AWS Big Data Blog

Use SAML Identities for programmatic access to Amazon OpenSearch Service

Customers of Amazon OpenSearch Service can already use Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) to access OpenSearch Dashboards.

This post outlines two methods by which programmatic users can now access OpenSearch using SAML identities. This applies to all identity providers (IdPs) that support SAML 2.0, including prevalent ones like Active Directory Federation Service (ADFS), Okta, AWS IAM Identity Center (Successor to AWS Single Sign-On), KeyCloak, and others. Although we outline the methods as they pertain to OpenSearch Service and AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM), programmatic access to each of these individual providers is outside the scope of this post. Most of these providers do provide such a facility.

Single sign-on methods

When you use single sign-on (SSO), there are two different authentication methods:

  • Identity provider initiated – This is when a user or a user-agent first authenticates with an IdP and gets a SAML assertion that establishes the identity of the user. This assertion is then passed to a service provider (SP) that provides access to a protected resource.
  • Service provider initiated – Although the IdP-initiated exchange is straightforward, a more typical sign-on experience is when the protected resource is accessed directly. The SP then redirects the user to the IdP for authentication along with a SAML authentication request. The IdP responds with an authentication assertion inside a SAML response. After that, the SSO experience is the same as that of an IdP-initiated flow.

For programmatic access to OpenSearch Service, an external IdP is the IdP, and OpenSearch Service and IAM both serve as SPs. To configure your IdP of choice as the SAML IdP for IAM, refer to Creating IAM SAML identity providers. To configure OpenSearch Service, refer to SAML authentication for OpenSearch Dashboards.

In the following sections, we outline two methods to access OpenSearch Service API:

Method 1: Use AWS STS

The following figure shows the sequence of calls to access OpenSearch Service API using AWS STS.

Let’s explore each step in more detail.

Steps 1 and 2

Steps 1 and 2 vary depending upon your chosen IdP. In general, they typically provide an authentication API or session API or another similar API to authenticate and retrieve the SAML authentication assertion response. We use this SAML assertion in the next step.

Steps 3 and 4

Call the AssumeRoleWithSAML AWS STS API to exchange the SAML assertion for temporary credentials associated with your SAML identity. See the following code:

curl --location '
RoleArn=<ARN of the role being assumed>&
PrincipalArn=<ARN of the IdP integrated with IAM>&
SAMLAssertion=<Base-64 encoded SAML assertion>'

The response contains the temporary AWS STS credentials with AccessKeyId, SecretAccessKey, and a SessionToken.

Step 5

Use the temporary credentials from the last step to sign all API requests to OpenSearch Service. Also ensure the role that you assumed with the AssumeRoleWithSAML call has sufficient permission to access the requisite data in OpenSearch Service. Refer to Mapping roles to users for more information about mapping this role as a backend role. As an additional step to ensure consistency, this AWS STS role and any SAML group the user is part of can be mapped to the same role in OpenSearch Service. The following code shows a model to make this call:

curl --location ‘<OpenSearch Service domain URL>/_search' \
--header 'X-Amz-Security-Token: Fwo...==(truncated)' \
--header 'X-Amz-Date: 20230327T134710Z' \
--header 'Authorization: AWS4-HMAC-SHA256 Credential=ASI..(truncated)/20230327/us-east-1/es/aws4_request, SignedHeaders=host;x-amz-date;x-amz-security-token, Signature=95eb…(truncated)'

Method 2: Use OpenSearch Dashboards’ console proxy

OpenSearch Dashboards has a component called a console proxy that can proxy requests to OpenSearch. This allows OpenSearch clients to make the same API calls in Domain Specific Language (DSL) to this console proxy instead of directly calling OpenSearch. The console proxy forwards these calls to OpenSearch and responds back to the clients in the same format as OpenSearch.

The following figure shows the sequence of calls you can make to the console proxy to gain programmatic access to OpenSearch Service.

Steps 1 and 2

The first two steps are similar to method 1, and they will vary depending on what IdP is chosen. Essentially, you need to obtain a SAML authentication assertion response from the IdP.

Steps 3 and 4

Use the SAML assertion from the previous steps and POST it to the Assertion Consumer Service (ACS) URL, _opendistro/_security/saml/acs/idpinitiated, to exchange the assertion for the security_authentication token. The following code shows the command line for these steps:

curl --location ‘<dashboards URL>/_opendistro/_security/saml/acs/idpinitiated' \
--header 'content-type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded' \
--data-urlencode ‘SAMLResponse=Base-64 encoded SAML assertion' \
--data-urlencode 'RelayState=’

If you’re using the OpenSearch engine, the dashboard URL is <domain URL>/_dashboards. If you’re using the Elasticsearch engine, the dashboard URL is <domain URL>/_plugin/kibana. OpenSearch Dashboards processes this and responds with a redirect response with code 302 and an empty body. The response headers now also contain a cookie named security_authentication, which is the token you must use in all subsequent calls.

Steps 5–8

Use the security_authentication cookie in the API calls to the console proxy to perform programmatic API calls. The following code shows a command line for these steps:

curl --location ‘<dashboardsURL>/api/console/proxy?path=_search&method=GET' \
--header 'content-type: application/json' \
--header 'cookie: security_authentication=Fe26.2**1...(truncated)' \
--header 'osd-xsrf: true' \
--data '{
  "query": {
    "match_all": {}

Make sure to include a header called osd-xsrf : true for programmatic access to dashboards. The console proxy path is /api/console/proxy for Elasticsearch engines version 6.x and 7.x and OpenSearch engine version 1.x and 2.x.

Similar to method 1, make sure to map roles and groups associated with a particular SAML identity as the correct backend role with requisite permissions.

Comparing these methods

You can use method 1 in any domain regardless of the engine as long as fine-grained access control is enabled. Method 2 only works for domains with Elasticsearch engine versions greater than 6.7 and all OpenSearch engine versions.

The OpenSearch Dashboards process is generally meant for human interactions, which has a lower API call rate and volume than those of programmatic calls. OpenSearch can handle considerably higher API call rates and volume, so take care not to send high-volume API calls using method 2. As a best practice for programmatic access with SAML identities, we recommend method 1 wherever possible to avoid performance bottlenecks.


Both of the methods outlined in this post provide a similar flow to access OpenSearch Service programmatically using SAML identities (exchanging a SAML assertion for an authentication token). AssumeRoleWithSAML is a key and fairly straightforward-to-use API that enables this access and is our recommended method. Try one of OpenSearch Service labs and launch an OpenSearch Service domain to experiment with these methods. Good luck!

About the author

Muthu Pitchaimani is a Search Specialist with Amazon OpenSearch Service. He builds large-scale search applications and solutions. Muthu is interested in the topics of networking and security, and is based out of Austin, Texas.