Use Azure PowerShell to create a service principal with a certificate

When you have an app or script that needs to access resources, you can set up an identity for the app and authenticate the app with its own credentials. This identity is known as a service principal. This approach enables you to:

  • Assign permissions to the app identity that are different than your own permissions. Typically, these permissions are restricted to exactly what the app needs to do.
  • Use a certificate for authentication when executing an unattended script.


Instead of creating a service principal, consider using Azure AD Managed Service Identity for your application identity. Azure AD MSI is a public preview feature of Azure Active Directory that simplifies creating an identity for code. If your code runs on a service that supports Azure AD MSI and accesses resources that support Azure Active Directory authentication, Azure AD MSI is a better option for you. To learn more about Azure AD MSI, including which services currently support it, see Managed Service Identity for Azure resources.

This article shows you how to create a service principal that authenticates with a certificate. To set up a service principal with password, see Create an Azure service principal with Azure PowerShell.

You must have the latest version of PowerShell for this article.

Required permissions

To complete this article, you must have sufficient permissions in both your Azure Active Directory and Azure subscription. Specifically, you must be able to create an app in the Azure Active Directory, and assign the service principal to a role.

The easiest way to check whether your account has adequate permissions is through the portal. See Check required permission.

Create service principal with self-signed certificate

The following example covers a simple scenario. It uses New-​Azure​Rm​AD​Service​Principal to create a service principal with a self-signed certificate, and uses New-​Azure​Rm​Role​Assignment to assign the Contributor role to the service principal. The role assignment is scoped to your currently selected Azure subscription. To select a different subscription, use Set-AzureRmContext.

$cert = New-SelfSignedCertificate -CertStoreLocation "cert:\CurrentUser\My" `
  -Subject "CN=exampleappScriptCert" `
  -KeySpec KeyExchange
$keyValue = [System.Convert]::ToBase64String($cert.GetRawCertData())

$sp = New-AzureRMADServicePrincipal -DisplayName exampleapp `
  -CertValue $keyValue `
  -EndDate $cert.NotAfter `
  -StartDate $cert.NotBefore
Sleep 20
New-AzureRmRoleAssignment -RoleDefinitionName Contributor -ServicePrincipalName $sp.ApplicationId

The example sleeps for 20 seconds to allow some time for the new service principal to propagate throughout Azure Active Directory. If your script doesn't wait long enough, you'll see an error stating: "Principal {ID} does not exist in the directory {DIR-ID}." To resolve this error, wait a moment then run the New-AzureRmRoleAssignment command again.

You can scope the role assignment to a specific resource group by using the ResourceGroupName parameter. You can scope to a specific resource by also using the ResourceType and ResourceName parameters.

If you do not have Windows 10 or Windows Server 2016, you need to download the Self-signed certificate generator from Microsoft Script Center. Extract its contents and import the cmdlet you need.

# Only run if you could not use New-SelfSignedCertificate
Import-Module -Name c:\ExtractedModule\New-SelfSignedCertificateEx.ps1

In the script, substitute the following two lines to generate the certificate.

New-SelfSignedCertificateEx -StoreLocation CurrentUser `
  -Subject "CN=exampleapp" `
  -KeySpec "Exchange" `
  -FriendlyName "exampleapp"
$cert = Get-ChildItem -path Cert:\CurrentUser\my | where {$PSitem.Subject -eq 'CN=exampleapp' }

Provide certificate through automated PowerShell script

Whenever you sign in as a service principal, you need to provide the tenant ID of the directory for your AD app. A tenant is an instance of Azure Active Directory.

$TenantId = (Get-AzureRmSubscription -SubscriptionName "Contoso Default").TenantId
$ApplicationId = (Get-AzureRmADApplication -DisplayNameStartWith exampleapp).ApplicationId

 $Thumbprint = (Get-ChildItem cert:\CurrentUser\My\ | Where-Object {$_.Subject -match "CN=exampleappScriptCert" }).Thumbprint
 Connect-AzureRmAccount -ServicePrincipal `
  -CertificateThumbprint $Thumbprint `
  -ApplicationId $ApplicationId `
  -TenantId $TenantId

Create service principal with certificate from Certificate Authority

The following example uses a certificate issued from a Certificate Authority to create service principal. The assignment is scoped to the specified Azure subscription. It adds the service principal to the Contributor role. If an error occurs during the role assignment, it retries the assignment.

