How to Easily Delete an S3 Bucket with Millions of Files in it

Quick automation tips for clearing out your AWS S3 buckets.

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

I see that the rule has removed 30,222,969 objects since 2/20. I would say give it a few more days and it should empty the buckets.

So I was cleaning up some S3 buckets. These buckets, for better or for worse, had versioning enabled, and each contained hundreds of thousands — if not millions — objects. AWS does not allow you to delete non-empty buckets in one go, and definitely not buckets with versioning on — you have to remove all of the objects first (docs here).

The fact that there is no rm -rf in AWS S3 feels so bizarre! I knew I had to share my findings in what was meant to be a quick blog on automation.

2 days, 3 versions of the script, a chat to our AWS account manager, and a support case later — the task is (almost) done.

XKCD: Automation Automation


If your environment does not expire STS session tokens after an hour, or your bucket contains less than a million files — use one of the scripts below. Otherwise — set up lifecycle policies that will delete all files, wait for a week, and proceed to delete the bucket. An example policy is at the end of the article.

Nope, you can't just delete a non-empty S3 bucketNope, you can’t just delete a non-empty S3 bucket

Deleting S3 buckets, option 1: out-of-the-box tools

The easiest way to empty an S3 bucket is to launch a process called Empty on the bucket in the AWS console, or to use the AWS CLI:

aws s3 rb s3://$bucket --force

So I tried both. CLI ran for an hour and.. my STS token timed out. The console method worked fine for a small-ish bucket, and completely and obscurely errored out after a few hours on a bucket with >1M files.

Any operation running for longer than the token is valid for will failAny operation running for longer than the token is valid for will fail

According to AWS support, it can take up to several days for the bucket to be emptied! What if you need it to be done sooner?

Deleting S3 buckets, option 2: automation!

Anything that can be done via CLI, can be automated. All you need is an orchestrator, trusted by your AWS accounts and able to run a long-lived job. Jenkins, Rundeck, Azure DevOps, what have you; and a couple of lines of Bash.

The script you’re about to see does the following:

  1. Assume a role that can control AWS resources

  2. Finds all object versions in the bucket, and lists the Key and VersionID in a file

  3. Deletes chunks of 1000 objects (the maximum you can pass to the AWS API), assuming the role again whenever 55 min has elapsed

  4. Force-deletes the bucket at the end

55 min is relevant to an environment where the STS token expires within 1 hour — and, frankly, it could be 58 min, leaving just enough time to run assume-role again. The trick is to renew the credentials *before *they expire so that the CLI can continue.

We will make use of the magic of the date command, and comparing times (on Linux and Mac):

alive_since=$(date +%Y-%m-%d-%T)
cut_off_time=$(date --date=’55 minutes ago’ +%Y-%m-%d-%T)
if [ ${cut_off_time} \\> ${alive_since} ]; then

For convenience, wrap the AWS login commands into a function called aws_login.

The script itself looks like this! Paste it into your orchestrator of choice, and voila — it will silently delete the bucket with all its objects and versions.

# Assume role and note the timestamp - it will be used to check if the token needs renewal
alive_since=$(date +%Y-%m-%d-%T)

# Source File Name, will contain all versions of objects in the bucket
# File Name will list chunks of object versions for deletion in an iteration

# Disable versioning on the bucket so that new versions don't appear as we delete
aws s3api put-bucket-versioning --bucket $BUCKET --versioning-configuration Status=Suspended

# Get all versions of all objects in the bucket
# This is what will time out if there's more than 1M objects/versions
aws s3api list-object-versions --bucket $BUCKET --output json --query ‘Versions[].{Key: Key, VersionId: VersionId}’ > $SRCFN

# How many object versions in total??
total=$(grep -c VersionId $SRCFN)

# Go through the list in $SRCFN and delete chucks of 1000 objects until there’s nothing left
while [ $index -lt $total ] ; do
    # Check if it’s been more than 55 minutes since we assumed role
    # Renew if it has, and reset the alive_since timestamp
    CUT_OFF_TIME=$(date --date=’55 minutes ago’ +%Y-%m-%d-%T)
    if [ ${CUT_OFF_TIME} \\> ${alive_since} ]; then
        alive_since=$(date +%Y-%m-%d-%T)
    echo “Processing $index to $e# Get a list of objects from $index to $index+999, formatted for the delete-objects AWS API
    (echo -n ‘{“Objects”:’;jq “.[$index:$e]” < $SRCFN 2>&1 | sed ‘s#]$#] , “Quiet”:true}#’) > $FN

    # Delete the chunk
    aws s3api delete-objects --bucket $BUCKET --delete file://$FN && rm $FN

    sleep 1
# Normally by now the bucket is empty, force delete it
aws s3 rb s3://${BUCKET} --force

Of course, you can amend the script to run a for loop over multiple buckets if needed. Just be careful not to nuke extra resources!

If you use Jenkins, let me save you some time in writing a pipeline:

pipeline {
  agent {
    // You don't have to run in docker if your Jenkins is allowed to use aws cli
    docker {
      image 'amazon/aws-cli'
      args ' --entrypoint="" --user=root'
  parameters {
    string(name: 'BUCKET', description: 'Bucket name to delete')
    string(name: 'ROLE_ARN', description: 'IAM role that has access to the bucket')
  stages {
    stage('Script') {
      steps {
        script {
          sh '''
          yum -y install jq >> /dev/null

Deleting S3 buckets, option 3: Python

If the number of objects in your bucket is relatively small (i.e. not millions), you can use this short and sweet Python script:

#!/usr/bin/env python
import sys
import boto3
# Take the bucket name from command line args
BUCKET = sys.argv[1]

s3 = boto3.resource('s3')
bucket = s3.Bucket(BUCKET)
# Delete all object versions in the bucket
# Delete the bucket

This script has appeared on the web countless times, I definitely do not hold any credit for it. It works nicely — until you have several million objects, a timeout on AWS tokens, yeah, yeah, we’ve heard all that already.

Deleting S3 buckets… Just please empty my sodding bucket, AWS!

So far, the extra-large number of objects, plus a fixed length of credentials validity, made all of those methods just fail. And even the script above, which was supposed to handle such a scenario — did not survive. Why? Because aws s3api list-object-versions takes longer than an hour when the bucket has >1M objects.

The last available option is through S3 bucket lifecycle policies (official doc here).

You will go to the bucket -> Management tab -> create a new lifecycle policy. Check This rule applies to all objects in the bucket, tick the confirmation box; then select the following Lifecycle rule actions:

Expire current versions of objects Permanently delete previous versions of objects Delete expired delete markers or incomplete multipart uploads

Enter 1 to all of Number of days after object creation, Number of days after objects become previous versions, and Number of days on Delete incomplete multipart uploads.

This will take a couple of days, so stock up on patience! I am writing this 5 full days after enabling lifecycle policies on my buckets, and those buckets are still not empty. AWS support looked into my case and told me this:

I see that the rule has removed 30,222,969 objects since 2/20. However, the process is still ongoing. It is because LCs are asynchronous

30 million objects and still running! Yeah. Patience.

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