Identity pools (federated identities) authentication flow - Amazon Cognito

Identity pools (federated identities) authentication flow

Amazon Cognito helps you create unique identifiers for your end users that are kept consistent across devices and platforms. Amazon Cognito also delivers temporary, limited-privilege credentials to your application to access AWS resources. This page covers the basics of how authentication in Amazon Cognito works and explains the lifecycle of an identity inside your identity pool.

External provider authflow

A user authenticating with Amazon Cognito goes through a multi-step process to bootstrap their credentials. Amazon Cognito has two different flows for authentication with public providers: enhanced and basic.

Once you complete one of these flows, you can access other AWS services as defined by your role's access policies. By default, the Amazon Cognito console creates roles with access to the Amazon Cognito Sync store and to Amazon Mobile Analytics. For more information on how to grant additional access, see IAM roles.

Enhanced (simplified) authflow

When you use the enhanced authflow, your app first presents an ID token from an authorized Amazon Cognito user pool or third-party identity provider in a GetID request. The app exchanges the token for an identity ID in your identity pool. The identity ID is then used with the same identity provider token in a GetCredentialsForIdentity request. The enhanced workflow simplifies credential retrieval by performing GetOpenIdToken and AssumeRoleWithWebIdentity in the background for you. GetCredentialsForIdentity returns AWS API credentials.

  1. GetId

  2. GetCredentialsForIdentity


                External Provider Enhanced Authflow

Basic (classic) authflow

When you use the basic authflow, your app first presents an ID token from an authorized Amazon Cognito user pool or third-party identity provider in a GetID request. The app exchanges the token for an identity ID in your identity pool. The identity ID is then used with the same identity provider token in a GetOpenIdToken request. GetOpenIdToken returns a new OAuth 2.0 token that is issued by your identity pool. You can then use the new token in an AssumeRoleWithWebIdentity request to retrieve AWS API credentials. The basic workflow gives you more granular control over the credentials that you distribute to your users. The GetCredentialsForIdentity request of the enhanced authflow requests a role based on the contents of an access token. The AssumeRoleWithWebIdentity request in the classic workflow grants your app a greater ability to request credentials for any AWS Identity and Access Management role that you have configured with a sufficient trust policy.

  1. GetId

  2. GetOpenIdToken

  3. AssumeRoleWithWebIdentity


                External Provider Basic Authflow

Developer authenticated identities authflow

When using Developer authenticated identities (identity pools), the client uses a different authflow that includes code outside of Amazon Cognito to validate the user in your own authentication system. Code outside of Amazon Cognito is indicated as such.

Enhanced authflow

  1. Login via Developer Provider (code outside of Amazon Cognito)

  2. Validate the user login (code outside of Amazon Cognito)

  3. GetOpenIdTokenForDeveloperIdentity

  4. GetCredentialsForIdentity


                Developer Authenticated Enhanced Authflow

Basic authflow

  1. Login via Developer Provider (code outside of Amazon Cognito)

  2. Validate the user login (code outside of Amazon Cognito)

  3. GetOpenIdTokenForDeveloperIdentity

  4. AssumeRoleWithWebIdentity


                Developer Authenticated Basic Authflow

Which authflow should I use?

For most customers, the Enhanced Flow is the correct choice, as it offers many benefits over the Basic Flow:

  • One fewer network call to get credentials on the device.

  • All calls are made to Amazon Cognito, meaning it is also one less network connection.

  • Roles no longer need to be embedded in your application, only an identity pool id and Region are necessary to start bootstrapping credentials.

Since February 2015, the Amazon Cognito console has displayed example code that used the Enhanced Flow. Additionally, if your identity pool does not have the role association necessary to use the Enhanced Flow, the console displays a notification.

The following are the minimum SDK versions where the Enhanced Flow is supported:

SDK (minimum version)

  • AWS SDK for iOS (2.0.14)

  • AWS SDK for Android (2.1.8)

  • AWS SDK for JavaScript (2.1.7)

  • AWS SDK for Unity (1.0.3)

  • AWS SDK for Xamarin (3.0.0.5)

If you want to use more than the two default roles configured when you create a new identity pool in the console, use the Basic Flow.

API summary

GetId

The GetId API call is the first call necessary to establish a new identity in Amazon Cognito.

Unauthenticated access

Amazon Cognito can grant unauthenticated guest access in your applications. If this feature is enabled in your identity pool, users can request a new identity ID at any time via the GetId API. The application is expected to cache this identity ID to make subsequent calls to Amazon Cognito. The AWS Mobile SDKs and the AWS SDK for JavaScript in the Browser have credentials providers that handle this caching for you.