Param (
 [String] $ApplicationDisplayName,

 [String] $SubscriptionId,

 [String] $CertPath,

 [String] $CertPlainPassword

 Import-Module AzureRM.Resources
 Set-AzureRmContext -Subscription $SubscriptionId

 $CertPassword = ConvertTo-SecureString $CertPlainPassword -AsPlainText -Force

 $PFXCert = New-Object -TypeName System.Security.Cryptography.X509Certificates.X509Certificate2 -ArgumentList @($CertPath, $CertPassword)
 $KeyValue = [System.Convert]::ToBase64String($PFXCert.GetRawCertData())

 $ServicePrincipal = New-AzureRMADServicePrincipal -DisplayName $ApplicationDisplayName
 New-AzureRmADSpCredential -ObjectId $ServicePrincipal.Id -CertValue $KeyValue -StartDate $PFXCert.NotBefore -EndDate $PFXCert.NotAfter
 Get-AzureRmADServicePrincipal -ObjectId $ServicePrincipal.Id 

 $NewRole = $null
 $Retries = 0;
 While ($NewRole -eq $null -and $Retries -le 6)
    # Sleep here for a few seconds to allow the service principal application to become active (should only take a couple of seconds normally)
    Sleep 15
    New-AzureRMRoleAssignment -RoleDefinitionName Contributor -ServicePrincipalName $ServicePrincipal.ApplicationId | Write-Verbose -ErrorAction SilentlyContinue
    $NewRole = Get-AzureRMRoleAssignment -ObjectId $ServicePrincipal.Id -ErrorAction SilentlyContinue


Provide certificate through automated PowerShell script

Whenever you sign in as a service principal, you need to provide the tenant ID of the directory for your AD app. A tenant is an instance of Azure Active Directory.

Param (

 [String] $CertPath,

 [String] $CertPlainPassword,

 [String] $ApplicationId,

 [String] $TenantId

 $CertPassword = ConvertTo-SecureString $CertPlainPassword -AsPlainText -Force
 $PFXCert = New-Object `
  -TypeName System.Security.Cryptography.X509Certificates.X509Certificate2 `
  -ArgumentList @($CertPath, $CertPassword)
 $Thumbprint = $PFXCert.Thumbprint

 Connect-AzureRmAccount -ServicePrincipal `
  -CertificateThumbprint $Thumbprint `
  -ApplicationId $ApplicationId `
  -TenantId $TenantId

The application ID and tenant ID aren't sensitive, so you can embed them directly in your script. If you need to retrieve the tenant ID, use:

(Get-AzureRmSubscription -SubscriptionName "Contoso Default").TenantId

If you need to retrieve the application ID, use:

(Get-AzureRmADApplication -DisplayNameStartWith {display-name}).ApplicationId

Change credentials

To change the credentials for an AD app, either because of a security compromise or a credential expiration, use the Remove-AzureRmADAppCredential and New-AzureRmADAppCredential cmdlets.

To remove all the credentials for an application, use:

Get-AzureRmADApplication -DisplayName exampleapp | Remove-AzureRmADAppCredential

To add a certificate value, create a self-signed certificate as shown in this article. Then, use:

Get-AzureRmADApplication -DisplayName exampleapp | New-AzureRmADAppCredential `
  -CertValue $keyValue `
  -EndDate $cert.NotAfter `
  -StartDate $cert.NotBefore


You may get the following errors when creating a service principal:

  • "Authentication_Unauthorized" or "No subscription found in the context." - You see this error when your account does not have the required permissions on the Azure Active Directory to register an app. Typically, you see this error when only admin users in your Azure Active Directory can register apps, and your account is not an admin. Ask your administrator to either assign you to an administrator role, or to enable users to register apps.

  • Your account "does not have authorization to perform action 'Microsoft.Authorization/roleAssignments/write' over scope '/subscriptions/{guid}'." - You see this error when your account does not have sufficient permissions to assign a role to an identity. Ask your subscription administrator to add you to User Access Administrator role.

Next steps