Permissions for GetFederationToken - Amazon Identity and Access Management
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Permissions for GetFederationToken

The GetFederationToken operation is called by an IAM user and returns temporary credentials for that user. This operation federates the user. The permissions assigned a federated user are defined in one of two places:

  • The session policies passed as a parameter of the GetFederationToken API call. (This is most common.)

  • A resource-based policy that explicitly names the federated user in the Principal element of the policy. (This is less common.)

Session policies are advanced policies that you pass as parameters when you programmatically create a temporary session. When you create a federated user session and pass session policies, the resulting session's permissions are the intersection of the user's identity-based policy and the session policies. You cannot use the session policy to grant more permissions than those allowed by the identity-based policy of the user that is being federated.

In most cases if you do not pass a policy with the GetFederationToken API call, the resulting temporary security credentials have no permissions. However, a resource-based policy can provide additional permissions for the session. You can access a resource with a resource-based policy that specifies your session as the allowed principal.

The following figures show a visual representation of how the policies interact to determine permissions for the temporary security credentials returned by a call to GetFederationToken.

Example: Assigning permissions using GetFederationToken

You can use the GetFederationToken API action with different kinds of policies. Here are a few examples.

Policy attached to the IAM user

In this example, you have a browser-based client application that relies on two backend web services. One backend service is your own authentication server that uses your own identity system to authenticate the client application. The other backend service is an Amazon service that provides some of the client application's functionality. The client application is authenticated by your server, and your server creates or retrieves the appropriate permissions policy. Your server then calls the GetFederationToken API to obtain temporary security credentials, and returns those credentials to the client application. The client application can then make requests directly to the Amazon service with the temporary security credentials. This architecture allows the client application to make Amazon requests without embedding long-term Amazon credentials.

Your authentication server calls the GetFederationToken API with the long-term security credentials of an IAM user named token-app. But the long-term IAM user credentials remain on your server and are never distributed to the client. The following example policy is attached to the token-app IAM user and defines the broadest set of permissions that your federated users (clients) will need. Note that the sts:GetFederationToken permission is required for your authentication service to obtain temporary security credentials for the federated users.


Amazon provides a sample Java application to serve this purpose, which you can download here: Token Vending Machine for Identity Registration - Sample Java Web Application.

Example policy attached to IAM user token-app that calls GetFederationToken
{ "Version": "2012-10-17", "Statement": [ { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": "sts:GetFederationToken", "Resource": "*" }, { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": "dynamodb:ListTables", "Resource": "*" }, { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": "sqs:ReceiveMessage", "Resource": "*" }, { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": "s3:ListBucket", "Resource": "*" }, { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": "sns:ListSubscriptions", "Resource": "*" } ] }

The preceding policy grants several permissions to the IAM user. However, this policy alone doesn't grant any permissions to the federated user. If this IAM user calls GetFederationToken and does not pass a policy as a parameter of the API call, the resulting federated user has no effective permissions.

Session policy passed as parameter

The most common way to ensure that the federated user is assigned appropriate permission is to pass session policies in the GetFederationToken API call. Expanding on the previous example, imagine that GetFederationToken is called with the credentials of the IAM user token-app. Then imagine that the following session policy is passed as a parameter of the API call. The resulting federated user has permission to list the contents of the Amazon S3 bucket named productionapp. The user can't perform the Amazon S3 GetObject, PutObject, and DeleteObject actions on items in the productionapp bucket.

The federated user is assigned these permissions because the permissions are the intersection of the IAM user policies and the session policies that you pass.

The federated user could not perform actions in Amazon SNS, Amazon SQS, Amazon DynamoDB, or in any S3 bucket except productionapp. These actions are denied even though those permissions are granted to the IAM user that is associated with the GetFederationToken call.

Example session policy passed as parameter of GetFederationToken API call
{ "Version": "2012-10-17", "Statement": [ { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": ["s3:ListBucket"], "Resource": ["arn:aws-cn:s3:::productionapp"] }, { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": [ "s3:GetObject", "s3:PutObject", "s3:DeleteObject" ], "Resource": ["arn:aws-cn:s3:::productionapp/*"] } ] }

Resource-based policies

Some Amazon resources support resource-based policies, and these policies provide another mechanism to grant permissions directly to a federated user. Only some Amazon services support resource-based policies. For example, Amazon S3 has buckets, Amazon SNS has topics, and Amazon SQS has queues that you can attach policies to. For a list of all services that support resource-based policies, see Amazon services that work with IAM and review the "Resource-based policies" column of the tables. You can use resource-based policies to assign permissions directly to a federated user. Do this by specifying the Amazon Resource Name (ARN) of the federated user in the Principal element of the resource-based policy. The following example illustrates this and expands on the previous examples, using an S3 bucket named productionapp.

The following resource-based policy is attached to the bucket. This bucket policy allows a federated user named Carol to access the bucket. When the example policy described earlier is attached to the token-app IAM user, the federated user named Carol has permission to perform the s3:GetObject, s3:PutObject, and s3:DeleteObject actions on the bucket named productionapp. This is true even when no session policy is passed as a parameter of the GetFederationToken API call. That's because in this case the federated user named Carol has been explicitly granted permissions by the following resource-based policy.

Remember, a federated user is granted permissions only when those permissions are explicitly granted to both the IAM user and the federated user. They can also be granted (within the account) by a resource-based policy that explicitly names the federated user in the Principal element of the policy, as in the following example.

Example bucket policy that allows access to federated user
{ "Version": "2012-10-17", "Statement": { "Principal": {"AWS": "arn:aws-cn:sts::account-id:federated-user/Carol"}, "Effect": "Allow", "Action": [ "s3:GetObject", "s3:PutObject", "s3:DeleteObject" ], "Resource": ["arn:aws-cn:s3:::productionapp/*"] } }

For more information about how policies are evaluated see Policy evaluation logic.