Sunday, May 28, 2017

What is Agent and Proxy Based SSO in WSO2 Identity Cloud ?

WSO2 Identity Cloud provides different options to easily configure Single Sign On (SSO) for your in-house enterprise applications and popular SaaS applications.

In the Service Provider configuration UI provided in Identity Cloud admin portal (, you can see two options called "Agent" and "Proxy" that you need to select as App Type. Refer following image.

In this post we are going to look at a comparison of two options. So that it will help you to  decide which option is suitable for your app.

Agent based SSO (Agent Type)

  • Authentication SSO request/response should be handled by application itself. We called this type as "Agent based" because, you can write a common separate module (agent) that can be used by all your applications to handle authentication. 
eg: If you need to configure SSO for your application with SAML 2.0, then you should implement logic in your app to initiate SAML authentication request to Identity Cloud and Identity Cloud will send the authenticated SAML Response to application. Application should process this SAML response and identity the user and extract required user claims. (Note: With Service Provider Initiated SSO (SP init SSO), there is a way Identity Cloud to initialize the authentication request and application to handle only response sent by Identity Cloud )
  • Supports SAML 2.0, WS-Federation, OpenID connect standard protocols.
  • If the application already written to support these protocols, agent based option is the best fit. eg: Saleforce, AWS, Concur, GotoMeeting like SaaS application provides configuration options to configure federated authentication from IdPs using these standard protocols.
  • Following diagram illustrate how Agent Type app authentication works.

Proxy based SSO (Proxy Type)

  • Authentication SSO request/response are handled by the Identity Gateway. Application do not have to worry about it. Once user authenticated through Identity Gateway, it sends a signed JSON Web Token (JWT Token) containing authenticated user info to the backend app.
  • Application is given a proxy URL instead of real endpoint URL of app. Users should use this proxy URL instead of direct app endpoint to access it. 
  • If application does not have internal logic based on authenticated user, you can simply publish the app as a Proxy app in Identity Cloud and done with it. This will ensures users cannot access this app, without authenticating from Identity Cloud.
eg: ( site does not need user authentication to see the content of it. If we need to give access only to authenticated users, we can publish (define) this as a proxy app in Identity Cloud. This will give a new proxy URL and that need authentication to access the site. 
  • Most of the time applications need user information for application side session handling and execute some business logic. In this case application should process the JWT token sent by identity Gateway and extract the user information.
  • If you are trying to configure SSO for a well known SaaS app like Salesforce, AWS etc, then proxy type is not the option for it. Because, these apps expect authenticated user info and they do not have a way to process JWT token to get that info. Therefore mostly, Proxy Type can be used if you have control over modifying application source code.
  • Following diagram illustrate how proxy app type based app works.

  • Identity Gateway (Proxy based apps) capable in providing authorization as well to the application, not only authentication. 
eg: It has capability to define rules like this, 
- Application can be accessed only if authenticated user is having a particular role. 
- Some of the resources in application should be allowed for selected roles, while other resources in app can be accessed by all authenticated users. (This can be done using role based or defining a XACML policy for that resource) 
- Define throttling limits for resources based on number of access by user

NOTE: Identity Cloud admin portal does not provide UI for some of these gateway functionalities, even though identity Gateway has capability on handling them. UI will be improved to support them in future.
  • Following diagram shows the handler sequence that get executed when accessing a app as a proxy type app.

Hope this post will help you to select which app type is suitable for you from Agent and Proxy types.

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