Signing S3 Upload Requests With Signature Version 4 in a Rails and AngularJS Application

  • by Emre Yilmaz
  • Aug 10, 2017
  • AWS, Ruby on Rails, Angular, Ruby
  • Istanbul
Amazon S3 Signature v4 Process

In our Ruby on Rails web applications, we use Amazon S3 to store files. Uploading files to Amazon S3 buckets via HTTP requests, requires signing the request. Current recommended and safer signing method is Signature Version 4 and AWS regions openned after January 30, 2014, such as London and Frankfurt, only support this version.

In this blog post, I will try to exlain how to sign HTTP requests for Amazon S3 uploads in a Rails application and make requests by using AngularJS ng-file-upload module.

Origin of our problem

In Pisirpaylas, we were using Amazon S3 buckets in Ireland region and using older Signature Version 2 for signing our requests. However, when we tested using Amazon S3 buckets in AWS Frankfurt region requests started failing.

After some research, I have found that AWS only supported Signature Version 4 in regions openned after January 30, 2014. There were not any complete example for doing these in a Ruby on Rails application. Also, we were using AngularJS and this needed to be integrated with it.

I hope, this blog post helps people trying to find an example for Signature Version 4 in a Ruby on Rails and AngularJS 1.x application.

When do we need signing and Signature Version 4?

If you allow your users uploading files directly to your Amazon S3 buckets anonymously or you are using AWS SDKs to transfer files to Amazon S3 buckets; you don’t need to use this method. Because anonymous requests do not need signing and latest AWS SDK versions automatically signs requests using Signature Version 4, respectively.

However, we do not recommend anonymous uploads as a security measure.

For the second case, we prefer uploading directly to Amazon S3, because of the reasons below:

  • Uploading directly to S3 bucket saves time and compute performance as you use Amazon S3’s scalable infrastructure. Your instances saves network bandwith and CPU time resulting from this upload operation.

  • If your files need post-processing; mostly uploading a file to your web server, then processing and transferring to your Amazon S3 bucket takes much more time than uploading it directly to a temporary Amazon S3 bucket. Then you can process this file using a background worker such as Sidekiq or trigger an AWS Lambda function.

AWS recommends Signature Version 4 as it is more secure and does not support older versions in new regions. AWS may finish supporting Signature Version 2 in all regions in the future. It is better to get prepared and start using better authentication.

A typical photo uploading scenario

In this blog post, I will describe a typical scenario for this problem:

  • A user uploads a photo directly to one of our Amazon S3 buckets which acts as a temporary storage.
  • Then one of our background workers, Sidekiq for example, pulls the file, processes it for generating thumbs.
  • Lastly, the worker uploads to its final location in our main bucket.

As you can see, at the beginning, when user uploads directly to Amazon S3 bucket we use HTTP requests and there should be an authentication mechanism for AWS to verify that this request is done with our knowledge and permission. This is where we need to use Signature Version 4 to sign our request.

In this scenario we are using Ruby on Rails as backend and AngularJS as front end.

  • Rails version: 4.2
  • AngularJS version: 1.5
  • Ruby version: 2.2

Signing process will be realized as follows:

  • AngularJS frontend sends a signed policy request to backend
  • Ruby on Rails backend constructs the policy document and signs it with a signing key derived from secret access key.
  • Backend responds to policy requests with signed policy data and signature.
  • AngularJS frontend makes a HTTP request upload the file to Amazon S3 bucket with signature.

Ruby on Rails backend part

In Ruby on Rails backend part, first of all we need an algorithm to generate a signing key to sign our policy document. In signature version 2, secret access key is used directly to sign the request. However, in signature version 4, a signing key is derived from secret access key which enhances security of secret access key. Instead we supply credential scope.

Signature key generation algorithm takes 4 parameters:

  • key: Secret access key of your IAM user that has programmatic access and permissions to the bucket. If this is wrong, AWS will be unable to decrypt the policy and upload will be unsuccessfull.
  • date_stamp: 8-digit string representing the date of the request, in year (YYYY), month (MM), day (DD) format, such as 20170511.
  • region_name: The region where the bucket belongs to, such as eu-central-1.
  • service_name: The service that the signature_key is generated for. For this example it will simply be “s3”.

Also, in the last part of signing process we use a special termination string for AWS Signature v4 operations: “aws4_request”

def get_signature_key( key, date_stamp, region_name, service_name )
  k_date = OpenSSL::HMAC.digest('sha256', "AWS4" + key, date_stamp)
  k_region = OpenSSL::HMAC.digest('sha256', k_date, region_name)
  k_service = OpenSSL::HMAC.digest('sha256', k_region, service_name)
  k_signing = OpenSSL::HMAC.digest('sha256', k_service, "aws4_request")

Secondly we generate a policy document and encode it with Base64. Our method for this operation takes these inputs:

  • bucket: Amazon S3 bucket name that the file will be uploaded to.
  • x_amz_algorithm: The signing algorithm used during signature calculation. In this case, it is “AWS4-HMAC-SHA256”.
  • x_amz_credential: The credentials used for calculating signature, explained below.
  • x_amz_date: The date of the signature in the ISO8601 formatted string.

