There are a few different ways to back up or transfer files from on premises to Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3). One favorite way is to use the Amazon Web Services (AWS) command-line interface (CLI) tool that Amazon provides to work with AWS across many different services. In this article, let's run through how we can use the AWS CLI to back up files from our on-prem Windows servers to Amazon S3.


First of all, I'm going to assume a few things are in place before we get too far in this article. I'm going to assume you already have an Identity and Access Management (IAM) user created with permissions to write to an S3 bucket we'll be building. I'll be using an account with the AdministratorAccess IAM policy, but in production, you'll need to limit this down obviously. I'll also be assuming you have downloaded and installed the AWS CLI.

Setting up the IAM user and defaults

Once we've met all the prerequisites, we now need to provide our IAM user's access and secret keys. We can do this by opening up a command prompt (cmd.exe) and typing aws configure. This command will prompt you for your access and secret key, default region name, and default output format. If you don't know your region name, log into the AWS Management Console, and you'll notice it in the URL. For example, the default region I use is us-east-1, shown in this URL:

C:\>aws configure
AWS Access Key ID [None]: XXXXXXXXXX
AWS Secret Access Key [None]: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Default region name [None]: us-east-1
Default output format [None]:

Creating an S3 Bucket

Next, we'll create an S3 bucket, or you could use an existing one if you had one already. I'll create an S3 bucket named 4sysops. Notice the syntax below where we're telling the aws command-line utility to use the s3 service with the mb or makeBucket command followed by the path of the bucket itself.

aws s3 mb s3://4sysops

Uploading files

After creating the bucket, I can now begin uploading files to it. To do this, we'll use the cp command, specifying the local path of the file and the path of the bucket we just created. Again, we'll use the aws command-line utility and specify the s3 service.

C:\>aws s3 cp "C:\file.txt" s3://4sysops
upload: .\file.txt to s3://4sysops/file.txt

If you have an entire directory of contents you'd like to upload to an S3 bucket, you can also use the --recursive switch to force the AWS CLI to read all files and subfolders in an entire folder and upload them all to the S3 bucket. You can see below that as a test, I told it to upload my entire C: drive, but it skipped some files it couldn't read. It would have uploaded my whole hard drive if I hadn't canceled it!

C:\>aws s3 cp C:\ s3://4sysops --recursive
warning: Skipping file C:\\Documents and Settings. File/Directory is not readable.
warning: Skipping file C:\\hiberfil.sys. File/Directory is not readable.
warning: Skipping file C:\\pagefile.sys. File/Directory is not readable.
Copying folders to S3

Copying folders to S3

Downloading files

If we need to download files from our S3 bucket, we can go the other way by merely reversing the order of the two parameters: the s3 bucket path and the local path as shown below.

C:\>aws s3 cp "s3://4sysops/file.txt" ./
download: s3://4sysops/file.txt to .\file.txt

Removing files

Maybe it's been a while, and you're ready to do some cleanup. Using the aws utility, we can also remove the file we've backed up. This time, we do this using the rm command.

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aws s3 rm "s3://4sysops/file.txt"
delete: s3://4sysops/file.txt
  1. Nice article. Also configuration parameters such as max_concurrent_requests, max_queue_size, max_bandwidth, use_accelerate_endpoint make this solution production ready. 

    • Guilherme 2 years ago

      The download command is not working. The newest CLI says: fatal error: An error occurred (403) when calling the HeadObject operation: Forbidden

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