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From David Ihnen <>
Subject Re: preserving request body across redirects
Date Tue, 30 Dec 2008 19:22:13 GMT
Mark Hedges wrote:
> Thanks I really do appreciate your comments.
> On Mon, 29 Dec 2008, David Ihnen wrote:
>> Yes, I am aware of how OpenID works.  And it works in-band
>> unless the application explicitly sidelines it - there is
>> no inherent side-band communication that the client and
>> server will use - otherwise, you wouldn't EVER do a main
>> state redirect. 
> It does? 
It does work in-band, yes.  The main session flow is going to be redirected.
> That would be great.  How? 
... to do a sideline authentication?   Since once the auth state is 
established however, the current pages will work fine - you don't have 
to do them in a linear way.  Like I said, you can program the client 
application to handle the interruption transparently and resubmit the 
form that it maintained the status of.  Or to pop up a new window to do 
the auth on, or any number of variants.  I'm sure you understand once 
you nav away from a page through a whole-page submit, its state is (well 
can be) gone for good.  You're in a linear sequence of redirects at that 
point and if for some reason you're not authenticated, you're not going 
to regain the state.
>  Why does the consumer
> object return a check url?  
So that the client can use the url to check it.  You know this.
> Why does it have the return_to parameter? 
So that you can reinsert yourself into the flow of your web 
application.  Heck, many applications just land you back at the home 
page - the return_to being pretty much statically configured.  What 
happens when you time out in the middle of a session just isn't that 
critical to most specifications.
>  From Net::OpenID::Consumer:
>  # now your app has to send them at their identity server's endpoint
>  # to get redirected to either a positive assertion that they own
>  # that identity, or where they need to go to login/setup trust/etc.
>  my $check_url = $claimed_identity->check_url(
>    return_to  => "",
>    trust_root => "",
>  );
>  # so you send the user off there, and then they come back to
>  #, then you see what the identity server said;
> Is that module supposed to work some other way than
> with redirects?
Couldn't say for sure as I haven't closely inspected the module in 
question.  I don't think that this programming precludes utilization as 
a side-band authenticator, though it will dictate the particular 
form/method/sequence that your client-side application takes to deal 
with this particular matter.  That is, if the client maintained the 
state of the form that it submitted while you were dealing with the 
reauthentication in an iframe, your 'bounce back' url can send 
instruction to the browser to resubmit the form, this time with the 
session intact.
> I thought the point was that they log into the OpenID server
> and bounce back to my app.  That way they never have to
> trust my app with their password or other credentials.
Yes!  That is the point of OpenID.  And most auth systems work this way, 
in my experience (at least the ones that involve the like of authen 
handlers rather than application level programming alone) The fact that 
the server signature part is not done locally is merely a detail.  The 
basic redirect to page -> submit authentication token is how this stuff 
generally works.
>> The moment you have to redirect to that openid server
>> page, you have sidelined the entire stream of
>> browser-server communication - and as you have found in
>> the problem you're trying to solve - the state inherent
>> therein, including the content of the original request. 
>> Is the utilization of the stored form data going to be
>> through a different connection/request entirely after
>> authentication verification?  Would require some tests to
>> see if the client behaves that way or not.  I suspect its
>> not defined to be one way or the other, but I may be
>> wrong.
> Not following you there.
When you redirect a request with a body you lose the complete state of 
the original request, as you no longer have that request body.  It seems 
you want to save this on the server, but thats problematic

client -> POST <formhandler> -> load balancer -> server 556 dublin -> 
saves<requestbody> -> redirect OPENID <success bounceback url>

client->OPENID -> verify -> redirect <success bounceback url>

in the meantime server 556 dublin suffered a network connector air gap 
issue.  A trouble ticket has been created.  These things happen.

client -> GET <success bounceback url> -> load balancer -> server 22 
london -> looks up saved requestbody !!!

This is the problem point.  Your framework would be depending on the 
request body save retrieve functionality to be operational on all 
servers that might serve the bounceback url request.  Regardless of 
whether they're even in the same physical proximity or data realm.  They 
must somehow share a backstored saved state, or depend on the server 
that saved the state being available when it needs it.

>> Is the controller framework going to require me to depend
>> my web system operations on some sort of semi-persistent
>> pan-server correlated session state system?  Would that
>> not be requiring me to implement my web application in a
>> particular way?  Okay, that may indeed be the role of a
>> framework though I'd no doubt chafe at the limitations
>> myself.  If I have to write my web application a certain
>> way, is it so unusual to have my pages need to interact
>> with that application a certain way?  They're almost
>> inevitably closely coupled.
> That's a good point.  But no, it doesn't depend on the
> session, you don't have to have a session attached to use
> the controller framework.  You do have to have a session
> attached to use the OpenID layer.
I don't quite understand.  A session of what sort, exactly?  A 
back-stored persistant across servers session?  A secure ticket-cookie 
that tells my application that this client is known-and-authenticated 

To my understanding, once the OpenID server has the client post the 
signed result that originates from the openID provider, they're 
authenticated, and beyond tracking that 'this user is an authenticated 
user' in *SOME* way (keys in forms, cookies, url path fragments, 
what-have-you) there is no need to maintain any concept of a session 
beyond that.

