Understanding Amazon S3 Pre-signed URLs

Amazon S3 pre-signed URLs are a powerful tool for securely sharing your S3 objects while maintaining full control over access. These URLs provide temporary access to otherwise private resources, allowing you to specify an expiration time and grant limited permissions via a generated URL. Here’s how you can utilize S3 pre-signed URLs effectively.

Generating Pre-signed URLs

Pre-signed URLs can be generated using the AWS Management Console, the AWS Command Line Interface (CLI), or programmatically through the AWS SDKs. Depending on your use case and the required level of automation, you can choose the most appropriate method.

Using the AWS Console

To generate a pre-signed URL through the AWS console:

  1. Navigate to the S3 section.
  2. Select the object for which you want to create a pre-signed URL.
  3. Choose ‘Object actions’ followed by ‘Share with a pre-signed URL’.
  4. Set the expiration time, which can range from 1 minute to 720 minutes (12 hours).

Using the AWS CLI

For more flexibility, you can use the AWS CLI to generate pre-signed URLs. This method allows you to script and automate URL generation:

aws s3 presign s3://your-bucket-name/your-object-key --expires-in 3600

Here, --expires-in specifies the time in seconds until the URL expires. The default is 3600 seconds (1 hour), and the maximum is 604800 seconds (168 hours).

Using the AWS SDKs

When using AWS SDKs, you can integrate pre-signed URL generation directly into your applications. Here’s an example in Python using Boto3:

import boto3
from datetime import datetime, timedelta

# Create an S3 client
s3_client = boto3.client('s3')

# Generate a pre-signed URL for an S3 object
url = s3_client.generate_presigned_url(
    Params={'Bucket': 'your-bucket-name', 'Key': 'your-object-key'},

Use Cases for Pre-signed URLs

Pre-signed URLs are versatile and can be used in various scenarios:

  • Secure Content Delivery: Allow only authenticated users to download premium content, such as videos or documents, from your S3 bucket.
  • Dynamic Access: Generate URLs on-the-fly for an ever-changing list of users, perfect for temporary access without altering IAM policies.
  • User Uploads: Provide pre-signed URLs that allow users to upload files directly to a predetermined location in your bucket, ideal for receiving files without exposing your S3 bucket to the public.

URL Expiration and Permissions

When you generate a pre-signed URL, you define how long the URL remains valid. Once expired, the URL returns an error if accessed. The permissions tied to a pre-signed URL are inherited from the AWS IAM user or role that generated it. For instance, if a user has read-only access to an object, the pre-signed URL they generate can only be used to retrieve the object, not to modify or delete it.


Pre-signed URLs are a critical feature for developers using AWS S3, offering a secure and scalable way to manage access to private content stored in S3 buckets. By understanding and leveraging this feature, you can enhance your application’s security and provide a better user experience.

Next Steps

Explore further by:

  • Integrating pre-signed URLs into your web applications for secure file distribution.
  • Automating the generation of pre-signed URLs in response to user actions using AWS Lambda.
  • Monitoring the usage of pre-signed URLs through AWS CloudTrail to ensure compliance and security.

Utilizing Amazon S3 pre-signed URLs effectively allows you to maintain strict control over how and when your stored data is accessed, providing a robust solution for managing digital content at scale.