Authorization Code Grant with PKCE

The Authorization Code grant, when combined with the PKCE standard (RFC 7636), is used when the client, usually a mobile or a JavaScript application, requires access to protected resources.

The flow is similar to the regular Authorization Code grant type, but the client must generate a code that will be part of the communication between the client and the authorization server. This code mitigates against interception attacks performed by malicious users.

Since communication between the client and the authorization server is not secure, clients are usually public so their secrets do not get compromised. Also, browser-based clients making OAuth 2.0 requests to different domains must implement Cross-Origin Resource Sharing (CORS) calls to access OAuth 2.0 resources in different domains.

The PKCE flow adds three parameters on top of those used for the Authorization code grant:

  • code_verifier (form parameter). Contains a random string that correlates the authorization request to the token request.

  • code_challenge (query parameter). Contains a string derived from the code verifier that is sent in the authorization request and that needs to be verified later with the code verifier.

  • code_challenge_method (query parameter). Contains the method used to derive the code challenge.

OAuth 2.0 Authorization Code Grant with PKCE Flow
OAuth 2.0 Authorization Code Grant with PKCE flow

The steps in the diagram are described below:

  1. The client receives a request to access a protected resource. To access the resources, the client requires authorization from the resource owner. When using the PKCE standard, the client must generate a unique code and a way to verify it, and append the code to the request for the authorization code.

  2. The client redirects the resource owner's user-agent to the authorization server.

  3. The authorization server authenticates the resource owner, confirms resource access, and gathers consent if not previously saved.

  4. If the resource owner's credentials are valid, the authorization server stores the code challenge and redirects the resource owner's user agent to the redirection URI.

  5. During the redirection process, the authorization server appends an authorization code to the request to the client.

  6. The client receives the authorization code and calls the authorization server's token endpoint to exchange the authorization code for an access token appending the verification code to the request.

  7. The authorization server verifies the code stored in memory using the validation code. It also verifies the authorization code. If both codes are valid, the authorization server returns an access token (and a refresh token, if configured) to the client.

  8. The client requests access to the protected resources from the resource server.

  9. The resource server contacts the authorization server to validate the access token.

  10. The authorization server validates the token and responds to the resource server.

  11. If the token is valid, the resource server allows the client to access the protected resources.

Perform the steps in the following procedures to obtain an authorization code and exchange it for an access token:

To Generate a Code Verifier and a Code Challenge

The client application must be able to generate a code verifier and a code challenge. For details, see the PKCE standard (RFC 7636). The information contained in this procedure is for example purposes only:

  1. The client generates the code challenge and the code verifier. Creating the challenge using a SHA-256 algorithm is mandatory if the client supports it, as per the RFC 7636 standard.

    The following is an example of a code verifier and code challenge written in JavaScript:

    function base64URLEncode(words) {
       return CryptoJS.enc.Base64.stringify(words)
       .replace(/\+/g, '-')
       .replace(/\//g, '_')
       .replace(/=/g, '');
    }
    var verifier = base64URLEncode(CryptoJS.lib.WordArray.random(50));
    var challenge = base64URLEncode(CryptoJS.SHA256(verifier));

    This example generates values such as ZpJiIM_G0SE9WlxzS69Cq0mQh8uyFaeEbILlW8tHs62SmEE6n7Nke0XJGx_F4OduTI4 for the code verifier and j3wKnK2Fa_mc2tgdqa6GtUfCYjdWSA5S23JKTTtPF8Y for the code challenge. These values will be used in subsequent procedures.

    The client is now ready to request an authorization code.

  2. The client performs the steps in one of the following procedures to request an authorization code:

To Obtain an Authorization Code Using a Browser in the Authorization Code Grant with PKCE Flow

This procedure assumes the following configuration:

  • Identity Cloud is configured as an OAuth 2.0 authorization server. Ensure that:

    • The code plugin is configured in the Response Type Plugins field.

    • The Authorization Code grant type is configured in the Grant Types field.

    The Code Verifier Parameter Required drop-down (Realms > Realm Name > Services > OAuth2 Provider > Advanced) specifies whether Identity Cloud require clients to include a code verifier in their calls.