Is this something about the framework that requires a backstore?  Is 
that going to be scalable?
>> This is a fairly sticky issue - if you have run out of
>> local authentication token, its impolite to drop data they
>> were submitting.  But on the other hand, there's no
>> particularly good way of *not* dropping it - you can't
>> really handle information if they're not authenticated for
>> it.  And out of pure defensive network traffic handling,
>> we do the absolute minimum for people who aren't
>> authenticated - so they can't consume our system
>> resources, be that posts-to-sessions-that-don't-exist or
>> what.
> That's true, that's why I think it will not try to preserve
> the request body unless they already were authenticated once
> and just timed out.  I think that's useful.
Here's a thought.  what if you fully handled the post as it came in - a 
short-time reprieve from having to do the redirect - if you already know 
they WERE authenticated, just accept their slightly expired ID, handle 
the form submit appropriately, and then redirect when you're done.  Have 
the bounceback go to the proper result page.  It amounts to tri-state 
session, 'good', 're-auth', and 'defunct'.

I was seriously thinking you were in a situation where you honestly 
could not tell - maybe you set the cookie with an expiration date, and 
its gone, its not being sent, you have no idea who this request is 
coming from.  Its different if you know.  If you do know they are(were) 
authenticated, not receiving the request is just being stubborn and 
inflexible, isn't it?
>> I can see programming the client side of the web
>> application to handle this kind of token-loss-recovery
>> automatically - the client has the form state and being
>> able to recover the session state is valuable, and
>> entirely independent from the framework utilized.  But I'm
>> not convinced that the web server should be jumping
>> through hoops/proxies to make it happen.  (not that you
>> have to convince me, I'm trying to present a perspective
>> that may be novel and generally be helpful in improving
>> your software, and we may just disagree on the role of the
>> software involved)
> That's probably what DAV clients expect to do, and probably
> what an AJAX client would do too.  After thinking about it,
> it's not clear that my conception of this module would be
> useful to an AJAX application or really any other automated
> type of code interface -- it would not make sense for an XML
> PUT to get redispatched to a GET request for an HTML login
> form. 
Heh, you have a point there.  I'd be more interested in getting an error 
response telling me that something had to be done than in getting 
willy-nilly redirects that violate the communication protocol 
established.  if I'm doing some kind of RPC, redirect to html is 
definitely unexpected.
>  I think that in those cases you would have to
> configure it with absolute URL's so that redirects to
> login/register/openidserver are used, instead of internal
> redispatching to login/register.  An asynchronous component
> would then have to watch for redirects and deal with it.
Hm.  But arguably in the middle of a session you don't have this 
problem.  The session is active.
> For those types of cases, it would make more sense to use a
> real Authen handler than returned DECLINED if they were not
> logged in, something in the style of Apache2::AuthenOpenID.
Sounds reasonable to me.  I like the flexibility of using the hooks of 
> Incidentally that uses redirects too, I don't see how you
> get around "side band" communication with OpenID.
You still get to decide what you do when you're not authenticated.  Just 
because you have a Authz hook defined does not mean you actually 
redirect - its entirely up to you what you do with your handler.  Maybe 
it just returns an error in the appropriate protocol instead of 
redirecting to somewhere else.  Though the particular implementation of 
Apache2::AuthenOpenID may differ from my concept of flexibility in this 
regard.  Subclass it?  *shrug*.
> Hrmm, looking at danjou's module I'm not sure if I'm doing
> the token checking correctly... but maybe that is
> effectively done by keeping the session id current. 
I think you may be on the right track there.
>  Hrmm,
> if I passed the token as a separate cookie would that be an
> extra layer of security to "prove" they owned the session
> id?  Not sure about this stuff.
Prove they own the session ID?

It took me awhile to figure out what you are suggesting. 

I assume this arises because you have a session key that rather than 
having the inherent session data in it, is a sequence number that could 
be mangled by an end user to try and step into an alternative session 
they don't own.

Easy to fix that.  Brief recipe.  Make cookie value with a simple 
signature.  Validate it.  Its just shared-secret validation, but it 
makes it almost impossible for the end users to mangle your cookies.  
And you can change the secret if its ever compromised.  Forgive if I 
typo, this is off the cuff.

sub cookie_value {
  my $sessionid = shift;
  return join ':', $sessionid, signature($sessionid));

sub signature {
  use Digest::MD5 qw/md5hex/;
   sub secret { 'a;slho4hlzdjknv;lxza adih' }
  md5hex($sessionid . secret());

sub get_session_from_cookie_value {
  my $value = shift;
  my ($session_id, $signature) = split /:/, $value;
  return $session_id if ($signature eq signature($session_id));
  return 0;

So as long as you make it reasonable difficult to mangle their cookies, 
They have your token.  You've got to accept that they are who you you 
authenticated that token for. 

You can certainly require re-authentication periodically to make it that 
much more difficult that any particular token be abused - its only good 
for so long, recording and replaying traffic won't give you tokens that 
are valid later.  (the cookie validator above could also contain a time 
used to detect that state, I know mine do)  But regardless of desire to 
force re-authentication in a window, this does not force you to reject 
the request out of hand - particularly if it passed a valid but expired 
cookie, you see?

I once programmed my session cookie system to validate the signed (so 
you couldn't mangle it) cookie contents against request metadata - IP 
source adress, user agent string, etc.  It was unworkable - turns out 
that user agent changes (when accessing media files particularly) and 
people are on ip pools, where diff requests can come from diff ips 
within the same session.  Yes, it made it almost impossible for people 
to snarf tokens and use them illegitimately, but it also made normal 
operation frustratingly unreliable.  (Instead I ended up tracking the 
changes and watched for really odd things for abuse, like one token or 
user being used across dozens of ips)


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