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In the previous post, we pushed a Docker image from EC2 to ECR using an IAM role.

The IAM role we used had EC2 as a trusted entity which meant our EC2 instance could interact with ECR without explicitly storing any credentials.

The credentials used implicitly were also temporary, as supposed to the long term credentials of an IAM user with programmatic access.

In this post, we ask: Can we push a Docker image from CircleCI (instead of EC2) to ECR using an IAM role?

Trusted entities revisited

If we consider the four trusted entities for IAM roles in the previous post, CircleCI does not fit any of them.

However, although they are not displayed in the IAM console when creating a new role, IAM users can also be trusted entities.

Thus we could push a Docker image from CircleCI to ECR by creating an IAM user and storing its credentials in CircleCI.

The IAM user could then be made a trusted entity for an IAM role with permissions to interact with ECR.

Giving permissions directly to the IAM user

We could just give the permissions directly to the IAM user whose credentials are stored in CircleCI.

This is probably the more common solution and there do not seem to be any obvious security drawbacks compared with using an IAM role. It is also probably easier to implement.

However, if all this talk about IAM roles has whetted your appetite, continue reading to see how an implementation using IAM roles might look.

Push a Docker image from CircleCI to ECR using an IAM role


Same as in the previous post except:

  • Replace our EC2 instance with a server that spins up during a CircleCI build
  • In our containerise role, change the trusted entity from an EC2 instance to an IAM user
  • The IAM user has no permissions, but has programmatic access
  • Get the IAM user to assume the containerise role via the AWS Security Token Service (STS) (which the EC2 instance did under the hood)
  • Replace the AWS CLI with the AWS Python SDK, Boto3 (author preference)


In what follows, the AWS region is us-east-1 (North Virginia).

Create an ECR repository

In the ECR console, create a repository circleci-ecr-test.

Create an IAM policy

In the IAM console, create a policy ECRContainerise with description "Allows Docker images to be built and pushed to the ECR repository circleci-ecr-test" with the JSON

    "Version": "2012-10-17",
    "Statement": [
            "Sid": "VisualEditor0",
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [
            "Resource": "arn:aws:ecr:us-east-1:<aws-account-id>:repository/circleci-ecr-test"
            "Sid": "VisualEditor1",
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": "ecr:GetAuthorizationToken",
            "Resource": "*"
            "Sid": "VisualEditor2",
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": "ecr:BatchCheckLayerAvailability",
            "Resource": "arn:aws:ecr:us-east-1:<aws-account-id>:repository/circleci-ecr-test"

Create an IAM user

In the IAM console, create a user circleci with no permissions and programmatic access.

Make a note of the secret access key as this is the only time it will be available and
will be needed later. It will be referred to as <secret-access-key>

Create an IAM role

In the IAM console, create a role containerise with description "Allows CircleCI to containerise Docker images":

  • Select "AWS service EC2" as the trusted entity type (we will change this later)
  • Attach policy ECRContainerise to the role

After creation of the role, select it in the IAM console and from Trust relationships, edit the trust relationship to match the JSON

  "Version": "2012-10-17",
  "Statement": [
      "Effect": "Allow",
      "Principal": {
        "AWS": "arn:aws:iam::<aws-account-id>:user/circleci"
      "Action": "sts:AssumeRole"

Create a GitHub repository

In GitHub, create an empty repository circleci-ecr-test.

Create a local repository

Clone circleci-ecr-test

git clone<gh-username>/circleci-ecr-test.git

Create the files


  - python=3.6.3
  - pip=20.0.2
  - pip:
    - boto3==1.12.8
    - docker==4.2.0

#!/usr/bin/env bash

set -xe

echo "Update conda"
conda update conda
echo "Build conda environment"
conda env update --name root --file environment.yml


FROM alpine:latest

CMD ["sh", "-c", "echo hello"]

import base64
import os

import boto3
import docker

sts_client = boto3.client(
assumed_role = sts_client.assume_role(
credentials = assumed_role['Credentials']
ecr = {
    'client': boto3.client(
ecr['token'] = ecr['client'].get_authorization_token()
ecr['auth_data'] = ecr['token']['authorizationData'][0]
ecr['username'], ecr['password'] = base64.b64decode(
ecr['registry'] = ecr['auth_data']['proxyEndpoint'].split('://')[-1]

docker_client = docker.from_env()
repo_name = 'circleci-ecr-test'
image_tag = 'v1'
image = {
    'repo': f'{ecr["registry"]}/{repo_name}',
    'tag': image_tag,
    'uri': f'{ecr["registry"]}/{repo_name}:{image_tag}',
images_to_push = docker_client.images.push(
for image_to_push in images_to_push:


version: 2
      - image: continuumio/miniconda3:latest
      - checkout
      - setup_remote_docker
      - run:
          command: ./
      - run:
          command: python
  version: 2
      - containerise

Give executable permissions

chmod u+x

Push local repository to GitHub

Commit and push the above changes

git add -A

git commit -m 'Add files'

git push origin master

A project circleci-ecr-test should be created in CircleCI and a build for it triggered.

The build will fail because of missing environment variables; cancel the build.

Add environments variable in CircleCI

In CircleCI, add the environment variables:

  • Name AWS_IAM_USER_ACCESS_KEY_ID and value <access-key-id> which is in the IAM console under the user circleci and "Access key ID"
  • Name AWS_IAM_USER_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY and value <secret-access-key>
  • Name AWS_IAM_ROLE_ARN and value arn:aws:iam::<aws-account-id>:role/containerise
  • Name AWS_REGION and value us-east-1

Rerun CircleCI build

Should see the build pass.

In ECR, in the repository circleci-ecr-test, there should be an image with tag v1.

Clean up

In the AWS console:

  • Remove ECR repository ec2-ecr-test
  • Remove IAM policy ECRContainerise
  • Remove IAM role containerise
  • Remove IAM user circleci

In GitHub, remove repository circleci-ecr-test which should also remove the project in CircleCI.

On your local machine, remove the directory /path/to/circleci-ecr-test.