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Context-sensitive help is available for every command in aws-vault.

# Show general help about aws-vault
$ aws-vault --help

# Show longer help about all options in aws-vault
$ aws-vault --help-long

# Show the most detailed information about the exec command
$ aws-vault exec --help

Managing Profiles

Using multiple profiles

In addition to using IAM roles to assume temporary privileges as described in, aws-vault can also be used with multiple profiles directly. This allows you to use multiple separate AWS accounts that have no relation to one another, such as work and home.

# Store AWS credentials for the "home" profile
$ aws-vault add home
Enter Secret Key: %

# Execute a command using temporary credentials
$ aws-vault exec home -- aws s3 ls

# store credentials for the "work" profile
$ aws-vault add work
Enter Secret Key: %

# Execute a command using temporary credentials
$ aws-vault exec work -- aws s3 ls

Example ~/.aws/config

Here is an example ~/.aws/config file, to help show the configuration. It defines two AWS accounts: "home" and "work", both of which use MFA. The work account provides two roles, allowing the user to become either profile.

[profile home]
region = us-east-1
mfa_serial = arn:aws:iam::IAM_ACCOUNTID:mfa/home-account

[profile work]
region = eu-west-1
mfa_serial = arn:aws:iam::IAM_ACCOUNTID:mfa/work-account

[profile work-read_only_role]
role_arn = arn:aws:iam::IAM_ACCOUNTID:role/read_only_role
source_profile = work

[profile work-admin_role]
role_arn = arn:aws:iam::IAM_ACCOUNTID:role/admin_role
source_profile = work

Listing profiles

You can use the aws-vault list command to list out the defined profiles, and any session associated with them.

$ aws-vault list
Profile                  Credentials              Sessions  
=======                  ===========              ========                 
home                     home                        
work                     work                     1525456570  
work-read_only_role      work                        
work-admin_role          work                        

Removing profiles

The aws-vault remove command can be used to remove credentials. It works similarly to the aws-vault add command.

# Remove AWS credentials for the "work" profile
$ aws-vault remove work
Delete credentials for profile "work"? (Y|n)y
Deleted credentials.
Deleted 1 sessions.

aws-vault remove can also be used to close a session, leaving the credentials in place.

# Remove the session for the "work" profile, leaving the credentials in place
$ aws-vault remove work --sessions-only
Deleted 1 sessions.

Environment variables

The following environment variables can be set to override the default flag values of aws-vault and its subcommands.

For the aws-vault command:

  • AWS_VAULT_BACKEND: Secret backend to use (see the flag --backend)
  • AWS_VAULT_KEYCHAIN_NAME: Name of macOS keychain to use (see the flag --keychain)
  • AWS_VAULT_PROMPT: Prompt driver to use (see the flag --prompt)

For the aws-vault exec subcommand:

  • AWS_ASSUME_ROLE_TTL: Expiration time for aws assumed role (see the flag --assume-role-ttl)
  • AWS_SESSION_TTL: Expiration time for aws session (see the flag --session-ttl)

For the aws-vault login subcommand:

  • AWS_ASSUME_ROLE_TTL: Expiration time for aws assumed role console session when not using --no-session (see the flag --assume-role-ttl)
  • AWS_FEDERATION_TOKEN_TTL: Expiration time for aws console session (see the flag --federation-token-ttl)


You can choose among different pluggable secret storage backends.

By default, Linux uses an encrypted file but you may prefer to use the secret-service backend which abstracts over Gnome/KDE. This can be specified on the command line with aws-vault --backend=secret-service or by setting the environment variable export AWS_VAULT_BACKEND=secret-service.

Removing stored sessions

If you want to remove sessions managed by aws-vault before they expire, you can do this with the --sessions-only flag.

aws-vault remove <profile> --sessions-only

Logging into AWS console

You can use the aws-vault login command to open a browser window and login to AWS Console for a given account:

$ aws-vault login work

Using credential helper

Ref: This allows you to use credentials of multiple profiles at the same time.

Not using session credentials

The way aws-vault works, whichever profile you use, it starts by opening a session with AWS. This is basically a signed request (with the IAM user credentials) to AWS to get a temporary set of credentials (see GetSessionToken). This allows for your base user credentials (that don't change often) to not be exposed to your applications that need a connection to AWS. There are however 2 use cases where this is a problem and we'll detail after a word of caution.


