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Hosting a static website on AWS

Here's a quick guide to hosting a static website on Amazon Web Services. In this guide we set up a root domain for your site content, a www subdomain that redirects to the root domain, and a cdn subdomain that uses Amazon CloudFront as a content distribution network to make your site load faster.

Setting up S3 buckets for hosting the files

First off, go to and either log in or sign up for an AWS account. You'll need a credit card for that, mind. Now that you're logged in, go to the S3 console. There? Great!

The second step is to create a new bucket for your site content. Click on the big blue button that says Create Bucket. For the name, enter the domain of your website. Pick the region closest to your intended audience.

Now let's upload the site content into the bucket. Click on the name of the bucket to enter it. Now click the blue Upload button at the top of the page and add the files you want to upload.

As an aside, if you want a nice programmable way to upload files, install this aws shell script and maybe use this automagical hacky upload script of mine. You can also use one of the graphical clients like 3Hub.

Now go back to the S3 console buckets list and click on the magnifying glass next to the bucket name. Look to the right side of the page and select Static Website Hosting from the properties. Click Enable website hosting, write index.html to the Index Document field and click Save. Almost online now! You can see the URL for the bucket endpoint above the website hosting toggling. But if you try to visit the bucket endpoint URL now, it will give you an access denied error.

To make the site publicly visible, we need to edit the permissions for the bucket. Click on Permissions under the bucket Properties. Now click on Add bucket policy and paste in the following policy (remember to change MYBUCKET to the name of your bucket).

   "Principal": {
            "AWS": "*"

Click on Save and then the blue Save button. Done! We're online! You can go to the bucket endpoint URL now and see your site load.

Using your own domain with Route 53

To use your own domain for the site, you can create a CNAME record from www.your_domain to the bucket endpoint URL. Now requests to the www.your_domain go to the bucket, zing! To make the root domain (your_domain with no www) go to the bucket as well, you either have to use Amazon's Route 53 to host your domain's DNS records or (if your DNS provider supports it) set up a redirect page to the www.your_domain from the root domain.

To use Route 53 for hosting your domain's DNS, go to the AWS Console and select Route 53 from Services. Click on Create Hosted Zone, enter your domain name and click on the Create button at the bottom of the form. Ok, now see the four server names in the Delegation Set? Go to your domain registrar and set those servers as the name servers for your domain.

Now tick your hosted zone to select it and click on the Go to Record Sets button. Click on Create Record Set. Leave the subdomain field empty, create an A-record, set Alias to yes and pick your bucket. Now requests to your domain will be served from the bucket. To make www.your_domain go to the bucket as well, create a CNAME record that points to your_domain.

Content delivery network using CloudFront

Let's turn on the CDN now. Go to Services in the AWS console and click on CloudFront. To create a CDN for your bucket, click on Create Distribution. Select Download as the type of the distribution. Type the name of your bucket into the Origin Domain Name field and pick your bucket from the list of completions. Most of the form is alright as-is, so scroll down to Distribution Settings. Enter cdn.your_domain as the CNAME. Set default root object to index.html. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click Create Distribution.

To set up the cdn.your_domain subdomain for the CloudFront distribution, copy the distribution domain name (click on the [i] -button if you're in the list of distributions) and create a new CNAME record that directs cdn.your_domain to the distribution domain name. There we go, your CDN should be live now.

Now when you have images on your website, remember to use point them to your CDN server for best loading performance. Instead of src="http://my_domain/image.jpg", use src="http://cdn.my_domain/image.jpg". The CDN works best for content that change rarely if ever. For frequently changing files it's best to use regular S3, otherwise your edits take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour to appear on the site.

If you need to force a file to be reloaded on the CDN, you can go to Distribution Settings for the distribution (the [i]-icon). On the settings panel, go to the Invalidations tab. Click on Create Invalidation and enter the filenames in the bucket that you want to invalidate. The invalidation takes a few minutes to work and forces the CDN to refresh the invalidated files. You can do it a couple times a month for free, but if you do it a lot it's going to start costing money.

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Built art installations, web sites, graphics libraries, web browsers, mobile apps, desktop apps, media player themes, many nutty prototypes