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James Dawson By James Dawson Principal I
Using multiple azure-cli credentials within automation

Have you ever needed an automated process to use alternative credentials for a subset of tasks?

Do your CI/CD processes run with least privilege and lack the permission to carry out certain higher privilege tasks like creating users, changing permissions or role assignments?

This post will demonstrate a technique that allows you setup multiple, concurrent authenticated sessions when using the azure-cli and switch freely between them.

Ordinarily when you run the az login command, your profile stored in ~/.azure will be updated with the obtained authentication token and the azure-cli will use this to authenticate subsequent commands.

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However, it is possible to override the path used to store the profile data by setting the environment variable AZURE_CONFIG_DIR. In this way your automated process can use the standard profile path for its default credentials but setup additional authenticated sessions for any other security contexts it requires to do its job.

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You just need to ensure that this environment variable is set to point at the correct path before running your azure-cli command (and unset when you want to use the default credentials again).

The PowerShell script below should give you the general idea:

$ErrorActionPreference = 'Stop'
# setup temporary profile path for the alternative user
$altIdProfilePath = Join-Path ([io.path]::GetTempPath()) '.azure-altId'

try {
    # check whether already logged-in
    $currentToken = $(az account get-access-token) | ConvertFrom-Json
    if ([datetime]$currentToken.expiresOn -le [datetime]::Now) {
catch {
    Write-Host 'You need to login'
    az login | Out-Null
    if ($LASTEXITCODE -ne 0) { exit 1 }

Write-Host "You are logged-in (default credential)"
Write-Host "Output from 'az account show':"
az account show --query user

# create a test SPN
Write-Host "`nCreating temporary SPN..."
$newUser = $(az ad sp create-for-rbac -n "My-Alt-Id" --skip-assignment) | ConvertFrom-Json
Write-Host "Created appId: $($newUser.appId)"

Write-Host "`nSwitching to alternative user ($altIdProfilePath)"
# don't use the new SPN too soon ;-)
Start-Sleep -Seconds 5
$env:AZURE_CONFIG_DIR = $altIdProfilePath
Write-Host "Logging-in as temporary SPN"
az login --service-principal -u $newUser.appId -p $newUser.password --tenant $newUser.tenant --allow-no-subscriptions | Out-Null
if ($LASTEXITCODE -ne 0) { exit 1 }
Write-Host "Output from 'az account show':"
az account show --query user

Write-Host "`nSwitching back to default credential"
# unset the environment variable
Remove-Item env:\AZURE_CONFIG_DIR
Write-Host "Output from 'az account show':"
az account show --query user

# tidy-up
Write-Host "`nRemoving temporary SPN..."
az ad sp delete --id $newUser.appId
Remove-Item -Recurse -Force $altIdProfilePath

James Dawson

Principal I

James Dawson

James is an experienced consultant with a 20+ year history of working across such wide-ranging fields as infrastructure platform design, internet security, application lifecycle management and DevOps consulting - both technical and in a coaching capacity. He enjoys solving problems, particularly those that reduce friction for others or otherwise makes them more effective.