Before considering the 2 use cases below that use the --no-session parameter, you should understand the trade-off you are making.
The AWS session offers 2 perks:

  • a cached connection/session to AWS that can authenticate you with MFA. That means that with a session, through aws-vault, you do not have to enter your MFA every time you use the command.
  • a security for your IAM user credentials. When you set up aws-vault you give it your IAM user credentials and those are stored safely in some encrypted backend. When you execute a command through aws-vault with a session, those credentials are retrieved to sign the AWS authentication request but they are never exposed. Instead aws-vault exposes the credentials of the temporary session it just opened, which gives you (mostly) the same access as with your IAM user, but through an ACCESS_KEY_ID and SECRET_ACCESS_KEY that expire, therefore improving the security.

Not using a session (as a solution for the limitations described in the following 2 sections) means that you lose the cached connection and that you might lessen the security. 2 cases:

  • If you use a connection profile that uses a simple IAM user and not a role_arn, then using aws-vault without session will expose your IAM user credentials directly to the terminal/application you are running. This is basically the opposite of what you are trying to do using aws-vault. You can easily witness that by doing
aws-vault exec <iam_user_profile> -- env | grep AWS

You'll see an AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID of the form ASIAxxxxxx which is a temporary one. Doing

aws-vault exec <iam_user_profile> --no-session -- env | grep AWS

You'll see your IAM user AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID of the form AKIAxxxxx directly exposed, as well as the corresponding AWS_SECRET_KEY_ID.

  • If you use a connection profile with a role_arn, since aws-vault will use the AssumeRole API, it will anyway only expose a set of temporary credentials and will therefore not lessen the security of the setup. You can execute the same test as before to see it for yourself.

Assuming a role for more than 1h

If you try to assume a role from an opened (temporary) session, AWS considers that as role chaining and it limits your ability to assume the target role to only 1h. Trying to use --assume-role-ttl with a value bigger than 1h will result in an error:

aws-vault: error: Failed to get credentials for default (source profile for pix4d): ValidationError:
The requested DurationSeconds exceeds the 1 hour session limit for roles assumed by role chaining.
        status code: 400, request id: aa58fa50-4a5e-11e9-9566-293ea5c350ee

There are reasons though where you'd like to assume a role for a longer period. For example, when using a tool like Terraform, you need to have AWS credentials available to the application for the entire duration of the infrastructure change. And in large setups, or for complex resources, this can take more than 1h.
There are 2 solutions:

  1. Call aws-vault with --no-session. This means that the AssumeRole API will be called by using directly the IAM user credentials and not opening a session. This is not a role chaining and therefore you can request a role for up to 12 hours (--assume-role-ttl=12h), so long as you have setup your role to allow such a thing (AWS role are created by default with a max TTL of 1h). The drawback of this method is related to MFA. Since you are not using the AWS session, which is cached by aws-vault, if you use MFA (and you should), you'll have to enter your MFA token at every invocation of the aws-vault command. This can become a bit tedious.

  2. Start aws-vault as a server (aws-vault exec <profile> -s). This will start a background process that will immitate the metadata endpoint that you would have on an EC2 instance. When your application will want to connect to AWS and fail to find credentials (typically in env variables), it will instead contact this server that will issue a new set of temporary credentials (using the same profile as the one the server was started with). This server will work only for the duration of the session (--session-ttl).
    Note that this approach has the major drawback that while this aws-vault server runs, any application wanting to connect to AWS will be able to do so implicitely, with the profile the server was started with. Thanks to aws-vault, the credentials are not exposed, but the ability to use them to connect to AWS is!

Being able to perform certain STS operations

While using a standard aws-vault connection, using an IAM role or not, you cannot use any STS API (except AssumeRole) due to the usage of the AWS session (see here). Note that this is done for security reasons and makes sense. Needing to call the STS API from a session is generally a non-standard situation.
But if you are sure of your use case, using the --no-session parameter will solve the issue.

Note that for the GetFederationToken API, as a STS API, you can't call it from an AWS session, but you also cannot call it using an IAM role. This means that the only way to call GetFederationToken is to use both --no-session and an aws-vault profile that does not use a role_arn. This therefore exposes your IAM user's credentials (see before) and you should really check your design before going forward.

Rotating Credentials

Regularly rotating your access keys is a critical part of credential management. You can do this with the aws-vault rotate <profile> command as often as you like.

The minimal IAM policy required to rotate your own credentials is:

    "Version": "2012-10-17",
    "Statement": [
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [
            "Resource": [

Overriding the aws CLI to use aws-vault

If you want the aws command to use aws-vault automatically, you can create an overriding script (make it higher precedence in your PATH) that looks like the below:

exec aws-vault exec "${AWS_DEFAULT_PROFILE:-work}" -- /usr/local/bin/aws "$@"

The exec helps reduce the number of processes that are hanging around. The $@ passes on the arguments from the wrapper to the original command.

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