Integrating IAM user/roles with EKS

To be completely honest, this article spawns out of some troubleshooting frustration. So hopefully this will save others some headaches.

The scenario: after having configured an EKS cluster, I wanted to provide permissions for more IAM users. After creating a new IAM user with belonged to the target intended IAM groups, the following exceptions were thrown in the CLI:

kubectl get svc
error: the server doesn't have a resource type "svc"
kubectl get nodes
error: You must be logged in to the server (Unauthorized)


AWS profile config

First configure your local AWS profile. This is also useful if you want to test for different users and roles.


# aws configure --profile
# for example:
aws configure --profile dev

If this is your firts time, this will generate two files,

~/.aws/config and ~/.aws/credentials

It will simply append to them, which means that you can obviously edit the files manually as well if you prefer. The way you can alternate between these profiles in the CLI is:

#export AWS_PROFILE=
# for example:
export AWS_PROFILE=dev

Now before you move on to the next section, validate that you are referencing the correct user or role in your local aws configuration:

# aws --profile  sts get-caller-identity
# for example:
aws --profile dev sts get-caller-identity

"Account": "REDACTED",
"UserId": "REDACTED",
"Arn": "arn:aws:iam:::user/john.doe"


Validate AWS permissions

Validate that your user has the correct permissions, namely the following two are required:

# aws eks describe-cluster --name=
# for example:
aws eks describe-cluster --name=eks-dev

Add IAM users/roles to cluster config

If you managed to add worker nodes to your EKS cluster, then this documentation should be familiar already. You probably AWS documentation describes

kubectl apply -f aws-auth-cm.yaml

While troubleshooting I saw some people trying to use the clusters role in the “-r” part. However you can not assume a role used by the cluster, as this is a role reserved/trusted for instances. You need to create your own role, and add root account as trusted entity, and add permission for the user/group to assume it, for example as follows:

  "Version": "2012-10-17",
  "Statement": [
        "Effect": "Allow",
        "Principal": {
             "Service": "",
             "AWS": "arn:aws:iam:::user/john.doe"
        "Action": "sts:AssumeRole"


Kubernetes local config

then, generate a new kube configuration file. Note that the following command will create a new file in ~/.kube/config

aws --profile=dev eks update-kubeconfig --name esk-dev

AWS suggests isolating your configuration in a file with name “config-“. So, assuming our cluster name is “dev”, then:

export KUBECONFIG=~/.kube/config-eks-dev
aws --profile=dev eks update-kubeconfig --name esk-dev


This will then create a the config file in ~/.kube/config-eks-dev rather than ~/.kube/config

As described in AWS documentation, your kube configuration should be something similar to the following:

If you want to make sure you are using the correct configuration:

export KUBECONFIG=~/.kube/config-eks-dev
kubectl config current-context

This will print whatever the alias you gave in the config file.

Last but not least, update the new config file and add the profile used.

Last step is to confirm you have permissions:

export KUBECONFIG=~/.kube/config-eks-dev
kubectl auth can -i get pods
# Ideally you get "yes" as the answer.
kubectl get svc



To make sure you are not working in a environment with hidden environmental variables that you are not aware and may conflict, make sure you unset them as follows:


Also if you are getting as follows:

could not get token: AccessDenied: User arn:aws:iam:::user/john.doe is not authorized to perform: sts:AssumeRole on resource: arn:aws:iam:::user/john.doe

Then it means you are specifying the -r flag in your kube/config file. This should be only used for roles.

Hopefully this short article was enough to unblock you, but in case not, here is a collection of further potential useful articles:

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