I use AWS in two different contexts. We use it quite extensively at Famly and personally I use it for various smaller hobby projects.

Dealing with multiple AWS profiles

by Mads Hartmann - 27 Apr 2017

For one of my hobby project I wrote a small python script that automates the setup and deployment of AWS Lambda’s, API Gateway, etc. so the script is creating and deleting a bunch of different AWS entities. You can probably already guess what happened. One night I ran my deployment script while using the AWS profile for Famly’s staging environment which resulted in my little script going rogue and deleting all of our lambdas in the staging environment 😱

After having panicked for a bit I decided it might be best to find a proper way to deal with having multiple AWS profiles; this blog post outlines my current approach.

Basics of AWS config

The AWS CLI (and SDK) supports multiple profiles very well. You can create a profile by using aws configure --profile myprofile. Your configuration and credentials are stored in ~/.aws/config and ~/.aws/credentials respectively and it looks something like this

$ cat ~/.aws/config
[profile myprofile]
region = eu-central-1
$ cat ~/.aws/credentials
aws_access_key_id = ...
aws_secret_access_key = ...

When deciding which profile to use the AWS CLI will consider the following sources.

  1. Optional --profile arugment to your command. Example aws --profile myprofile s3 ls
  2. The environment variable AWS_PROFILE. Example AWS_PROFILE=myprofile aws s3 ls
  3. The environment variable AWS_DEFAULT_PROFILE. Example AWS_DEFAULT_PROFILE=myprofile aws s3 ls

If you don’t specify a profile it will use the default profile. See the documentation for more information.

Don’t have a default profile

Update(2020-10-31): In Abusing the AWS SDK Ryan shows how it’s possible for an attacker with access to your local subset to potentially steal secrets uploaded to the SSM parameter store. When you don’t have a default profile set, the AWS CLI will try to ask a locally running meta-data server for credentials. The attacker can run their own little meta-data server and serve a set of credentials they control. It’s a bit of en edge case, but if you want to get around it you have to set AWS_EC2_METADATA_DISABLED=true in your shell.

Don’t set AWS_PROFILE or AWS_DEFAULT_PROFILE or any of the other environment variables in your shell’s profile file (~/.zshrc, ~/.profile, etc.). Remove any information your have in the [default] section of your ~/.aws/config and ~/.aws/credentials files.

This way you always have to explicitly specify which profile to use.

Switch between profiles

Switching between profiles is now simply a matter of setting AWS_PROFILE. To do this I’ve created a little convenience Zsh function aws-switch

function aws-switch() {
    case ${1} in
            export AWS_PROFILE=""
            export AWS_PROFILE="${1}"

And as always it’s nice to provide a little completion script

#compdef aws-switch
#description Switch the AWS profile

_aws-switch() {

    local -a aws_profiles

    aws_profiles=$( \
        grep '\[profile' ~/.aws/config \
        | awk '{sub(/]/, "", $2); print $2}' \
        | while read -r profile; do echo -n "$profile "; done \

    _arguments \
        ':Aws profile:($(echo ${aws_profiles}) clear)'

_aws-switch "$@"

Show the active AWS profile in prompt

Now that you always know which AWS profile the CLI is going to use and you have a convenient way to switch between your profiles the final piece is to ensure that you’re always aware which profile is active.

The best way I’ve found to do this is simply to put it in your prompt. You can see my prompt configuration in my ~/.zshrc file.

TIP Give your profiles names that you’ll notice. I named my profile for Famly’s staging environment 🔥🔥🔥 which should hopefully signal an alarm the next time I’m hacking around 😆