AWS EC2 CLI List Examples - Describe instances | Devops Junction

AWS CLI is a very great help when it comes to efficiently managing your AWS Cloud Infrastructure and your EC2 instances.

While we are managing our AWS Infrastructure,  we cannot always afford to login to the AWS console all the time and it is not recommended from the security perspective as well.

So the key here is the Programmatic Access with AWS CLI.

This is what we are going to do in this post.

  1. Setup your Programmatic Access - Create Access Key and  Key Secret.
  2. Install AWS CLI
  3. Configure AWS CLI
  4. Execute the AWS CLI Command line examples to List EC2 instances command line.

Let us perform these aforementioned steps one by one.


Setup your Programmatic Access - Create Access Key

If you would like to create a new user in IAM along with the Access Key follow these steps.

  1. Login to AWS Console
  2. In the services go to IAM
  3. Create a User and Click on map existing Policies
  4. Choose UserName and Select the Policy (Administrator Access Policy)
  5. Create user
  6. Final Stage would present the AccessKEY and Secret Access like given below.
API key creation Successful Message Banner


If you would like to Choose the existing user and create an Access Key follow this

  1. Sign in to the AWS Management Console and open the IAM console at
  2. In the navigation pane, choose Users.
  3. Choose the name of the user whose access keys you want to create, and then choose the Security credentials tab.
  4. In the Access keys section, choose to Create an access key.
  5. To view the new access key pair, choose Show. You will not have access to the secret access key again after this dialog box closes. ( Refer the image given above)


Install AWS CLI

Based on your base machine the AWS CLI installation and command might vary.

Amazon has given a clear instructions on how to install AWS CLI on each platform. Choose any of the following links and get your AWS CLI installed and ready


Configure AWS CLI

I presume that you have installed the AWS CLI package and if everything went well.

You should be able to see the version of the AWS CLI installed when entering the following command in your terminal or command prompt

aws – version

I am using the AWS CLI Version1 as CLI Version 2 is still on Beta.

Now it is a time to configure the AWS CLI, Just enter the following command and you would be prompted a few questions about the Access Key and Passwords.

aws configure

it would look like this as you are setting it up.

You enter your own AWS Access Key ID and Secret Access Key and the one is given below is not correct. Just a made up.

➜ ~ aws configure
AWS Access Key ID [None]: AKIAS790KQGK63WUK6T5
AWS Secret Access Key [None]: kkQEiBjJSKrDkWBLO9G/JJKQWIOKL/CpHjMGyoiJWW
Default region name [None]: us-east-1
Default output format [None]:

Well done. You are ready with AWS CLI


Quick Syntax of AWS CLI Commands

Before we are going in further,  let me quickly give you the syntax of  AWS CLI commands

aws [options] <command> <subcommand> [<subcommand> ...] [parameters]

aws CLI should be invoked with command and a subcommand. AWS CLI provides us huge list of commands and their associated sub commands and their documentation is also awesome.

It would take years for someone to write about all these commands and our objective is very specific and we are going to take one Single command named describe-instances

So let us move on and explore what it has got for us!!. We have given 7 examples of AWS CLI EC2  in this post.


AWS CLI EC2 Examples - Describe instances

  1. List All instances in your AWS infra (Single Region)
  2. List only Running instances
  3. Get a Specific list of Fileds using Query Parameter
  4. List Ec2 instance by tag value
  5. Describe a Specific instance using the instance ID
  6. List instances by Instance Type
  7. List instances by Availability Zone
  8. List the instances mapped to the Security Group.
  9. List the running instances with PrivateIP, PublicIP and VPC ID
  10. List All the instances in all regions - Run Any AWS Command in all regions
  11. List SPOT instances using aws cli EC2
  12. List OnDemand Instances using aws cli EC2
  13. List EC2 Instances with IAM and Security Group 


Example1: List All Instances in your AWS infrastructure from Default Region

If everything was done right. When you are running the following command you would see a Nicely formatted JSON output something just like this.

