Sunday, August 5, 2018

OAUTH 2.0 Authorisation Code Grant

OAuth 2.0 provides a number of security flows (or grant types) to allow an application access user's data in another application.  In this blog, we will look at the
OAuth 2.0 grant: Authorisation Code Grant.

Firstly, a number of definitions:
  • Client: The application the user is currently interacting with.  For example, let's assume a fictitious funky blogging site:  The client wants to communicate with another application and retrieve something about the user from there.  For example, their favourite photo!  Let's assume the fictitious as the service the client wishes to access. 
  • Client ID: this is an ID which identifies the client.  It can be passed around openly in Web URLs etc
  • Client secret ID:  A secret ID that only the client knows. This is kept server side and will be used in requests to the application for which access is sought.   It cannot be passed around in Web URLs. 
  • Resource owner: This is usually the human, who is using the client application. The resource owner has data in another application (e.g. that the client ( wishes to access. The goal is to facilitate that sharing without the need for the Resource owner aka the human to ever pass their password to  Note: the resource owner doesn't have to be a human but interestingly according to the OAuth spec, when it is a human it can also be referred to as the end - user. 
  • Resource Server: hosts the protected resources of the resource owner that the client is interested in. So this is the server that has the Resource owner photos the is interested in.
  • Authorisation Server: the server who issues a token to after the resource owner has successfully authenticated and allowed obtain some of its  Sometimes the Authorisation Server and the Resource server are effectively the same but they don't have to be. 
  • Access token: a special type of token the authorisation server gives to access the protected resources. It will contain scope, lifetime and other access attributes.

Use case

So the use case is that the client ( wants to access information about
the resource owner (the human) from another application:

Client Registration

The first the client must do is register with the service (
providing its name, website etc.  The service will return a secret client code.
The client keeps this private and is responsible for ensuring only it knows it.  Usually,
it will encrypt and persist it in the client somewhere on the backend.  The service will
also receive a client id.  Unlike the client secret, this is public and can be passed around
in URLs etc.


Ok so now the actual flow.    The user is browsing around and accesses a part of the site where wants to know what the end-user's favourite photo is.

A pop-up screen appears to end-user.

This has URL:

Key parts of this URL:
  • This is the domain for the authorisation server
  • response_type=code: Required parameter to enable the client informs the authorization server the desired grant type. An alternative value would be the "token", this is for the implicit flow.
    "code" means the client wants an authorization code which will be returned after
    resource owner logs in.  This authorization code will be used in a subsequent request by the Client. 
  • client_id: Required parameter, to identify the client.  Remember this is public and
    can be passed to and from a web browser.
  • redirect_uri: This is an optional parameter.  It enables the client to dynamically specify the URL the auth server should redirect to.  In some flows, this isn't needed as there is only one redirect URI and this is registered by the client with the service during client registration.
  • scope:  This is an optional parameter.  It specifies the level of access that the application is requesting. In this case it is just a read.  The auth server uses this to inform the user / resource owner what the client is trying to do.
The user then logs into who tells the user what the Client wants to do.  If the user selects ok, redirects to the redirect URI passed up.

Notice how the client id is passed over the web in a URL and the authorisation code is passed back over the web.

The client, then uses the returned authorization code, its client id, client secret and the grant type to make a POST request Server to Server to get an Access Token.  This happens all on the back end. 212132kjhkhj&redirect_uri=CALLBACK_URL


  • client id and client secret identify the client.  This is a back-end request and hence it is okay to pass the client_secret (which would obviously never pass to or from the browser).
  • grant_type: This must be set to authorisation_code. As it indicates the Authorisation Code Grant.  Remember, the grant is used to indicate the flow the client is using (it can also be used by the server what types of flows are available). If the client was using the Client Credentials Grant, this value would be: "client_credentials".  If the client was using "Resource Owner Password Credentials Grant" the value would be "password".
  • code: 212132kjhkhj - The actual authorisation code what was returned from initial authorisation request from the authorisation server. This is required.
  • redirect_uri: if the redirect_uri was included in the authorisation request this value must be the same as the value used in that request.

The client then receives back an access token. Something like this:


It will now use this to access some of the resource owner's resource data.

So what's the big deal?

  • There are obviously big advantages for users not having to tell one website its password for another site. 
  • Reduces the number of passwords a user needs to remember
  • Allows richer websites by allowing disparate applications to talk to each other. 

Why do people find it confusing?

There are a number of reasons why people find OAuth 2.0 confusing. 
  • There are a few different flows or grants.  The Authorisation Code Grant is just one.  Sometimes when you google explanations for OAuth 2.0 you get explanations for different grants without making it clear what is and isn't being explained. Hence why I put Authorisation Code Grant in the title.  
  • Terminology.  I'll just speak for myself.  But if I am reading quickly, I am likely to:
    •  confuse "Client" with the end-user
    • get confused between the Resource Server and Authorisation Server
  • Consistenty.  A lot of places implement OAuth 2.0 or something very similar to OAuth but will refer to things differently along the way.  For example, go to and try to login to google.  You are taken to:!ChRyQlhnbEYzai1xQTliNlNmTEVmNRIfZ3doM2hlRVIycGdiMEVBN1JaNXdOM085MERXLVVCWQ%E2%88%99ANKMe1QAAAAAW2i2to0SOyO2_w3k3O4gjwUKQLGNmZ2h&oauthgdpr=1&xsrfsig=AHgIfE8EzSxvWfzyxou0dwLDxv4GhD6e5g&flowName=GeneralOAuthFlow
    There's no response_type in that URL.
  • OAuth is an authorisation spec.  It is usually used with Authentication spec like Open Connect but that is actually a separate spec. 

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