Amazon S3 × CloudFront

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Previously this site was hosted on a Linode VPS, handling thousands of requests a day. It’s stable, fast, and has a great support team. But this time I would like to try something new - host my website entirely in the cloud.

The first cloud provider that came to my mind was Amazon S3 and CloudFront. Back in 2010, I tried this combination with no luck. The web hosting feature of S3 was not as expected, and CloudFront did not support custom domain SSL and the apex (root) domain was also not supported. But now I’m happy to see all these features implemented and so I’m going to try this approach again.

Please note that this is not a detailed tutorial about how to host your website on Amazon S3 and CloudFront, but my personal notes about setup pitfalls.

Transfer everything to the Cloud?

There are two methods you can choose - host static files on Amazon S3 and speed up using CloudFront, or host your website on a remote server using CloudFront as custom origin proxy. Both of these have their pros and cons:

Amazon S3 + CloudFront means you do not have to buy additional servers to host your website, but you have to do more work to ensure your website behaves the same as before. For example, you cannot use /feed/ (/feed/index.xml) as your feed URL because you can set only one Document Index per bucket. If you’re using /feed/ then you have to redirect it to something similar to feed.xml. Gzip is also not a native feature on S3. You have to compress it manually or use other tools (I will talk about it later).

Update Dec 19, 2015: Amazon finally added Gzip compression support for CloudFront. You can now simply turn on this feature in AWS console or via CLI.

Using Amazon CloudFront with custom origin means you still need servers to store your files. You will have more control with your website, for example, you can use Nginx with complex redirects, your website can be dynamic, and CloudFront works just like a proxy. However, the downside is the cache control which can be tricky. You cannot use invalidation with the existing tools and you have to set separate cache control headers s-maxage for CloudFront.

To make things simple, I use Amazon S3 with CloudFront.

Move files to Amazon S3

The easiest way is using s3_website. It can help you handle file headers, invalidations, and redirects.

Here’s a part of my s3_website.yml config:

  "index.html": 600
  "*.css":      2592000
  "*.js":       2592000
  "*.jpg":      31536000
  "*.woff2":    31536000
  "*":          86400

You can also define the files to be ignored:

  - (?:\.(?:DS_Store|bak|config|sql|fla|psd|ai|sketch|ini|log|sh|inc|swp|dist))$

For more information please refer s3_website’s documentation.

Fixing wrong feed URL

As discussed before, you cannot use /feed/ (/feed/index.xml) as your feed URL because you can set only one Document Index per bucket. Amazon S3 does not redirect it to a file other than Document Index (i.e. index.html). You have to make a redirect from /feed/ or /rss/ to feed.xml or rss.xml that directly points to the file. This is performed by the following two steps:

First redirect /feed to /feed.xml in s3_website.yml:

  feed: feed.xml

Then redirect /feed/ to /feed.xml in AWS web console:


Update Sep 11, 2015: actually you can define routing rules directly in s3_website.yml:

  - condition:
      key_prefix_equals: feed/
      replace_key_prefix_with: feed.xml
      http_redirect_code: 301

Then run s3_website cfg apply to update redirects.

Redirect www to non-www

You have to create an empty separate S3 bucket and redirect all requests to your root domain. Refer official documentation. This can be set under your bucket properties panel.

Enable CloudFront

The only thing you should be aware of is that the Origin Domain Name should be pointing to your S3 endpoint and not to the bucket URL.

CloudFront + Custom SSL

Amazon has a very detailed documentation about using HTTPS with custom SSL certificates and it’s hard to get the key points. So here’s a brief answer:

$ aws iam upload-server-certificate --server-certificate-name --certificate-body file:///path/cert.crt --private-key file:///path/private.key.pem --certificate-chain file:///path/intermediates.chained.crt --path /cloudfront/prod/

Please note that private-key should be in PEM format. If you get the following error:

A client error (MalformedCertificate) occurred when calling the UploadServerCertificate operation: Unable to parse certificate. Please ensure the certificate is in PEM format.

Then try:

$ openssl rsa -in private.key -out private.key.pem

If you get the following message, then it must be something wrong with your chained intermediate certificates:

A client error (MalformedCertificate) occurred when calling the UploadServerCertificate operation: Unable to validate certificate chain. The certificate chain must start with the immediate signing certificate, followed by any intermediaries in order. The index within the chain of the invalid certificate is: 1

The fix is simple - you should only chain your intermediate certificates without the domain certificate and this is different with the Nginx ssl_certificate directive:

$ cat COMODORSADomainValidationSecureServerCA.crt COMODORSAAddTrustCA.crt > intermediates.chained.crt

Please also note that all certs should start with file:// protocol if they’re on your local machine.

If everything is right you will get the following response:

    "ServerCertificateMetadata": {
        "ServerCertificateId": "ASCAxxxxxxxxxxxxxxZ7S",
        "ServerCertificateName": "",
        "Expiration": "2018-04-26T23:59:59Z",
        "Path": "/cloudfront/prod/",
        "Arn": "arn:aws:iam::677998837349:server-certificate/cloudfront/prod/",
        "UploadDate": "2015-04-27T03:54:45.807Z"

Then you can enable the Custom SSL Certificate stored in your AWS IAM from the web console.


  • The size of the public key in the SSL certificate cannot exceed 2048 bits 1.
  • As of October of 2015, you still can’t use ECC certificate (ECDSA cipher suites) for CloudFront 2.

Update SSL Certificate

If the certificate you’re using is expiring, you need first upload the new certificate with a different server-certificate-name, change the expiring certificate to the new one, then you can optionally remove the old certificate with aws iam delete-server-certificate. You can also list all existing certificates via aws iam list-server-certificate.

  1. See “Determining the Size of the Public Key in an SSL Certificate” section in Using an HTTPS Connection to Access Your Objects - Amazon CloudFront ↩︎

  2. See “Encryption” in Request and Response Behavior for Custom Origins - Amazon CloudFront ↩︎