Skip to main content
Witold Szczerba
angularjs

Authentication in AngularJS (or similar) based application

Implementation of the concept described below and also a demo application is available here: https://github.com/witoldsz/angular-http-auth.


Hello again,

today I would like to write a little bit about how am I handling authentication in an application front-end running inside web browser, using AngularJS.

Traditional server ‘login form’? Well… no, thank you.

At the beginning, I did not realize that traditional and commonly used form based authentication does not suit my client-side application. The major problem lies in a key difference between traditional – server-side, and client-side applications. In server-side applications, no one else but server itself knows user state and intentions, whereas in client-side applications this is no longer true.

Let’s take a look at a sample server-side web application flow of events:

  • user asks for a web page: something.com,
  • server generates markup and sends it back,
  • user chooses to visit a secured sub-page: something.com/secured,
  • server figures out that user does need to authenticate itself, so it:
    – remembers what user asked for,
    – responds with a login form (or a redirect to) instead of a requested content,
  • once user sends credentials back to the server, it serves what user initially asked for,
  • user keeps visiting secured pages and filling secured forms until their authorization expires (for whatever reason),
  • server once again responses with a login form and once user provides credentials, server redirects them back whenever they wanted to go.

Same application, but different flow:

  • user asks for: something.com/secured/formXyz,
  • server sends a login form,
  • user logs in, fills a long and complicated form, but they are doing it so long that theirs session expires,
  • user submits a form, but since the session is not valid anymore, login screen appears,
  • once user logs in, server can process the submitted form, no need to re-enter everything again.

Now let’s see how it is in client-side application, running inside a web browser:

  • user types somewhere.com in an address bar,
  • browser sends a “Content-Type: text/html” request,
  • server sends back a page with client-side application code,
  • code starts to execute and asks for user name (e.g. it wants to display user name in the upper right corner), so next request is issued, e.g.: “Content-Type: application/json”
  • traditional login form does not make sense here, as browser is not requesting a web page, but some data instead. Something is not right here.

OK, so let’s try other way around:

  • user asks for somewhere.com
  • entire site is hidden behind a login form authentication mechanism, so instead of an application, user is presented a form, so they can provide credentials,
  • once user submits, the originally requested page is provided, so as it was before: application loads, issues a new data request (application/json) for user name and receives it back, everything is nice so far… but let’s assume that our session expires (for whatever reason) while we are in the middle of a long and complicated form…

Guess what? We are exactly in the same place as before: our application is up and running, but our session is not valid any more and form based authentication is useless at this point. Or isn’t it?

Let’s try to adapt. Using AngularJS, we can simply write an http interceptor. Such a interceptor can check every response and once it detects a login form, we can… well…

  • We can redirect ourselves to a login page, but this is a complicated task, because server does not know where we are at the moment (or to be more precise: what is our state, what were we doing). Remember, client-side application is client-side, how is server supposed to figure out what to do next, after we logged in? From server-side point of view we are sitting on one page all the time.
  • We can be smarter: we can bring an IFRAME to life, it will show login form. But this is also complicated: we have to figure out somehow what is happening inside such an IFRAME. How to detect successful login? Is it easy? Hard? Not that hard but tricky?

Of course everything is doable, but after investigation, I did something else. Very simple and clean, but requires server side adjustments.

Solution: client-side login form when server answers: status 401.

My solution assumes the following server side behaviour: for every /resources/* call, if user is not authorized, response a 401 status. Otherwise, when user is authorized or when not a /resources/* request, send what client asked for. No login forms, but we still need some login URL, so our application can send login and password there. Plain-old cookie based sessions? Why not, they work for me, web browsers and application servers handle them automatically by default.

AngularJS has a $http service. It allows custom interceptors to be plugged in:

myapp.config(function($httpProvider) {
function exampleInterceptor($q, $log) {
function success(response) {
$log.info('Successful response: ' + response);
return response;
}
function error(response) {
var status = response.status;
$log.error('Response status: ' + status + '. ' + response);
return $q.reject(response); //similar to throw response;
}
return function(promise) {
return promise.then(success, error);
}
}
$httpProvider.responseInterceptors.push(exampleInterceptor);
});

Nice thing is that from ‘response’ parameter we can rebuild the request. To fully understand how the $http interceptor works, we need to understand $q.

The goal is to be able to:

  • capture 401 response,
  • save the request parameters, so in the future we can reconstruct original request,
  • create and return new object representing server’s future answer (instead of returning the original failed response),
  • broadcast that login is required, so application can react, in particular login form can appear,
  • listen to login successful events, so we can gather all the saved request parameters, resend them again and trigger all the ‘future’ objects (returned previously).

Nice thing about the solution above is that when you request something, but server responds with status 401, you do not have (and you cannot) handle this. Interceptor will handle this for you. You will eventually receive the response. It will come as nothing had happened, just a little bit later (unless user won’t provide valid credentials).

OK, so here is a bit of code.

/**
* $http interceptor.
* On 401 response - it stores the request and broadcasts 'event:loginRequired'.
*/
myapp.config(function($httpProvider) {
var interceptor = ['$rootScope', '$q', function(scope, $q) {

function success(response) {
return response;
}

function error(response) {
var status = response.status;

if (status === 401) {
var deferred = $q.defer();
var req = {
config: response.config,
deferred: deferred
};
scope.requests401.push(req);
scope.$broadcast('event:loginRequired');
return deferred.promise;
}
// otherwise
return $q.reject(response);

}

return function(promise) {
return promise.then(success, error);
}

}];
$httpProvider.responseInterceptors.push(interceptor);
});

myapp.run(['$rootScope', '$http', function(scope, $http) {

/**
* Holds all the requests which failed due to 401 response.
*/
scope.requests401 = [];

/**
* On 'event:loginConfirmed', resend all the 401 requests.
*/
scope.$on('event:loginConfirmed', function() {
var i, requests = scope.requests401;
for (i = 0; i < requests.length; i++) {
retry(requests[i]);
}
scope.requests401 = [];

function retry(req) {
$http(req.config).then(function(response) {
req.deferred.resolve(response);
});
}
});

/**
* On 'event:loginRequest' send credentials to the server.
*/
scope.$on('event:loginRequest', function(event, username, password) {
var payload = $.param({j_username: username, j_password: password});
var config = {
headers: {'Content-Type': 'application/x-www-form-urlencoded; charset=UTF-8'}
};
$http.post('j_spring_security_check', payload, config).success(function(data) {
if (data === 'AUTHENTICATION_SUCCESS') {
scope.$broadcast('event:loginConfirmed');
}
});
});

/**
* On 'logoutRequest' invoke logout on the server and broadcast 'event:loginRequired'.
*/
scope.$on('event:logoutRequest', function() {
$http.put('j_spring_security_logout', {}).success(function() {
ping();
});
});

/**
* Ping server to figure out if user is already logged in.
*/
function ping() {
$http.get('rest/ping').success(function() {
scope.$broadcast('event:loginConfirmed');
});
}
ping();

}]);

 

I wanted to provide a working example with a login window, using jsfiddle.net, but have to postpone it. It is getting a little bit late now, so I am finishing this entry here. I hope you like it 🙂

author: Witold Szczerba

Share:Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+

Like what you see?

Get in touch! We'll respond quickly, and we'll keep your data confidential.