This command would list  all the instances from your default region defined by you.

The command is

aws ec2 describe-instances

List all EC2 instances command line

It would fetch all the data from your aws account and display the results as JSON format.  but this is NOT a human-readable format.

So ansible AWS CLI has great filters for you in place to help.

If you would like to describe the instances in JSON from other regions you can specify the region name on the command

aws ec2 describe-instances – region us-east-2



Example2:  List only Running instances as a Table using AWS CLI EC2

Here is the command we are going to execute. It is a bit complex to the previous command we have used. But it can be easily understood.

aws ec2 describe-instances  \
--query "Reservations[*].Instances[*].{PublicIP:PublicIpAddress,Name:Tags[?Key=='Name']|[0].Value,Status:State.Name}" \ 
--filters Name=instance-state-name,

Values=running \

--output table

So we are using three main parameters/flags here with aws ec2 describe-instances command.

--query accepts the JSON query,  To limit the fields returned or to customize the list of fields on the result

--filters accepts a list of filters, A Search String alike. to get the list of filters refer here

--output to customize the format of the output, JSON (or) TABLE

With the help of the --query field we are displaying only the Name, PublicIP, Status fields from the entire data.  We can customize it further by choosing more or less fields using the query.

Consider the following example.



Example3:  Getting More Fields using the Query Parameter.  Get the Machine type

Here is the command we are going to use to get the list of running instances with Name, PublicIP, Status along with machine type

ansible aws ec2 describe-instances \
--query "Reservations[*].Instances[*].{PublicIP:PublicIpAddress,Type:InstanceType,Name:Tags[?Key=='Name']|[0].Value,Status:State.Name}"  \
--filters "Name=instance-state-name,Values=running" "Name=tag:Name,Values='*'"  \
--output table


Example4:  Get the servers based on a String availability on the tag using AWS CLI EC2

While we are creating the servers, we give meaningful tags to the server Name is one famous tag name we are giving for all the ec2 instances we are creating.

Often we would give some useful information on this such as Hostname, Application Name, Environment Name etc.

Let's suppose that this Name the field is having the environment names such as dev, prod, uat on all the servers present in your aws infrastructure

To list only the Dev servers. the following command would help

aws ec2 describe-instances \
--query "Reservations[*].Instances[*].{PublicIP:PublicIpAddress,Name:Tags[?Key=='Name']|[0].Value,Status:State.Name}"  \
--filters "Name=instance-state-name,Values=running"

"Name=tag:Name,Values='*Dev*'" \

--output table

Look at the highlighted part on the preceding snippet and you would understand that we are using the Search string *Dev* to get only the Development servers.

We are also specifying the tag name in which the search has to happen with Name=tag:Name


Example5:  Describe a Specific instance by Instance ID using AWS CLI EC2

Sometimes all you want to know is a configuration of a Single instance and if you have the instance-id with you. you can do it easily with aws ec2 describe-instances command line.

Here is the command,

The --instance-ids parameter can accept one or more instance ids. The output will be printed as JSON unless modified with --query and --output

aws ec2 describe-instances – instance-ids i-1234567890abcdef0


Example6:  List all running instances based on the Instance Type. t2.medium, t2.large etc.

List only large instances in a running state

aws ec2 describe-instances \
--query "Reservations[*].Instances[*].{PublicIP:PublicIpAddress,Type:InstanceType,Name:Tags[?Key=='Name']|[0].Value,Status:State.Name}"  \
--filters "Name=instance-state-name,Values=running" "Name=instance-type,Values='*large*'" \
--output table

List only medium and micro instances

aws ec2 describe-instances \
--query "Reservations[*].Instances[*].{PublicIP:PublicIpAddress,Type:InstanceType,Name:Tags[?Key=='Name']|[0].Value,Status:State.Name}" \
--filters "Name=instance-state-name,Values=running" "Name=instance-type,Values='t2.medium','t2.micro'" \
--output table

