A simple command-line tool for creating and deleting AMI's of your EC2 instances
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LICENSE Switch to MIT License. Dec 20, 2016
create_command.go Tag EBS volumes in addition to the AMI Sep 10, 2016
delete_command.go Make sure invalid instance ids still return an error Sep 14, 2016
main.go Update version number and CHANGELOG Sep 14, 2016
report_command.go Add a CloudWatch report command Apr 15, 2016
version_command.go Add version subcommand. Feb 11, 2016



ec2-snapper is a simple command-line tool for creating and deleting AMI's of your EC2 instances. It was designed to make it easy to make backups of your AMI's and to cleanup old backups by deleting all AMI's (and their corresponding Snapshots) for a given EC2 instance which are older than X days/hours/minutes. It works especially well as part of a cronjob. It can also report custom metrics to CloudWatch, which can be useful for triggering alarms if a cronjob fails to run.


Download the latest version from the releases page.


For the full story, see the Motivating Blog Post.

One of the best parts of working with EC2 instances is you can create a snapshot of the EC2 instance as an Amazon Machine Image (AMI). The problem is that deleting AMI's is a really clunky experience:

  1. Deleting an AMI is a two-part process. First, you have to de-register the AMI. Then you have to delete the corresponding EBS volume snapshot.

  2. Finding the corresponding snapshot is cumbersome.

  3. There's no out-of-the-box way to delete all AMI's older than X days.

I wrote ec2-snapper so I could use a simple command-line tool to create snapshots, delete them with one command, and delete ones older than a certain age. It works especially well when run as a cronjob on a nightly basis. It even supports sending custom metrics to CloudWatch, which you can use to trigger alarms in case a cronjob fails.

I personally use it to backup my Wordpress blog which is running as a single EC2 instance. If my EC2 instance were to fail, I can instantly launch a new EC2 instance from the latest snapshot. Since I run ec2-snapper nightly, I'm subject to up to 24 hours of data loss, which is tolerable for my needs.


You will need to setup your AWS credentials so ec2-snapper can authenticate to AWS.

Option 1: Set Environment Variables

One option is to authenticate by exporting the following environment variables:


Option 2: Use IAM Roles

If you're running ec2-snapper on an Amazon EC2 instance, the preferred way to authenticate is by assigning an IAM Role to your EC2 instance. Note that IAM roles can only be assigned when an EC2 instance is being launched, and not after the fact.

Account Permissions

Whichever method you use to authenticate, the AWS account you use to authenticate will need the limited set of IAM permissions in this IAM policy:

    "Version": "2012-10-17",
    "Statement": [
            "Sid": "Stmt1433747550000",
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [
            "Resource": [


There's nothing to install. Just download the binary and run it using the commands you see below.


Try any of the following commands to get a full list of all arguments:

ec2-snapper --help
ec2-snapper create --help
ec2-snapper delete --help
ec2-snapper report --help

Get the Version

ec2-snapper version

Returns the current version you're using of ec2-snapper.

Create an AMI

For all options, run ec2-snapper create --help.


ec2-snapper create --region=us-west-2 --instance-id=i-c724be30 --ami-name=MyEc2Instance --dry-run --no-reboot

You must specify the AWS region (e.g. --region=us-west-2) and either the ID (e.g. --instance-id=i-c724be30) or the name as set in an EC2 tag called "Name" (e.g. --instance-name=my-instance) of an EC2 instance in that region to be snapshotted. You also specify what to name the AMI, such as "MyWebsite.com", using the --ami-name parameter. A current timestamp will automatically be appended to the AMI name.

For example, ec2-snapper create --instance-id=i-c724be30 --ami-name="MyWebsite.com" resulted in an AMI named "MyWebsite.com - 2015-06-08 at 08_26_51 (UTC)".

Adding --dry-run will simulate the command without actually taking a snapshot.

--no-reboot explicitly indicates whether to reboot the EC2 instance when taking the snapshot. The default is true.

Note that the last two args can either be written as --dry-run or --dry-run=true.

Delete AMIs older than X days / Y hours / Z minutes

For all options, run ec2-snapper delete --help.


ec2-snapper delete --region=us-west-2 --instance-id=i-c724b30 --older-than=30d --dry-run

You must specify the AWS region (e.g. --region=us-west-2) and either the ID (e.g. --instance-id=i-c724be30) or the name as set in an EC2 tag called "Name" (e.g. --instance-name=my-instance) of an EC2 instance in that region that was originally used to create the AMIs you wish to delete (even if that EC2 instance has since been stopped or terminated).

--older-than accepts time values like 30d, 5h or 15m for 30 days, 5 hours, or 15 minutes, respectively. For example, --older-than=30d tells ec2-snapper to delete any AMI for the given EC2 instance that is older than 30 days.

--require-at-least ensures that in no event will there be fewer than the specified number of total AMIs for this instance. For example, --require-at-least=5 tells ec2-snapper to always make sure there are at least 5 total AMIs for the given instance, even if these AMIs are marked for deletion based on the --older-than command.

--dry-run will list the AMIs that would have been deleted, but does not actually delete them.

Report to CloudWatch

For all options, run ec2-snapper report --help.


ec2-snapper report --region=us-west-2 --name=MyEc2Backup --namespace=MyCustomMetrics --value=1

This command will write a custom metric to the specified region (e.g. --region=us-west-2) with the specified name (e.g. --metric-name=MyEc2Backup), namespace (e.g. --namespace=MyCustomMetrics), and value (e.g. --value=1). You can then add monitoring and alerting around this metric.

For example, let's say you use a cronjob to run ec2-snapper once per night, and if the job completes successfully, you fire the metric as shown in the example above. In that case, you could create a CloudWatch alarm that goes off if the value of the MyEc2Backup metric is less than 1 over a 24 hour period. You can configure the alarm to send you an email or text message whenever it goes into INSUFFICIENT_DATA state, which would be an indicator that the cronjob failed for some reason.


This was my first golang program, so I'm sure the code can benefit from various optimizations. Pull requests and bug reports are always welcome.

Running from source

The easiest way to run ec2-snapper from source is with the following command:

go run main.go *_command.go

This is necessary because all the code is in the main package, so you have to tell Go explicitly what to build and run. For example, to run the create command, you could do:

go run main.go *_command.go create --region=us-west-2 --instance-id=i-c1234567 --ami-name=MyBackup


This repo contains two types of tests:

  1. Unit tests: fast, isolated tests of individual functions. They use the name format unit_xxx_test.go.
  2. Integration tests: slower, end-to-end tests that create and delete real resources in an AWS account. All the resources should fit into the AWS free tier, but if you've used up all your credits, you may be charged! Integration tests use the name format integration_xxx_test.go.

To run the tests, first, set your AWS credentials using the environment variables AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID and AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY.

To run all the tests:


To run a specific test:

go test -run MY_TEST_NAME

Release process

  1. Update the version number in main.go.
  2. Rebuild binaries by running cross-compile.sh.
  3. Update CHANGELOG.md.
  4. Commit all changes.
  5. Create a new release using the GitHub Release Page. Make sure to use the same version number as in step #1 and the changelog from step #3.

TODO: automate this process!