AWS Compute Blog

Accepting API keys as a query string in Amazon API Gateway

This post was written by Ronan Prenty, Sr. Solutions Architect and Zac Burns, Cloud Support Engineer & API Gateway SME

Amazon API Gateway is a fully managed service that makes it easier for developers to create, publish, maintain, monitor, and secure APIs at any scale. APIs act as the front door to applications and allow developers to offload tasks like authorization, throttling, caching, and more.

A common feature requested by customers is the ability to track usage for specific users or services through API keys. API Gateway REST APIs support this feature and, for added security, require that the API key resides in a header or an authorizer.

Developers may also need to pass API keys in the query string parameters. Best practices encourage refactoring the requests at the client level to move API keys to the header. However, this may not be possible during the migration.

This blog explains how to build an API Gateway REST API that temporarily accepts API keys as query string parameters. This post helps customers who have APIs that accept API keys as query string parameters and want to migrate to API Gateway with minimal impact on their clients. The post also discusses increasing security by refactoring the client to send API keys as a header instead of a query string.

There is also an example project for you to test and evaluate. This solution uses a custom authorizer AWS Lambda function to extract the API key from the query string parameter and apply it to a usage plan. The sample application uses the AWS Serverless Application Model (AWS SAM) for deployment.

Key concepts

API keys and usage plans

API keys are alphanumeric strings that are distributed to developers to grant access to an API. API Gateway can generate these on your behalf, or you can import them.

Usage plans let you provide API keys to your customers so that you can track and limit their usage. API keys are not a primary authorization mechanism for your APIs. If multiple APIs are associated with a usage plan, a user with a valid API key can access all APIs in that usage plan. We provide numerous options for securing access to your APIs, including resource policies, Lambda authorizers, and Amazon Cognito user pools.

Usage plans define who can access deployed API stages and methods along with metering their usage. Usage plans use API keys to identify who is making requests and apply throttling and quota limits.

How API Gateway handles API keys

API Gateway supports API keys sent as headers in a request. It does not support API keys sent as a query string parameter. API Gateway only accepts requests over HTTPS, which means that the request is encrypted. When sending API keys as query string parameters, there is still a risk that URLs are logged in plaintext by the client sending requests.

API Gateway has two settings to accept API keys:

  1. Header: The request contains the values as the X-API-Key header. API Gateway then validates the key against a usage plan.
  2. Authorizer: The authorizer includes the API key as part of the authorization response. Once API Gateway receives the API key as part of the response, it validates it against a usage plan.

Solution overview

To accept an API key as a query string parameter temporarily, create a custom authorizer using a Lambda function:

Note: the apiKeySource property of your API must be set to Authorizer instead of Header.

Note: the apiKeySource property of your API must be set to Authorizer instead of Header.

  1. The client sends an HTTP request to the API Gateway endpoint with the API key in the query string.
  2. API Gateway sends the request to a REQUEST type custom authorizer
  3. The custom authorizer function extracts the API Key from the payload. It constructs the response object with the API Key as the value for the `usageIdentifierKey` property
  4. The response gets sent back to API Gateway for validation.
  5. API Gateway validates the API key against a usage plan.
  6. If valid, API Gateway passes the request to the backend.

Deploying the solution


This solution requires no pre-existing AWS resources and deploys everything you need from the template. Deploying the solution requires:

You can find the solution on GitHub using this link.

With the prerequisites completed, deploy the template with the following commands:

git clone
cd amazon-apigateway-accept-apikeys-as-querystring
sam build --use-container
sam deploy --guided

Long term considerations

This temporary solution enables developers to migrate APIs to API Gateway and maintain query string-based API keys. While this solution does work, it does not follow best practices.

In addition to security, there is also a cost factor. Each time the client request contains an API key, the custom authorizer AWS Lambda function will be invoked, increasing the total amount of Lambda invocations you are billed for. To ensure you are billed only for valid requests, you can add an identity source to the custom authorizer meaning that only requests containing this identity source will be sent to the Lambda function. Requests that do not contain this identity source will not be billed by Lambda or API Gateway. Migrating to a header-based API key removes the need for a custom authorizer and the extra Lambda function invocations. You can find out more information on AWS Lambda billing here.

Customer migration process

With this in mind, the structure of the request sent by API clients must change from:

GET /some-endpoint?apiKey=abc123456789


GET /some-endpoint
x-api-key: abc123456789

You can provide clients with a notice period when this temporary solution is operational. After, they must migrate to a new API endpoint using a header to provide the API keys. Once the client migration is complete, they can retire the custom solution.

Developer portal

In addition to migrating API keys to a header-based solution, customers also ask us how to manage customer keys and usage plans. One option is to deploy the API Gateway developer portal.

This portal enables your customers to discover available APIs, browse API documentation, register for API keys, test APIs in the user interface, and monitor their API usage. This portal also allows you to publish non-API Gateway managed APIs by uploading OpenAPI definitions. The serverless developer portal can be customized and branded to suit your organization.


This blog post demonstrates how to use custom authorizers in API Gateway to accept API keys as a query string parameter. It also provides an AWS SAM template to deploy an example application for testing. Finally, it discusses the importance of moving customers to header-based API keys and managing those keys with the developer portal.

For more serverless content, visit Serverless Land.