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The promising world of OpenID

The promise of OpenID as a technology is to allow users on the web to centralize their personal data and information with a trusted provider, and then use the trusted provider as a delegate to establish trustworthiness with other sites with whom the user wants to interact.

In concept, this type of login through a trusted third party has been in existence for a long time, in many different forms (Microsoft Passport, for example, became one of the more notable central login services on the web for some time). OpenID’s distinct advantage is that the OpenID Provider needs to implement only the public OpenID protocol to be compatible with any site seeking to integrate login with OpenID. The OpenID specification itself is an open specification, which leads to the fact that there is currently a diverse population of public providers up and running the same protocol. This is an excellent recipe for healthy competition and it is good for consumer choice.

The following diagram illustrates the high-level relationship between a site integrating OpenID during the login process and OpenID providers.

We can see that the user presents his credentials in the form of a unique named identifier, typically a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI), which is assigned to the user by their OpenID provider, and is used to uniquely identify both the user and the OpenID provider. This is commonly done by either prepending a subdomain to the URI of the OpenID provider (for example, https://jamesgosling.myopenid.com/), or appending a unique identifier to the URI of the OpenID provider URI (for example, https://me.yahoo.com/jamesgosling). We can visually see from the presented URI that both methods clearly identify both the OpenID provider(via domain name) and the unique user identifier.

Don’t trust OpenID unequivocally!

You can see here a fundamental assumption that can fool users of the system. It is possible for us to sign up for an OpenID, which would make it appear as though we were James Gosling, even though we obviously are not. Do not make the false assumption that just because a user has a convincing-sounding OpenID (or OpenID delegate provider) they are the authentic person, without requiring additional forms of identification. Thinking about it another way, if someone came to your door just claiming he was James Gosling, would you let him in without verifying his ID?

The OpenID-enabled application then redirects the user to the OpenID provider, at which the user presents his credentials to the provider, which is then responsible for making an access decision. Once the access decision has been made by the provider, the provider redirects the user to the originating site, which is now assured of the user’s authenticity.

OpenID is much easier to understand once you have tried it. Let’s add OpenID to the JBCP Pets login screen now!

Signing up for an OpenID

In order to get the full value of exercises in this section (and to be able to test login), you’ll need your own OpenID from one of the many available providers, of which a partial listing is available at http://openid.net/get-an-openid/. Common OpenID providers with which you probably already have an account are Yahoo!, AOL, Flickr, or MySpace. Google’s OpenID support is slightly different, as we’ll see later in this article when we add Sign In with Google support to our login page. To get full value out of the exercises in this article, we recommend you have accounts with at least:

  • myOpenID
  • Google

Enabling OpenID authentication with Spring Security

Spring Security provides convenient wrappers around provider integrations that are actually developed outside the Spring ecosystem. In this vein, the openid4java project ( http://code.google.com/p/openid4java/) provides the underlying OpenID provider discovery and request/response negotiation for the Spring Security OpenID functionality.

Writing an OpenID login form

It’s typically the case that a site will present both standard (username and password) and OpenID login options on a single login page, allowing the user to select from one or the other option, as we can see in the JBCP Pets target login page.

The code for the OpenID-based form is as follows:

<h1>Or, Log Into Your Account with OpenID</h1>
Please use the form below to log into your account with OpenID.
<form action=”j_spring_openid_security_check” method=”post”>
<label for=”openid_identifier”>Login</label>:
<input id=”openid_identifier” name=”openid_identifier” size=”20″
maxlength=”100″ type=”text”/>
<img src=”images/openid.png” alt=”OpenID”/>
<br />
<input type=”submit” value=”Login”/>

The name of the form field, openid_identifier, is not a coincidence. The OpenID specification recommends that implementing websites use this name for their OpenID login field, so that user agents (browsers) have the semantic knowledge of the function of this field. There are even browser plug-ins such as Verisign’s OpenID SeatBelt ( https://pip.verisignlabs.com/seatbelt.do), which take advantage of this knowledge to pre-populate your OpenID credentials into any recognizable OpenID field on a page.

You’ll note that we don’t offer the remember me option with OpenID login. This is due to the fact that the redirection to and from the vendor causes the remember me checkbox value to be lost, such that when the user’s successfully authenticated, they no longer have the remember me option indicated. This is unfortunate, but ultimately increases the security of OpenID as a login mechanism for our site, as OpenID forces the user to establish a trust relationship through the provider with each and every login.

Configuring OpenID support in Spring Security

Turning on basic OpenID support, via the inclusion of a servlet filter and authentication provider, is as simple as adding a directive to our <http> configuration element in dogstore-security.xml as follows:/


<http auto-config=”true” …>
<!– Omitting content… –>

After adding this configuration element and restarting the application, you will be able to use the OpenID login form to present an OpenID and navigate through the OpenID authentication process. When you are returned to JBCP Pets, however, you will be denied access. This is because your credentials won’t have any roles assigned to them. We’ll take care of this next.

Adding OpenID users

As we do not yet have OpenID-enabled new user registration, we’ll need to manually insert the user account (that we’ll be testing) into the database, by adding them to test-users-groups-data.sql in our database bootstrap code. We recommend that you use myOpenID for this step (notably, you will have trouble with Yahoo!, for reasons we’ll explain in a moment). If we assume that our OpenID is https://jamesgosling.myopenid.com/, then the SQL that we’d insert in this file is as follows:

insert into users(username, password, enabled, salt) values (‘https://
jamesgosling.myopenid.com/’,’unused’,true,CAST(RAND()*1000000000 AS
insert into group_members(group_id, username) select id,’https://
jamesgosling.myopenid.com/’ from groups where group_

You’ll note that this is similar to the other data that we inserted for our traditional username-and password-based admin account, with the exception that we have the value unused for the password. We do this, of course, because OpenID-based login doesn’t require that our site should store a password on behalf of the user! The observant reader will note, however, that this does not allow a user to create an arbitrary username and password, and associate it with an OpenID—we describe this process briefly later in this article, and you are welcome to explore how to do this as an advanced application of this technology.

At this point, you should be able to complete a full login using OpenID. The sequence of redirects is illustrated with arrows in the following screenshot:

We’ve now OpenID-enabled JBCP Pets login! Feel free to test using several OpenID providers. You’ll notice that, although the overall functionality is the same, the experience that the provider offers when reviewing and accepting the OpenID request differs greatly from provider to provider.


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