Recommended Amazon S3 Tools

Slalom Consultant Jeff Barber

Jeff Barber is a Seattle-based leader in Slalom Consulting’s mobility solutions practice. He's a mobile technology expert with deep experience helping clients “operationalize” mobile technologies.

Last year, our team deployed an iPhone mobile video solution for a client using S3 as the storage repository and CloudFront for content delivery. In addition to dozens of H.264 (iPhone standard) videos, the content library included over a hundred image and PDF files. We were working on MacBook Pro laptops but the client was standardized on Windows. I was tasked with finding an S3 tool that the client could use to manage their content library.

Before I reveal my favorite shareware S3 client, I will mention that Greg Martin succeeded in converting me to Panic Transmit. If you work on a Mac, and are willing to shell out $30, it’s a great all-purpose FTP tool that includes S3 support. It’s easy to use and provides those sweet features that converted us all to Mac users. It’s worth the $30 just to be able to edit a filename on S3 without deleting and re-uploading the file (note that renaming a file this way can cause a problem with content delivery if you are using S3 with Amazon CloudFront; if you are using CloudFront, delete and rename the file and update your URL reference to ensure that the correct file instance is copied from S3 to the edge server).

The list of shareware and licensed S3 clients continues to grow. I found these two blog postings in particular to be very useful sources for evaluating the available options:

Since others have done a fine job of covering the S3 client landscape, let’s go straight to my personal favorite, S3Fox Organizer. S3Fox is a Firefox add-on, which means that Windows, Mac, and Linux users can use the same client. If you are or plan to be involved in WAP, mobile web, or mobile application development, you’ll want to have Firefox anyway, as there are a series of invaluable add-ins that assist those efforts (the topic for a future post, perhaps). For everyday users, it makes it possible to get them up and running on S3 without going through procurement.

The S3Fox Organizer is intuitive, visually appealing, and easy to use. To get started using S3Fox, the first thing you need to do is:

  1. Select the Manage Accounts button in the upper left of the interface.
  2. Name your account.
  3. Enter your S3 Access Key and Secret Key for the account (you get these from the Amazon S3 account page after you’ve signed up).
  4. Save.

The S3Fox Organizer - recommended amazon s3 tools

The tool is organized in four panes:

  • Local Folders in the upper left
  • S3 Folders in the upper right
  • Current Tasks
  • Transfer options in the lower right

Each button on the interface displays tooltip text to tell you its function. You can configure the interface to:

  • Synchronize Folders
  • Transfer files using AWS Import/Export (mentioned in my previous post)
  • Use HTTPS for file transfers (a checkbox in Preferences)

To create a bucket/folder on S3, select the computer-with-gold-asterisk button in the S3 Folders pane. The pop-up below will display with instructions for naming the bucket.

create a bucket/folder on S3

The blue arrow buttons in the center make it easy to copy files (you can control-click to select multiple files) from your computer to S3 or visa versa. The Transfer pane displays the status of the current transfer operation.

S3 - The Transfer pane displays the status of the current transfer

IMPORTANT: Once you have copied a file (or file set) to your S3 bucket/folder, you need to edit the ACL for the file(s) to appropriately restrict access. For example, if you have a media file you want to share with the world, but you don’t want anyone else to be able to overwrite the file, you would enable Read for Everyone and Write for Owner (you); all other settings should be disabled (red X).

S3 bucket/folder: edit the ACL for the file(s)

My only complaint about S3Fox organizer is that the interface can be annoyingly sluggish when responding to ACL setting changes. You may need to select a setting multiple times to change it from a green Check to a red X or visa versa.

Notice in the lower right corner of the browser, there is a colorful S3Fox button. You can select that anytime, regardless of what you are doing in FireFox, to display the S3Fox status pane and monitor the progress of any long-load-time transfers.

S3Fox button displays the status pane to monitor the progress of transfers

There are many compelling reasons to have a personal Amazon S3 account, some of which I mentioned in my last post. S3Fox Organizer makes working with S3 as easy as using Windows Explorer or OS-X Finder. Since an S3 account only costs you money if you actually store something, why not have one on hand in case you need it for a project or if have a file too big for your memory stick or email server (did you catch the Share button in the Manage ACLs pop-up, makes it easy to email a file link)? Or, as someone I know does, auto-synchronize your family computers with S3 periodically to protect your valuable data against fire, theft, or hard disk failure. You can donate your cost savings to Suchi Software, the shareware publishers of S3Fox Organizer.

– Jeff

Follow Jeff on Twitter: @jbarber_slalom

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About Jeff Barber
Jeff is a senior Business Analyst and Product / Program Manager, a leader in Slalom Consulting's Mobility Solutions practice with deep experience helping clients “productize” new technologies.

6 Responses to Recommended Amazon S3 Tools

  1. Andy says:

    Out of curiosity, have you tried any other Amazon S3 clients?

  2. Jeff Barber says:

    Hi Andy, yes, I’ve used half a dozen different tools hands-on. Transmit is the only Mac specific tool I’ve used, and as a Mac user it meets my needs. The others were a combination of Windows tools and Firefox add-ins.

  3. clist says:

    Hello Jeff – Thanks for sharing. I hope you can help out or point me in the right direction. I enjoy s3fox but I can’t get synchronized folders transfer to work. It scans all files, differentiates what’s been updated, adds those files to cue and that’s about it. The first file in the cue says processing but does not do anything. Look forward to your help/suggestions. Thanks.

  4. Hi clist,

    if you are on Windows please check out CloudBerry Explorer freeware. It comes with sync folders feature. We continue improving the product and support it.


  5. Dustin says:

    I second Andy. I’ve been using CloudBarry for awhile now and I love it. We’ve also built a Silverlight class library for uploading files directly to S3 without using a proxy server for uploads, with upload progress, and without caching the entire file to memory (supports files up to Amazon S3’s 5GB limit). If you’re interested just shoot me an email:

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