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Ben Nadel
On User Experience (UX) Design, JavaScript, ColdFusion, Node.js, Life, and Love.

Uploading Files To Amazon S3 Using Pre-Signed (Query String Authentication) URLs

By Ben Nadel on
Tags: ColdFusion

In the past, I've looked at generating pre-signed (Query String Authentication) URLs as a means to grant download-access to files on Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service). But, pre-signed URLs can also be used to grant upload-access to files on Amazon S3. This is similar to an S3 upload policy; but it's far easier to generate due to its less flexible nature.

To demonstrate, I'm going to generate a pre-signed URL for a specific S3 resource. Then, I'm going to use ColdFusion's HTTP client to upload (ie, "PUT") a binary value to said resource. When we generate the signature for this pre-signed request, take note that I am defining the Content-Type of the upload. Unlike a GET-based pre-signed URL, which cannot send a Content-Type (and therefore cannot include it in the signature), a PUT-based request does have the opportunity to define the Content-Type of the upload.


	* I get the expiration in seconds based on the given expires-at date. This takes
	* care of the UTC conversion and expects to receive a date in local time.
	* @output false
	public numeric function getExpirationInSeconds( required date expiresAt ) {

		var localEpoch = dateConvert( "utc2local", "1970/01/01" );

		return( dateDiff( "s", localEpoch, expiresAt ) );


	* I generate the signature for the given resource which will be available until
	* the given expiration date (in seconds).
	* For GET requests, the contentType is expected to be the empty-string; for PUT
	* requests, the contentType is expected to match one of the HTTP request headers.
	* @output false
	public string function generateSignature(
		required string method,
		required string contentType,
		required string resource,
		required numeric expirationInSeconds
		) {

		var stringToSignParts = [
			ucase( method ),

		var stringToSign = arrayToList( stringToSignParts, chr( 10 ) );

		var signature = hmac( stringToSign, aws.secretKey, "HmacSHA1", "utf-8" );

		// By default, ColdFusion returns the Hmac in Hex; we need to convert it to
		// base64 for usag in the pre-signed URL.
			binaryEncode( binaryDecode( signature, "hex" ), "base64" )


	* I encode the given S3 object key for use in a url. Amazon S3 keys have some non-
	* standard behavior for encoding - see this Amazon forum thread for more information:
	* @output false
	public string function urlEncodeS3Key( required string key ) {

		key = urlEncodedFormat( key, "utf-8" );

		// At this point, we have a key that has been encoded too aggressively by
		// ColdFusion. Now, we have to go through and un-escape the characters that
		// AWS does not expect to be encoded.

		// The following are "unreserved" characters in the RFC 3986 spec for Uniform
		// Resource Identifiers (URIs) -
		key = replace( key, "%2E", ".", "all" );
		key = replace( key, "%2D", "-", "all" );
		key = replace( key, "%5F", "_", "all" );
		key = replace( key, "%7E", "~", "all" );

		// Technically, the "/" characters can be encoded and will work. However, if the
		// bucket name is included in this key, then it will break (since it will bleed
		// into the S3 domain: ""). As such, I like to unescape
		// the slashes to make the function more flexible. Plus, I think we can all agree
		// that regular slashes make the URLs look nicer.
		key = replace( key, "%2F", "/", "all" );

		// This one isn't necessary; but, I think it makes for a more attactive URL.
		// --
		// NOTE: That said, it looks like Amazon S3 may always interpret a "+" as a
		// space, which may not be the way other servers work. As such, we are leaving
		// the "+"" literal as the encoded hex value, %2B.
		key = replace( key, "%20", "+", "all" );

		return( key );


	// ------------------------------------------------------ //
	// ------------------------------------------------------ //

	// Include my AWS credentials (so they are not in the code). Creates the structure:
	// * aws.bucket
	// * aws.accessID
	// * aws.secretKey
	include "./credentials.cfm";

	// Define the upload location (key) of the file.
	key = urlEncodeS3Key( "signed-urls/upload-test/monkey.jpg" );

	// Define the full resource of our key in our bucket.
	resource = ( "/" & aws.bucket & "/" & key );

	// Define the expiration after which this pre-signed URL is no longer valid (and will
	// be rejected by AWS).
	expirationInSeconds = getExpirationInSeconds( dateAdd( "n", 30, now() ) );

	// Generate the signature for the query-string authentication.
	// --
	// NOTE: The content-type in the signature has to match the content type in the
	// outgoing HTTP request headers.
	signature = generateSignature( "PUT", "image/jpg", resource, expirationInSeconds );

	urlEncodedSignature = urlEncodedFormat( signature );

	// Create our pre-signed URL from the various parts.
	preSignedUrl = "";

	// ------------------------------------------------------ //
	// ------------------------------------------------------ //

	// Now that we have our pre-signed URL, we can use it to upload a file to Amazon S3.
	// Note that the pre-signed URL is specific to a given file and expiration date. As
	// such, this doesn't grant free-range; but, rather very targeted access based on
	// both the resource key and the file type.
	uploadRequest = new Http(
		method = "put",
		url = preSignedUrl,
		getAsBinary = "yes"

	// This header is required if the contentType is non-empty in the signature.
		type = "header",
		name = "Content-Type",
		value = "image/jpg"

		type = "body",
		value = fileReadBinary( expandPath( "./monkey.jpg" ) )

	result = uploadRequest.send();

	// Output the results of the pre-signed URL upload.
	writeOutput( result.getPrefix().statusCode );
	writeOutput( "<br />" );
	writeOutput( charsetEncode( result.getPrefix().fileContent, "utf-8" ) );


As you can see, the URL of the HTTP PUT is the pre-signed URL. And, when we run the above code, we get the following CFDump output:

200 OK

The image binary was successfully upload to Amazon S3 and resides at the resource defined in the pre-signed URL. By default, the uploaded object is "private"; if you want to make it public, you have to add additional Amazon Headers to the request (though, I have not tried this personally).

While the Amazon S3 upload policy allows for a lot more flexibility, uploading files using a pre-signed URL is certainly much more straightforward. Now that I see this, I'll have to go back and try to refactor some of my "upload policy" experiments.

Reader Comments


So, last night, I tried to play around with HTTP Form posts to Amazon S3 using pre-signed URLs; but, it looks like that isn't supported. In some older documentation for POST, I found this:

> Query string authentication is not supported for POST.

And, it seems rather complicated to get PUT to work from the browser.

That said, it seems like a good use-case for the PUT-based upload with pre-signed URLs is if you need to pass an upload URL to some other server-side process that needs to upload a file but doesn't necessarily have access to your credentials (such as a Message Queue job).

Very helpful example!
I was relying on <cffile> operations and was experiencing an issue where .jpg files were uploaded with a metadata content type of application/octet.
This example contained the content type definition I was looking for.