 You can get the output as JSON as well, Not just Table

I know you might think that all the examples are having  --output format as table.  Based on your requirement you can use either  table or text or json with this output parameter.

here is the example.

aws ec2 describe-instances \
--query "Reservations[*].Instances[*].{PublicIP:PublicIpAddress,Type:InstanceType,Name:Tags[?Key=='Name']|[0].Value,Status:State.Name}" \
--filters "Name=instance-state-name,Values=running" "Name=instance-type,Values='t2.medium','t2.micro'" \
--output json

Example7:  List instances based on the Availability Zone using AWS CLI EC2

You can also list the instances based on their availability zone

here is the command

aws ec2 describe-instances \
    – filters Name=availability-zone,Values=us-east-2c


Example 8: List the instances associated with a Specific Security Group

I think, we often get a requirement to check  how many instances are using a particular security group and here is the aws ec2 command to get that done for us

Here my security group name is Application-Server and here is the command I would use to get the list of EC2 instance associated with the Security group

Here I am using the filter to get that done.

aws ec2 describe-instances \ 
--query "Reservations[*].Instances[*].{PublicIP:PublicIpAddress,Type:InstanceType,Name:Tags[?Key=='Name']|[0].Value,Status:State.Name}" \
--filters "Name=instance-state-name,Values=running" "Name=instance-type,Values='t2.medium','t2.micro'" ",Values='Application-Server'" \
--output table

As it does not print the Security Group data in the table format. If you want to reverify. You can use the following command which lists the Security-Groups associated with the EC2 instance. Just to cross verify.

aws ec2 describe-instances \
--query "Reservations[*].Instances[*].{PublicIP:PublicIpAddress,Type:InstanceType,Name:Tags[?Key=='Name']|[0].Value,Status:State.Name,SecurityGroups:SecurityGroups[*]}" \ 
--filters "Name=instance-state-name,Values=running" "Name=instance-type,Values='t2.medium','t2.micro'" ",Values=Application-Server" \
--output json


Example 9: List the running instances with PrivateIP, PublicIP and VPC ID

In this example, we are going to see how to use AWS CLI EC2 to list the running instances with more details like InstanceType, PrivateIP, PublicIP and VPC ID etc

aws ec2 describe-instances 
--query "Reservations[*].Instances[*].{PublicIP:PublicIpAddress,PrivateIP:PrivateIpAddress,Name:Tags[?Key=='Name']|[0].Value,Type:InstanceType,Status:State.Name,VpcId:VpcId}" 
--filters Name=instance-state-name,Values=running 
--output table

Here is the execution output of this command looks like

Example 10: List All the instances in all regions

By default AWS CLI would be picking up your default region while executing the command. What if you want to List All the instances in all regions.

we have a solution for it. Refer the following post where we talk about our new tool awsall

Run AWS CLI commands on All regions - awsall | Devops Junction

You can execute all the aws commands with awsall with modification.

For example, Take the example 9 and replace the awswith awsall and execute it.

awsall ec2 describe-instances – query "Reservations[*].Instances[*].{PublicIP:PublicIpAddress,PrivateIP:PrivateIpAddress,Name:Tags[?Key=='Name']|[0].Value,Type:InstanceType,Status:State.Name,VpcId:VpcId}" – filters Name=instance-state-name,Values=running – output table

It will be executed on all AWS regions and give you the result.

aws cli


Example 11: List SPOT instances using aws CLI EC2

At times we want to list instances based on their billing life cycle, SPOT or On Demand.

Here is the aws CLI ec2 command to list. only spot instances

aws ec2 describe-instances \
--query "Reservations[*].Instances[*].{PrivateIP:PrivateIpAddress,Type:InstanceType,Name:Tags[?Key=='Name']|[0].Value,Status:State.Name,LifeCyle:InstanceLifecycle }"  \
--filters "Name=instance-state-name,Values=running" "Name=instance-type,Values='*'" \
--output table | grep -i spot

This would print the details in the form of a table.