The policy document will be in JSON format. Some additional notes to explain its attributes:

  • expiration: When will this policy expire? Here we define is as 1 hour from now in UTC time.
  • acl: Access control list value for the object. We specify as “private” to make the object uploaded private. It can be “public-read” or else, whichever you prefer.
  • starts-with: It is a condition matching operator. We assume all types for key and content type.
  • content-length-range: The minimum and maximum size for uploaded document.
    def get_encoded_policy_document( bucket, x_amz_algorithm, x_amz_credential, x_amz_date )
          "expiration" => 1.hour.from_now.utc.xmlschema,
          "conditions" => [
            { "bucket" =>  bucket },
            [ "starts-with", "$key", "" ],
            { "acl" => "private" },
            [ "starts-with", "$Content-Type", "" ],
            {"x-amz-algorithm" => x_amz_algorithm },
            {"x-amz-credential" => x_amz_credential },
            {"x-amz-date" => x_amz_date},
            [ "content-length-range", 0, 524288000 ]

Now, a final module for generating signature using policy document… Here, at first, we get signature key using get_signature_key method and then sign the policy document using this key. Our resulting get_signature method takes 3 inputs:

  • policy_date: 8-digit string representing date as explained in get_signature_key method.
  • s3_region: AWS region where our bucket resides.
  • encoded_policy: Policy document.
    def get_signature( policy_date, s3_region, encoded_policy )
      # Gets signature key that will be used in signing
      signature_key = get_signature_key( ENV['AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY'], policy_date , s3_region, "s3")

      # Sign and return the signature
      OpenSSL::HMAC.hexdigest('sha256', signature_key, encoded_policy )

Finally, we merge all above and construct our controller action. Here, I assume that you know how to generate a Rails controller, an action and configure a route for it. For example, our controller is named “PolicyController” and action name is “index” which is accessed from ‘/policy.json’ path.

Rails controller action algorithm is as follows:

  1. Get or set s3 region and bucket name variables. We use environment variables for using different values in different environments (dev, test, prod).
  2. Get current date. Then we generate policy date (8-digit date explained above) and x-amz-date (ISO8601 format date string explained above).
  3. Generate credential scope in x_amz_credential variable. Its format is simple:

access key id/policy date/s3 region/service name (here, it is s3)/termination string(here, aws4_request)

  1. Get Base64 encoded policy document.
  2. Generate signature by supplying policy, date and region information.
  3. Finally, render json response. In the response x_amz_date, x_amz_algorithm, x_amz_credential, bucket name values are same as explained above. I can explain additional information as follows:
    • s3_region_endpoint: This is the S3 regional endpoint we will use in front end while making the request. It is to avoid hard coding in front end for maintainability.
    • x_amz_expires: POST header for expiration, 24 hours.
    • policy: We also supply Base64 encoded policy document.

AWS will recalculate our signature using x-amz-credentials and generate a signature with the policy we supply. Then it will compare this to the signature we supply.

  # GET /policy.json
  def index

    # Replace with the code of AWS region where your bucket is
    s3_region =  ENV["AWS_REGION"]

    # Replace with the name of your bucket

    current_dt =
    policy_date = current_dt.utc.strftime("%Y%m%d")
    x_amz_date = current_dt.utc.strftime("%Y%jT%H%M%SZ")
    x_amz_algorithm = "AWS4-HMAC-SHA256"
    x_amz_credential = "#{ENV['AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID']}/#{policy_date}/#{s3_region}/s3/aws4_request"

    encoded_policy = get_encoded_policy_document( bucket, x_amz_algorithm, x_amz_credential, x_amz_date )
    x_amz_signature = get_signature( policy_date, s3_region, encoded_policy )

    render json: {
      bucket_name: bucket,
      s3_region_endpoint: get_s3_region_endpoint(s3_region),
      x_amz_algorithm: x_amz_algorithm,
      x_amz_credential: x_amz_credential,
      x_amz_date: x_amz_date,
      x_amz_expires: 86400,
      x_amz_signature: x_amz_signature,
      policy:    encoded_policy

This is a helper method to make things easy and not required. Amazon S3 region endpoints generally follow the same format except us-east-1. You can use your region’s s3 endpoint directly instead of this method.

def get_s3_region_endpoint(region_name)
    # Returns S3 endpoint for the region

    case region_name
    when "us-east-1"

AngularJS front end part

In angular front end we first get policy document by calling ‘/policy.json’ and after response is success we make a POST request using the signature with our file.

We do these in the upload function, after selecting file. Please note these below:

  • Prior to calling this function a file is selected and saved to $scope.file.
  • Upload.upload() is the function I use in ng-file-upload module. It has many features such as progress percentage that we can use in $scope.progressPercentage.
    // Uploads file directly to S3 bucket
    $scope.uploadPhoto= function(){

      // Get policy, signature, credentials and algorithm
      $http.get( "/policy.json").then(
          function(response) {

                url: 'https://''/',
                method: 'POST',
                data: {
                  key: $,
                  acl: 'private',
                  "Content-Type": $scope.file.type != '' ? $scope.file.type : 'application/octet-stream',
                  file: $scope.file

              function(response) {
              function(response) {
              function (evt) {
                $scope.progressPercentage = parseInt(100.0 * evt.loaded /;

          function(response) {



In your Ruby on Rails applications, if you are making HTTP requests to upload files to your Amazon S3 buckets you need to sign your requests for AWS to be able to authenticate them. Currently, all AWS regions support Signature Version 4 signing and regions openned after January 30, 2014 do not support previous versions. Hence, you can follow the methods in this blog post to sign your requests in your Ruby on Rails backend and use it in your AngularJS frontend.

As a final reminder, please do not forget to make Cross Origin Sharing (CORS) configuration of your bucket correctly. It is beyond the scope of this post. We may explain it in another post later.

You can find a sample application for an implementation of the signing process in this blog post in our Github repository.

Thanks for reading!



Freelance AWS Consultant, Instructor

CEO @ Shikisoft


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