Create an Azure service principal with Azure CLI 2.0

If you want to create a separate login with access restrictions, you can do so through a service principal. Service principals are separate identities that can be associated with an account. Service principals are useful for working with applications and tasks that must be automated. This article runs you through the steps for creating a service principal.

Create the service principal

Use the az ad sp create-for-rbac command to create a service principal. The Service Principal's name isn't tied to any existing application or user name. You can create a service principal with your choice of authentication type.

  • --password is used for password-based authentication. Make sure that you create a strong password by following the Azure Active Directory password rules and restrictions. If you don't specify a password, one is created for you.

    az ad sp create-for-rbac --name ServicePrincipalName --password PASSWORD
  • --cert is used for certificate-based authentication for an existing certificate, either as a PEM or DER public string, or @{file} to load a file.

    az ad sp create-for-rbac --name ServicePrincipalName --cert {CertStringOrFile} 

    The --keyvault argument can be added to indicate the cert is stored in Azure Key Vault. In this case, the --cert value refers to the name of the certificate in Key Vault.

  • --create-cert creates a self-signed certificate for authentication. The --keyvault argument can be added to store the certificate in Azure Key Vault.

    az ad sp create-for-rbac --name ServicePrincipalName --create-cert

If an argument indicating the authentication type isn't included, --password is used by default.

The output of the create-for-rbac command is in the following format:

  "appId": "APP_ID",
  "displayName": "ServicePrincipalName",
  "name": "http://ServicePrincipalName",
  "password": ...,

The appId, tenant, and password values are used for authentication. The displayName is used when searching for an existing service principal.


If your account does not have sufficient permissions to create a service principal, you see an error message containing "Insufficient privileges to complete the operation." Contact your Azure Active Directory admin to create a service principal.

Manage service principal roles

The Azure CLI 2.0 provides the following commands to manage role assignments.

The default role for a service principal is Contributor. This role has full permissions to read and write to an Azure account, and is usually not appropriate for applications. The Reader role is more restrictive, providing read-only access. For more information on Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) and roles, see RBAC: Built-in roles.

This example adds the Reader role and deletes the Contributor one.

az role assignment create --assignee APP_ID --role Reader
az role assignment delete --assignee APP_ID --role Contributor

Adding a role does not change any previously assigned permissions. When restricting a service principal's permissions, the Contributor role should always be removed.

The changes can be verified by listing the assigned roles.

az role assignment list --assignee APP_ID


If your account doesn't have the permissions to assign a role, you see an error message that your account "does not have authorization to perform action 'Microsoft.Authorization/roleAssignments/write' over scope '/subscriptions/{guid}'." Contact your Azure Active Directory admin to manage roles.

Log in using the service principal

You can test the new service principal's login and permissions by logging in under it within the Azure CLI. Log in as the new service principal using the appId, tenant, and credentials values. The authentication information you provide changes based on whether you chose to create the service principal with a password, or a certificate.

To log in with a password, provide it as an argument parameter.

az login --service-principal --username APP_ID --password PASSWORD --tenant TENANT_ID

To log in with a certificate, it must be available locally as a PEM or DER file.

az login --service-principal --username APP_ID --tenant TENANT_ID --password PATH_TO_CERT

Reset credentials

In the event that you forget the credentials for a service principal, they can be reset with the az ad sp reset-credentials command. The same restrictions and options for creating a new service principal also apply here.

az ad sp reset-credentials --name APP_ID --password NEW_PASSWORD