If you want the output as a CSV. you can use the following command. we have used awkcommand to format the output to CSV along with text output format.

aws ec2 describe-instances \
--query "Reservations[*].Instances[*].{PrivateIP:PrivateIpAddress,Type:InstanceType,Name:Tags[?Key=='Name']|[0].Value,Status:State.Name,LifeCyle:InstanceLifecycle }"  \
--filters "Name=instance-state-name,Values=running" "Name=instance-type,Values='*'" \
--output text |grep -i spot | awk '{print $1","$2","$3","$4","$5}'


Example 12: List ON-Demand instances using aws CLI EC2

to list only the OnDemand EC2 instances on your AWS account. You can use the following command

aws ec2 describe-instances \
--query "Reservations[*].Instances[*].{PrivateIP:PrivateIpAddress,Type:InstanceType,Name:Tags[?Key=='Name']|[0].Value,Status:State.Name,LifeCyle:InstanceLifecycle }"  \
--filters "Name=instance-state-name,Values=running" "Name=instance-type,Values='*'" \
--output table|grep -iv spot

as on-demand instances would not have any InstanceLifeCycle reference like SPOT. we are trying to list all instances without spot using grep -iv

If you want the output to be in CSV format you can use the below command

aws ec2 describe-instances \
--query "Reservations[*].Instances[*].{PrivateIP:PrivateIpAddress,Type:InstanceType,Name:Tags[?Key=='Name']|[0].Value,Status:State.Name,LifeCyle:InstanceLifecycle }"  \
--filters "Name=instance-state-name,Values=running" "Name=instance-type,Values='*'" \
--output text|grep -iv spot|awk '{print $1","$2","$3","$4","$5}'



Example13: List EC2 instances with IAM and Security Group

In this example, we are listing the aws EC2 instances with their IAM security role and security group configuration.

Get all running instances with their IAM and security group using aws cli

aws ec2 describe-instances – query "Reservations[*].Instances[*].{PublicIP:PublicIpAddress,PrivateIP:PrivateIpAddress,Name:Tags[?Key=='Name'].Value|[0],Status:State.Name,VpcId:VpcId,InstanceID:InstanceId,Groups:join(',',NetworkInterfaces[].Groups[].GroupId),IamInstanceProfile:IamInstanceProfile.Arn}" – filters "Name=instance-state-name,Values=running" – output json


Get all stopped instances with their IAM and security group using aws cli

aws ec2 describe-instances – query "Reservations[*].Instances[*].{PublicIP:PublicIpAddress,PrivateIP:PrivateIpAddress,Name:Tags[?Key=='Name'].Value|[0],Status:State.Name,VpcId:VpcId,InstanceID:InstanceId,Groups:join(',',NetworkInterfaces[].Groups[].GroupId),IamInstanceProfile:IamInstanceProfile.Arn}" – filters "Name=instance-state-name,Values=stopped"  – output json


Filter instances with a specific name.  done using the filters

aws ec2 describe-instances – query "Reservations[*].Instances[*].{PublicIP:PublicIpAddress,PrivateIP:PrivateIpAddress,Name:Tags[?Key=='Name'].Value|[0],Status:State.Name,VpcId:VpcId,InstanceID:InstanceId,Groups:join(',',NetworkInterfaces[].Groups[].GroupId),IamInstanceProfile:IamInstanceProfile.Arn}" – filters "Name=instance-state-name,Values=running" "Name=tag:Name,Values=*EKS*" – output json

You can notice we are using *EKS* to filter Ec2 instances which have EKS on their name.

We are also using a special function of JMESPATH named join to flatten the array and convert all the elements to a single-line string with a comma

Since the IAM role would come as a full ARN and at times a single instance would have multiple security groups, displaying this data as a table using --output table may not be the right choice.



While there are so many modules still that are not covered in this post. I hope that this gives you a good start on the AWS CLI command line.

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section


Sarav AK

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