Authenticated access

When you've configured your application with support for a public login provider (Facebook, Google+, Login with Amazon, or Sign in with Apple), users can also supply tokens (OAuth or OpenID Connect) that identify them in those providers. When used in a call to GetId, Amazon Cognito creates a new authenticated identity or returns the identity already associated with that particular login. Amazon Cognito does this by validating the token with the provider and making sure of the following:

  • The token is valid and from the configured provider.

  • The token is not expired.

  • The token matches the application identifier created with that provider (for example, Facebook app ID).

  • The token matches the user identifier.

GetCredentialsForIdentity

The GetCredentialsForIdentity API can be called after you establish an identity ID. This API is functionally equivalent to calling GetOpenIdToken followed by AssumeRoleWithWebIdentity.

For Amazon Cognito to call AssumeRoleWithWebIdentity on your behalf, your identity pool must have IAM roles associated with it. You can do this via the Amazon Cognito console or manually via the SetIdentityPoolRoles operation.

GetOpenIdToken

The GetOpenIdToken API call is called after you establish an identity ID. If you have a cached identity ID, this can be the first call you make during an app session.

Unauthenticated access

To obtain a token for an unauthenticated identity, you only need the identity ID itself. It is not possible to get an unauthenticated token for authenticated or disabled identities.

Authenticated access

If you have an authenticated identity, you must pass at least one valid token for a login already associated with that identity. All tokens passed in during the GetOpenIdToken call must pass the same validation mentioned earlier; if any of the tokens fail, the whole call fails. The response from the GetOpenIdToken call also includes the identity ID. This is because the identity ID that you pass in may not be the one that is returned.

Linking logins

If you pass in a token for a login that is not already associated with any identity, the login is considered to be "linked" to the associated identity. You may only link one login per public provider. Attempts to link more than one login with a public provider results in a ResourceConflictException error response. If a login is merely linked to an existing identity, the identity ID returned from GetOpenIdToken is the same as the one that you passed in.

Merging identities

If you pass in a token for a login that is not currently linked to the given identity, but is linked to another identity, the two identities are merged. Once merged, one identity becomes the parent/owner of all associated logins and the other is disabled. In this case, the identity ID of the parent/owner is returned. You must update your local cache if this value differs. The providers in the AWS Mobile SDKs or AWS SDK for JavaScript in the Browser perform this operation for you.

GetOpenIdTokenForDeveloperIdentity

The GetOpenIdTokenForDeveloperIdentity API replaces the use of GetId and GetOpenIdToken from the device when using developer authenticated identities. Because this API call is signed by your AWS credentials, Amazon Cognito can trust that the user identifier supplied in the API call is valid. This replaces the token validation Amazon Cognito performs with external providers.

The payload for this API includes a logins map that must contain the key of your developer provider and a value as an identifier for the user in your system. If the user identifier isn't already linked to an existing identity, Amazon Cognito creates a new identity and returns the new identity id and an OpenId Connect token for that identity. If the user identifier is already linked, Amazon Cognito returns the pre-existing identity id and an OpenId Connect token.

Linking logins

As with external providers, supplying additional logins that are not already associated with an identity implicitly links those logins to that identity. If you link an external provider login to an identity, the user can use the external provider authflow with that provider, but they cannot use your developer provider name in the logins map when calling GetId or GetOpenIdToken.

Merging identities

With developer authenticated identities, Amazon Cognito supports both implicit merging and explicit merging through the MergeDeveloperIdentities API. With explicit merging, you can mark two identities with user identifiers in your system as a single identity. If you supply the source and destination user identifiers, Amazon Cognito merges them. The next time you request an OpenId Connect token for either user identifier, the same identity id is returned.

AssumeRoleWithWebIdentity

After you have an OpenID Connect token, you can then trade this for temporary AWS credentials through the AssumeRoleWithWebIdentity API call in AWS Security Token Service (STS). This call is no different than if you were using Facebook, Google+, Login with Amazon, or Sign in with Apple directly. The only exception is that you are passing an Amazon Cognito token instead of a token from one of the other public providers.

Because there is no restriction on the number of identities that you can create, it is important to understand the permissions that you're granting to your users. Set up different roles for your application: one for unauthenticated users, and one for authenticated users. The Amazon Cognito console creates these for you by default when you first set up your identity pool. The access policy for these two roles are exactly the same: it grants users access to Amazon Cognito Sync, and they can submit events to Amazon Mobile Analytics. You can modify these roles to meet your needs.

Learn more about Role trust and permissions.