Purge Azure AD Deleted Objects

Ever get the dreaded message: “The directory object quota limit for the Principal has been exceeded. Please ask your administrator to increase the quota limit or delete objects to reduce the used quota.” But when you go and look you only have a handfull of objects listed… certainly nowhere near the 250 allowed. In this post we’ll see one potential way to alleviate this issue. We’ll discover that what appears to be the case on the surface is not really the case with Azure AD. Azure AD actually doesn’t delete objects right away it marks them as “Deleted”. So if you really want to remove objects from Azure AD read on…


Azure AD service principal objects have been deleted via the CLI or UI… but have they? If we take a closer look we’ll find that these objects are in a “Deleted” state but have not been removed from Azure AD. They are eventually removed but in the meantime they take up space as an AAD object and count towards your account limit.


I write a lot of automation scripts and one of the things I normally do is create a service principal that has limited access to Azure resources, typically just enough to get the job done. This is a principal called Least Privilege. Recently, I had been testing a few automation scripts and not doing my due diligence to clean up all the service principal objects that were created when I got this from the az cli…

The directory object quota limit for the Principal has been exceeded. Please ask your administrator to increase the quota limit or delete objects to reduce the used quota.

After a little investigation I found that a user can only create 250 Azure AD objects before hitting an Azure limit and needing to request a quota increase. This is from the Azure AD service limits and restrictions page.

A non-admin user can create no more than 250 Azure AD resources. Both active resources and deleted resources that are available to restore count toward this quota. Only deleted Azure AD resources that were deleted fewer than 30 days ago are available to restore. Deleted Azure AD resources that are no longer available to restore count toward this quota at a value of one-quarter for 30 days. If you have developers who are likely to repeatedly exceed this quota in the course of their regular duties, you can create and assign a custom role with permission to create a limitless number of app registrations.

I thought “no problem” and wrote a quick script to go through and delete a bunch of unused service principals but when I hit the same issue not long after I knew there was something I was missing. I soon realized that the deleted objects were still being counted against my total because they hadn’t really been completely deleted. Not only are the deleted objects not being fully deleted but something else I discovered that was interesting is that each object in Azure AD actually has 2 objects associated with it. So everytime I would go and delete service principals I was essentially only deleting one of the 2 objects. That was why I kept hitting this limit after shorter and shorter periods of time… Enter Powershell

I’m not a big Powershell user but in this case I couldn’t find a suitable az cli option to remove the deleted objects in AAD. There may be one (there usually is) but I just couldn’t find it. A quick search found the Powershell module that I could use which is AzureAD but unfortuately it hasn’t been offically released for .Net core yet so I couldn’t install it on my Mac. Fortunately though it has been added to the Powershell terminal in Azure Cloud Shell so I was able to spin up a terminal there.

The first thing I did after using Connect-AzureAD to login to Azure is to get my Principal’s ObjectID based on my email address.

Get-AzureADUser -ObjectId "aliasname@microsoft.com"

ObjectId                             DisplayName     UserPrincipalName        UserType
--------                             -----------     -----------------        --------
xxxxxxxx-yyyy-zzzz-aaaa-bbbbbbbbbbbb Brent McConnell aliasname@microsoft.com  Member

Once I had my ObjectId I was able to use the Get-AzureADUserCreatedObject to list all the AzureAD object belonging to my ObjectId.

Get-AzureADUserCreatedObject -All $true -ObjectId cxxxxxxxx-yyyy-zzzz-aaaa-bbbbbbbbbbb

ObjectId                             AppId                                DisplayName
--------                             -----                                -----------
11111111-zzzz-aaaa-b426-999999999999 88888888-e2db-cccc-eeee-gggggggggggg test-sp-20
22222222-zzzz-aaaa-a45c-000000000000 77777777-101e-dddd-ffff-hhhhhhhhhhhh test-sp-19

I’m not going to pretend I’m an Azure AD expert but I did notice that there were 2 objects associated with each of the DisplayName entries for a service principal and they had different ObjectIds. After deleting a particular service principal one of those entries would be removed and the other would remain for 30 days.

Some more digging through docs led me to Remove-AzureADMSDeletedDirectoryObject. This cmdlet is used to purge a soft deleted directory object. Now I had a solution to these pesky semi-deleted objects.

(Get-AzureADUserCreatedObject -All $true -ObjectId xxxxxxxx-yyyy-zzzz-aaaa-bbbbbbbbbbb) | 
  ForEach-Object {Remove-AzureADMSDeletedDirectoryObject -Id $_.ObjectId}

The above command will try to delete every object associated with your account but most importantly will FAIL on objects that still exist. So you’ll see several error message about ResourceNotFound but it will delete all the soft deleted objects.

If the above command is a little too aggressive for you and you don’t feel like taking any chances you can also delete by name or Id. The following will delete by a particular name using a wildcard (*).

(Get-AzureADUserCreatedObject -All $true -ObjectId xxxxxxxx-yyyy-zzzz-aaaa-bbbbbbbbbb) `
  .where{($_.DisplayName -like 'terraform-sp-*')} | 
  ForEach-Object {Remove-AzureADMSDeletedDirectoryObject -Id $_.ObjectId}

Most people probably aren’t creating as many service principals as I did but if you are one of the few who do hopefully you’ll find this article helpful.