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Accessing AppSync APIs that require Cognito Login outside of Amplify

The Need

You have this great Amplify App using AppSync GraphQL. You eventually find that you need to be able to access that data in your AppSync GraphQL database from tools other than your Amplify App. Its easy if you just have your AppSync API protected just by an API Key. But that isn’t great security for your data!

One way to protect your AppSync data is to use Cognito Identity Pools. Amplify makes it pretty transparent if you are using Amplify to build your clients. AppSync lets you do really nice table and record level access control based on logins and roles.

What happens if you want to access that data from something other than an Amplify based client? How do you “login” and get the JWT credentials you need to access your AppSync APIs?


The most general way is to use the AWS CLI to effectively login and retrieve the JWT credentials that can then be passed in the headers of any requests you make to your AppSync APIs.

Unfortunately its not as easy as just having your login and password. It also depends on how you configured your Cognito Identity Pool and its related Client Apps.

Cognito User Pool Client App

You can have multiple Client Apps specified for your Cognito User Pool. I suggest having one dedicated to these external applications. That way you can have custom configuration just for this and not disrupt your main Amplify apps. Also you can easily turn it off if you need too.

User Pool Client Apps

In my case I created a new client app shoppabdbe800b-rob-test2 as a way to test a client app with no App Client Secret. This makes it easier to access from the command line as you do not have to generate a Secret Hash (will describe how to deal with that below).

App Client Config with no secret

If you want to allow admin level access (ie a user with admin permission) you need to check Enable username password auth for admin APIs for authentication (ALLOW_ADMIN_USER_PASSWORD_AUTH)

If you want to allow regular users to login you must also select Enable username password based authentication (ALLOW_USER_PASSWORD_AUTH)

The defaults for the other fields should be ok. Be sure to save your changes.

Minimal IAM permissions

As far as I can tell, these are the minimal IAM permissions to make the aws cognito-idp command work for admin and regular users of AppSync (replace the Resource arn with the arn of the user pool[s] you want to control):

    "Version": "2012-10-17",
    "Statement": [
            "Sid": "VisualEditor0",
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [
            "Resource": "arn:aws:cognito-idp:us-east-1:XXXXXXXXXXXXX:userpool/us-east-1_XXXXXXXXX"
            "Sid": "VisualEditor1",
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [
            "Resource": "*"

Get the Credentials with no App Client Secret

This example is if you did not set the App Client Secret.

You should now be able to get the JWT credentials from the AWS CLI.

This assumes you have set up your ~/.aws/credentials file or whatever is appropriate for your command line environment so that you have the permissions to access this service.

aws cognito-idp admin-initiate-auth --user-pool-id us-east-1_XXXXXXXXXX --auth-flow ADMIN_USER_PASSWORD_AUTH --client-id XXXXXXXXXXXXX --auth-parameters USERNAME=username1,PASSWORD=XXXXXXXXXXXXX > creds.json
  • When using the USER_PASSWORD_AUTH
aws cognito-idp initiate-auth --auth-flow USER_PASSWORD_AUTH --client-id XXXXXXXXXXXXX --auth-parameters USERNAME=username2,PASSWORD=XXXXXXXXXXXX > creds.json

Of course replace the XXXX‘s with the actual values.

  • user-pool-id – The pool id found at the top of the User Pool Client Apps page
  • client-id – The client-id of the app client you are using
  • USERNAME – The Username normally used to login to your Amplify app
  • PASSWORD – The Password normally used to login to your Amplify app

The results will be in creds.json. (You could not use the > creds.json if you want to just see the results)

Get the Credentials when there is an App Client Secret

This assumes you have an App Client that has an app secret key set.

The main thing here is you need to generate a secret hash to send along with the command.

You can do that by creating a little python program to generate it for you when you need it:

#!/usr/bin/env python3

import sys
import hmac, hashlib, base64

if (len(sys.argv) == 4):
    username = sys.argv[1]
    app_client_id = sys.argv[2]
    key = sys.argv[3]
    message = bytes(sys.argv[1]+sys.argv[2],'utf-8')
    key = bytes(sys.argv[3],'utf-8')
    secret_hash = base64.b64encode(, message, digestmod=hashlib.sha256).digest()).decode()

    print("SECRET HASH:",secret_hash)
    (print("len sys.argv: ", len(sys.argv)))
    print("usage: ",  sys.argv[0], " <username> <app_client_id> <app_client_secret>")

Save the file someplace that you can execute it from like ~/bin/app-client-secret-hash and make it executable (chmod a+x ~/bin/app-client-secret-hash).

You will need:

  • app-client-id – The client-id of the app client you are using
  • app-client-secret – The secret of the app client you are using (its on the App Client page of the User Pool)
  • USERNAME – The Username normally used to login to your Amplify app

To use:

~/bin/app-client-secret-hash  <username> <app_client_id> <app_client_secret>

Where of course you replace the arguments with the actual values.

The result is a secret-hash you will use in the following command to get the actual JWT credentials

aws cognito-idp admin-initiate-auth --user-pool-id us-east-1_XXXXXXXXXX --auth-flow ADMIN_USER_PASSWORD_AUTH --client-id XXXXXXXXXXXXX --auth-parameters USERNAME=username3,PASSWORD='secret password',SECRET_HASH='secret-hash' > creds.json

You could do the same thing with USER_PASSWORD_AUTH if you nee that instead

aws cognito-idp initiate-auth --auth-flow USER_PASSWORD_AUTH --client-id XXXXXXXXXXXXX --auth-parameters USERNAME=rob+admin,PASSWORD=XXXXXXXXX,SECRET_HASH='secret-hash' > creds.json

Using the Credentials

How you use these credentials depends on what tool or how you are trying to access your AppSync APIs.

From some Javascript

You can just add in the IdToken from the creds.json as an Authorization header when you build the request:

function graphQLFetcher(graphQLParams) {
  const credentialsAppSync = {
    Authorization: "eyJraWQiOiI1dVUwMld...",
  return fetch(APPSYNC_API_URL, {
    method: "post",
    headers: {
      Accept: "application/json",
      "Content-Type": "application/json",
    body: JSON.stringify(graphQLParams),
    credentials: "omit",
  }).then(function (response) {
    return response.json().catch(function () {
      return response.text();

If you are using some GraphQL tool that needs to access your AppSync APIs. The tool should have a way that you can supply the token and it will add it as an Authorization header for its own requests.

Do let me know if you have some examples of tools that would make use of this.


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