an Amazon EC2 instance profile.

[profile marketingadmin] role_arn = arn:aws:iam::123456789012:role/marketingadminrole credential_source = Ec2InstanceMetadata

When you invoke a role, you have additional options that you can require, such as the use of multi-factor authentication and an External ID (used by third-party companies to access their clients' resources). You can also specify unique role session names that can be more easily audited in AWS CloudTrail logs.

Configuring and using a role

When you run commands using a profile that specifies an IAM role, the AWS CLI uses the source profile's credentials to call AWS Security Token Service (AWS STS) and request temporary credentials for the specified role. The user in the source profile must have permission to call sts:assume-role for the role in the specified profile. The role must have a trust relationship that allows the user in the source profile to use the role. The process of retrieving and then using temporary credentials for a role is often referred to as assuming the role.

You can create a role in IAM with the permissions that you want users to assume by following the procedure under Creating a Role to Delegate Permissions to an IAM user in the AWS Identity and Access Management User Guide. If the role and the source profile's user are in the same account, you can enter your own account ID when configuring the role's trust relationship.

After creating the role, modify the trust relationship to allow the user to assume it.

The following example shows a trust policy that you could attach to a role. This policy allows the role to be assumed by any user in the account 123456789012, if the administrator of that account explicitly grants the sts:AssumeRole permission to the user.

{ "Version": "2012-10-17", "Statement": [ { "Effect": "Allow", "Principal": { "AWS": "arn:aws:iam::123456789012:root" }, "Action": "sts:AssumeRole" } ] }

The trust policy doesn't actually grant permissions. The administrator of the account must delegate the permission to assume the role to individual users by attaching a policy with the appropriate permissions. The following example shows a policy that you can attach to a user that allows the user to assume only the marketingadminrole role. For more information about granting a user access to assume a role, see Granting a User Permission to Switch Roles in the IAM User Guide.

{ "Version": "2012-10-17", "Statement": [ { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": "sts:AssumeRole", "Resource": "arn:aws:iam::123456789012:role/marketingadminrole" } ] }

The user doesn't need to have additional permissions to run the AWS CLI commands using the role profile. Instead, the permissions to run the command come from those attached to the role. You attach permission policies to the role to specify which actions can be performed against which AWS resources. For more information about attaching permissions to a role (which works identically to a user), see Changing Permissions for an IAM user in the IAM User Guide.

Now that you have the role profile, role permissions, role trust relationship, and user permissions correctly configured, you can use the role at the command line by invoking the --profile option. For example, the following calls the Amazon S3 ls command using the permissions attached to the marketingadmin role as defined by the example at the beginning of this topic.

$ aws s3 ls --profile marketingadmin

To use the role for several calls, you can set the AWS_PROFILE environment variable for the current session from the command line. While that environment variable is defined, you don't have to specify the --profile option on each command.

Linux or macOS

$ export AWS_PROFILE=marketingadmin


C:\> setx AWS_PROFILE marketingadmin

For more information about configuring users and roles, see IAM Identities (users, user groups, and roles) and IAM roles in the IAM User Guide.

Using multi-factor authentication

For additional security, you can require that users provide a one-time key generated from a multi-factor authentication (MFA) device, a U2F device, or mobile app when they attempt to make a call using the role profile.

First, you can choose to modify the trust relationship on the IAM role to require MFA. This prevents anyone from using the role without first authenticating by using MFA. For an example, see the Condition line in the following example. This policy allows the user named anika to assume the role the policy is attached to, but only if they authenticate by using MFA.

{ "Version": "2012-10-17", "Statement": [ { "Sid": "", "Effect": "Allow", "Principal": { "AWS": "arn:aws:iam::123456789012:user/anika" }, "Action": "sts:AssumeRole", "Condition": { "Bool": { "aws:multifactorAuthPresent": true } } } ] }

Next, add a line to the role profile that specifies the ARN of the user's MFA device. The following sample config file entries show two role profiles that both use the access keys for the user anika to request temporary credentials for the role cli-role. The user anika has permissions to assume the role, granted by the role's trust policy.

[profile role-without-mfa] region = us-west-2 role_arn= arn:aws:iam::128716708097:role/cli-role source_profile=cli-user [profile role-with-mfa] region = us-west-2 role_arn= arn:aws:iam::128716708097:role/cli-role source_profile = cli-user mfa_serial = arn:aws:iam::128716708097:mfa/cli-user [profile cli-user] region = us-west-2 output = json

The mfa_serial setting can take an ARN, as shown, or the serial number of a hardware MFA token.