    However, if a client makes a call to Identity Cloud with the code_challenge parameter, Identity Cloud will honor the code exchange regardless of the configuration of the Code Verifier Parameter Required drop-down.

  • A public client called myClient is registered in Identity Cloud with the following configuration:

    • Scopes: write

    • Response Types: code

    • Grant Types: Authorization Code

For more information, see Client Registration.

Perform the steps in this procedure to obtain an authorization code using a browser:

  1. The client redirects the resource owner's user-agent to the authorization server's authorization endpoint specifying, at least, the following query parameters:

    • client_id=your_client_id

    • response_type=code

    • redirect_uri=your_redirect_uri

    • code_challenge=your_code_challenge

    • code_challenge_method=S256

    For information about the parameters supported by the /oauth2/authorize endpoint, see "/oauth2/authorize".

    You must specify the realm in the endpoint. For example, if the provider is configured for the /alpha realm, then use /oauth2/realms/root/realms/alpha/authorize.

    For example:

    https://openam.example.com:8443/openam/oauth2/realms/root/realms/alpha/authorize \
    ?client_id=myClient \
    &response_type=code \
    &scope=write \
    &redirect_uri=https://www.example.com:443/callback \
    &code_challenge=j3wKnK2Fa_mc2tgdqa6GtUfCYjdWSA5S23JKTTtPF8Y \
    &code_challenge_method=S256 \
    &state=abc123

    Note that the URL is split and spaces have been added for readability purposes and that the scope and state parameters have been included. Scopes are not required, since they can be configured by default in the authorization server and the client, and have been added only as an example. The state parameter is added to protect against CSRF attacks.

  2. The resource owner authenticates to the authorization server, for example, using the credentials of the demo user. In this case, they log in using the default chain or tree configured for the realm.

    After logging in, the authorization server presents the Identity Cloud consent screen:

    OAuth 2.0 Consent Screen
    OAuth 2.0 consent screen.

  3. The resource owner selects the Allow button to grant consent for the write scope.

    The authorization server redirects the resource owner to the URL specified in the redirect_uri parameter.

  4. Inspect the URL in the browser. It contains a code parameter with the authorization code the authorization server has issued. For example:

    http://www.example.com/?code=ZNSDo8LrsI2w-6NOCYKQgvDPqtg&scope=write&iss=https%3A%2F%2Fopenam.example.com%3A8443%2Fopenam%2Foauth2&state=abc123&client_id=myClient
  5. The client performs the steps in "To Exchange an Authorization Code for an Access Token" to exchange the authorization code for an access token.

To Obtain an Authorization Code Without Using a Browser in the Authorization Code Grant with PKCE Flow

This procedure assumes the following configuration:

  • Identity Cloud is configured as an OAuth 2.0 authorization server. Ensure that:

    • The code plugin is configured in the Response Type Plugins field.

    • The Authorization Code grant type is configured in the Grant Types field.

    The Code Verifier Parameter Required drop-down (Realms > Realm Name > Services > OAuth2 Provider > Advanced) specifies whether Identity Cloud require clients to include a code verifier in their calls.

    However, if a client makes a call to Identity Cloud with the code_challenge parameter, Identity Cloud will honor the code exchange regardless of the configuration of the Code Verifier Parameter Required drop-down.

  • A public client called myClient is registered in Identity Cloud with the following configuration:

    • Scopes: write

    • Response Types: code

    • Grant Types: Authorization Code

For more information, see Client Registration.

Perform the steps in this procedure to obtain an authorization code:

  1. The resource owner logs in to the authorization server, for example, using the credentials of the demo user. For example:

    $ curl \
    --request POST \
    --header "Content-Type: application/json" \
    --header "X-OpenAM-Username: demo" \
    --header "X-OpenAM-Password: Ch4ng31t" \
    --header "Accept-API-Version: resource=2.0, protocol=1.0" \
    'https://openam.example.com:8443/openam/json/realms/root/realms/alpha/authenticate'
    {
        "tokenId":"AQIC5wM...TU3OQ*",
        "successUrl":"/openam/console",
        "realm":"/alpha"
    }
  2. The client makes a POST call to the authorization server's authorization endpoint specifying in a cookie SSO token of the demo and, at least, the following parameters:

    • client_id=your_client_id

    • response_type=code

    • redirect_uri=your_redirect_uri

    • decision=allow

    • csrf=demo_user_SSO_token

    • code_challenge=your_code_challenge

    • code_challenge_method=S256

    For information about the parameters supported by the /oauth2/authorize endpoint, see "/oauth2/authorize".

