Jan 17 2022

CloudTrail vs CloudWatch

Monitoring is an essential part of the maintenance stage in the software development lifecycle. However, as businesses shift their operations to cloud-based environments, monitoring has become even more critical for application security, reliability, and availability. Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers various monitoring tools to assist users in monitoring their cloud systems. Its two most widely used and essential monitoring tools are CloudTrail and CloudWatch. In this post, we’ll compare these two tools, exploring their key features, capabilities, differences, and similarities.

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What Is AWS CloudTrail?

AWS CloudTrail captures a complete record of all API activity within an account, including information on the user or service responsible, timing, and changes made. This provides a comprehensive audit trail for any changes in the AWS infrastructure. It maintains a complete event history of all activities within AWS accounts, making CloudTrail a vital tool for compliance and security-related purposes. In instances where a user notices a missing resource in their AWS account, CloudTrail helps with investigating what action terminated the resource, who (or what) executed the action, and when the execution occurred.

Key Features

  • Generates a detailed event history of all activities in an AWS account.
  • Allows log forwarding to CloudWatch Logs or S3 buckets for storage and analysis.
  • Supports integration with other AWS services, such as SNS and CloudWatch, to facilitate automated architectures.
  • Provides log file integrity validation to ensure log file authenticity and preservation.

What Is AWS CloudWatch?

AWS CloudWatch is a monitoring service that collects metrics, logs events, and provides alarms. CloudWatch provides real-time monitoring of AWS resources and applications, allowing AWS users to optimize their systems for performance and cost. CloudWatch comprises various key components, all working in tandem to form a complete monitoring solution.

Key Features

  • CloudWatch Metrics use quantitative data points to measure the performance of AWS resources and applications.
  • CloudWatch Alarms trigger actions when specific metrics cross critical threshold values.
  • CloudWatch Events trigger actions in response to specific events.
  • CloudWatch Logs collect, analyze, and store log files from custom applications on or off AWS cloud or AWS services.

Comparing AWS CloudTrail and AWS CloudWatch

CloudTrail and CloudWatch are both monitoring services offered by AWS with different features and capabilities suitable for different use cases. CloudTrail is used in auditing and compliance monitoring as it captures all API activity in an AWS account. On the other hand, CloudWatch collects, tracks, and monitors metrics, log files, and AWS resource events. It also provides alarms to notify when specific events occur.



Free features

Basic monitoring, dashboard creation, alarms, and logs

Paid features

Detailed monitoring, and custom metrics (such as memory usage, disk I/O)

Event history viewing and search capabilities for events within the last 90 days

Capture insight and data events and create custom trails with advanced configurations

Data frequency

Basic monitoring captures data at five-minute intervals
Detailed monitoring captures data at one-minute intervals
Custom metric monitoring can capture data at one-second intervals



CloudTrail and CloudWatch are two essential monitoring tools offered by AWS with different functionalities. CloudTrail records all API activities in an AWS account, making it suitable for auditing and compliance purposes. CloudWatch is primarily used for monitoring application and resource performance, alerting when certain metrics require attention, and finding optimization and cost-reduction opportunities. Combining the strengths of both services achieves a comprehensive and automated monitoring and response system for your AWS environment.

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