AWS Developer Tools Blog

IAM Roles for Amazon EC2 Instances (Credential Management Part 4)

This is the fourth and final part (part 1, part 2, part 3) in a series on how to securely manage your AWS access credentials.

This week I am focusing on using AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) roles for Amazon EC2 instances with the AWS SDK for Ruby (aws-sdk). Simply put, IAM roles for EC2 instances remove the need to try to bootstrap your instances with credentials. Example:

# look ma! No credentials (when run from EC2)!
require 'aws-sdk'['my-bucket']

You can stop worrying about how to get credentials onto a box that Auto Scaling just spun-up on your behalf. Your cron scripts on instances no longer have to search around for credentials on disk or worry about when they get rotated.

One of the best features of IAM roles for EC2 instances is the credentials on EC2 are auto-rotated! Instances started with an IAM instance profile will get temporary credentials deployed on a regular basis to the EC2 instance metadata service.

My favorite feature? The aws-sdk gem just works when running on an instance with an IAM profile.

How it Works

  • You create an IAM instance profile
  • Start one or more instances, with the instance profile
  • Upon instance boot, session credentials will be available on your instance(s)
  • Credentials are rotated regularly (before they expire)

You can reuse an instance profile as many times as you like. The aws-sdk gem will automatically attempt to load credentials from the metadata service when no other credentials are provided.

Create an Instance Profile with the aws-sdk Gem

An instance profile consists of a role. The role consists of a policy. Each of these has a name. I am going to use the aws-sdk to create a sample profile starting with the policy.

For this example, I’ll be building an instance profile that has limited permissions. I only want applications on EC2 to be able to read from Amazon S3 (list and get buckets/objects). First, I need to build the policy.

require 'aws-sdk'

AWS.config(:access_key_id => '...', :secret_access_key => '…')

# the role, policy and profile all have names, pick something descriptive
role_name = 's3-read-only'
policy_name = 's3-read-only'
profile_name = 's3-read-only'

# required so that Amazon EC2 can generate session credentials on your behalf
assume_role_policy_document = '{"Version":"2008-10-17","Statement":[{"Effect":"Allow","Principal":{"Service":[""]},"Action":["sts:AssumeRole"]}]}'

# build a custom policy    
policy =
policy.allow(:actions => ["s3:Get*","s3:List*"], :resources => '*')

Now that I have a policy built, I am going to build a role and add the policy to the role. I am going to use the policy and role names I chose above.

iam =

# create the role
  :role_name => role_name,
  :assume_role_policy_document => assume_role_policy_document)

# add the policy to role
  :role_name => role_name,
  :policy_name => policy_name,
  :policy_document => policy.to_json)

Last step is to create a profile for your role.

resp = iam.client.create_instance_profile(
  :instance_profile_name => instance_profile_name)

# this may be handy later
profile_arn = resp[:instance_profile][:arn]

  :instance_profile_name => instance_profile_name,
  :role_name => role_name)

Using an IAM Instance Profile

You can now use the instance profile name (or ARN we captured above) to run instances with your special profile.

# you can use the profile name or ARN as the :iam_instance_profile option
ec2 =
ec2.instances.create(:image_id => "ami-12345678", :iam_instance_profile => profile_name)

Thats it! Your new instance will boot with session credentials available that the aws-sdk can consume with zero configuration. Happy computing!