The first profile, role-without-mfa, doesn't require MFA. However, because the previous example trust policy attached to the role requires MFA, any attempt to run a command with this profile fails.

$ aws iam list-users --profile role-without-mfa An error occurred (AccessDenied) when calling the AssumeRole operation: Access denied

The second profile entry, role-with-mfa, identifies an MFA device to use. When the user attempts to run a AWS CLI command with this profile, the AWS CLI prompts the user to enter the one-time password (OTP) that the MFA device provides. If the MFA authentication succeeds, the command performs the requested operation. The OTP is not displayed on the screen.

$ aws iam list-users --profile role-with-mfa Enter MFA code for arn:aws:iam::123456789012:mfa/cli-user: { "Users": [ { ...

Cross-account roles and external ID

You can enable users to use roles that belong to different accounts by configuring the role as a cross-account role. During role creation, set the role type to Another AWS account, as described in Creating a Role to Delegate Permissions to an IAM user. Optionally, select Require MFA. Require MFA configures the appropriate condition in the trust relationship, as described in Using multi-factor authentication.

If you use an external ID to provide additional control over who can use a role across accounts, you must also add the external_id parameter to the role profile. You typically use this only when the other account is controlled by someone outside your company or organization.

[profile crossaccountrole] role_arn = arn:aws:iam::234567890123:role/SomeRole source_profile = default mfa_serial = arn:aws:iam::123456789012:mfa/saanvi external_id = 123456

Specifying a role session name for easier auditing

When many individuals share a role, auditing becomes more of a challenge. You want to associate each operation invoked with the individual who invoked the action. However, when the individual uses a role, the assumption of the role by the individual is a separate action from the invoking of an operation, and you must manually correlate the two.

You can simplify this by specifying unique role session names when users assume a role. You do this by adding a role_session_name parameter to each named profile in the config file that specifies a role. The role_session_name value is passed to the AssumeRole operation and becomes part of the ARN for the role session. It is also included in the AWS CloudTrail logs for all logged operations.

For example, you could create a role-based profile as follows.

[profile namedsessionrole] role_arn = arn:aws:iam::234567890123:role/SomeRole source_profile = default role_session_name = Session_Maria_Garcia

This results in the role session having the following ARN.


Also, all AWS CloudTrail logs include the role session name in the information captured for each operation.

Assume role with web identity

You can configure a profile to indicate that the AWS CLI should assume a role using web identity federation and Open ID Connect (OIDC). When you specify this in a profile, the AWS CLI automatically makes the corresponding AWS STS AssumeRoleWithWebIdentity call for you.


When you specify a profile that uses an IAM role, the AWS CLI makes the appropriate calls to retrieve temporary credentials. These credentials are stored in ~/.aws/cli/cache. Subsequent AWS CLI commands that specify the same profile use the cached temporary credentials until they expire. At that point, the AWS CLI automatically refreshes the credentials.

To retrieve and use temporary credentials using web identity federation, you can specify the following configuration values in a shared profile.


Specifies the ARN of the role to assume.


Specifies the path to a file which contains an OAuth 2.0 access token or OpenID Connect ID token that is provided by the identity provider. The AWS CLI loads this file and passes its content as the WebIdentityToken argument of the AssumeRoleWithWebIdentity operation.


Specifies an optional name applied to this assume-role session.

The following is an example of the minimal amount of configuration needed to configure an assume role with web identity profile.

# In ~/.aws/config [profile web-identity] role_arn=arn:aws:iam:123456789012:role/RoleNameToAssume web_identity_token_file=/path/to/a/token

You can also provide this configuration by using environment variables.


The ARN of the role to assume.


The path to the web identity token file.


The name applied to this assume-role session.


These environment variables currently apply only to the assume role with web identity provider. They don't apply to the general assume role provider configuration.

Clearing cached credentials

When you use a role, the AWS CLI caches the temporary credentials locally until they expire. The next time you try to use them, the AWS CLI attempts to renew them on your behalf.

If your role's temporary credentials are revoked, they are not renewed automatically, and attempts to use them fail. However, you can delete the cache to force the AWS CLI to retrieve new credentials.

Linux or macOS

$ rm -r ~/.aws/cli/cache


C:\> del /s /q %UserProfile%\.aws\cli\cache