    You must specify the realm in the endpoint. For example, if the provider is configured for the /alpha realm, then use /oauth2/realms/root/realms/alpha/authorize.

    For example:

    $ curl --dump-header - \
    --request POST \
    --Cookie "iPlanetDirectoryPro=AQIC5wM...TU3OQ*" \
    --data "redirect_uri=https://www.example.com:443/callback" \
    --data "scope=write" \
    --data "response_type=code" \
    --data "client_id=myClient" \
    --data "csrf=AQIC5wM...TU3OQ*" \
    --data "state=abc123" \
    --data "decision=allow" \
    --data "code_challenge=j3wKnK2Fa_mc2tgdqa6GtUfCYjdWSA5S23JKTTtPF8Y" \
    --data "code_challenge_method=S256" \
    "https://openam.example.com:8443/openam/oauth2/realms/root/realms/alpha/authorize"

    Note that the scope and the state parameters have been included. Scopes are not required, since they can be configured by default in the authorization server and the client, and have been added only as an example. The state parameter is added to protect against CSRF attacks.

    If the authorization server is able to authenticate the user and the client, it returns an HTTP 302 response with the authorization code appended to the redirection URL:

    HTTP/1.1 302 Found
    Server: Apache-Coyote/1.1
    X-Frame-Options: SAMEORIGIN
    Pragma: no-cache
    Cache-Control: no-store
    Date: Mon, 30 Jul 2018 11:42:37 GMT
    Accept-Ranges: bytes
    Location: http://www.example.com?code=g5B3qZ8rWzKIU2xodV_kkSIk0F4&scope=write&iss=https%3A%2F%2Fopenam.example.com%3A8443%2Fopenam%2Foauth2&state=abc123&client_id=myClient
    Vary: Accept-Charset, Accept-Encoding, Accept-Language, Accept
    Content-Length: 0
  3. Perform the steps in "To Exchange an Authorization Code for an Access Token in the Authorization Code Grant Flow with PKCE Flow" to exchange the authorization code for an access token.

To Exchange an Authorization Code for an Access Token in the Authorization Code Grant Flow with PKCE Flow

Perform the steps in the following procedure to exchange an authorization code for an access token:

  1. Ensure the client has obtained an authorization code by performing the steps in either "To Obtain an Authorization Code Using a Browser in the Authorization Code Grant with PKCE Flow" or "To Obtain an Authorization Code Without Using a Browser in the Authorization Code Grant with PKCE Flow".

  2. The client creates a POST request to the token endpoint in the authorization server specifying, at least, the following parameters:

    • grant_type=authorization_code

    • code=your_authorization_code

    • client_id=your_client_id

    • redirect_uri=your_redirect_uri

    • code_verifier=your_code_verifier

    For information about the parameters supported by the /oauth2/access_token endpoint, see "/oauth2/access_token". For information about private client authentication methods, see OAuth 2.0 Client Authentication.

    For example:

    $ curl --request POST \
    --data "grant_type=authorization_code" \
    --data "code=g5B3qZ8rWzKIU2xodV_kkSIk0F4" \
    --data "client_id=myClient" \
    --data "redirect_uri=https://www.example.com:443/callback" \
    --data "code_verifier=ZpJiIM_G0SE9WlxzS69Cq0mQh8uyFaeEbILlW8tHs62SmEE6n7Nke0XJGx_F4OduTI4" \
    "https://openam.example.com:8443/openam/oauth2/realms/root/realms/alpha/access_token"

    The client_id and the redirection_uri parameters specified in this call must match those used as part of the authorization code request, or the authorization server will not validate the code.

    The authorization server returns an access token in the access_token property. For example:

    {
      "access_token": "sbQZuveFumUDV5R1vVBl6QAGNB8",
      "scope": "write",
      "token_type": "Bearer",
      "expires_in": 3599
    }

    Tip

    The authorization server can also issue refresh tokens at the same time the access tokens are issued. For more information, see Refresh Tokens.

Read a different version of :