Silent Authentication

Heads up! As part of our efforts to improve security and standards-based interoperability, we have implemented several new features in our authentication flows and made changes to existing ones. For an overview of these changes, and details on how you adopt them, refer to Introducing OIDC Conformant Authentication.

The OpenID Connect protocol supports a prompt=none parameter on the authentication request that allows applications to indicate that the authorization server must not display any user interaction (such as authentication, consent or MFA). Auth0 will either return the requested response back to the application or return an error if the user is not already authenticated, or some type of consent or prompt is required before proceeding.

This flow can be used by Single Page Applications to renew tokens as explained below.

Initiate a Silent Authentication request

To initiate a silent authentication request, add the prompt=none parameter when you redirect a user to the /authorize endpoint of Auth0's authentication API.

For example:

GET https://YOUR_DOMAIN/authorize
    ?response_type=id_token token&

The individual parameters on the authentication request will depend on the specific needs of the application.

The prompt=none parameter will cause Auth0 to immediately send a result to the specified redirect_uri (callback URL) using the specified response_mode with one of two possible responses:

  • A successful authentication response if the user already has a valid session in Auth0 and no consent or other prompts are needed.
  • An error response if the user doesn't have a valid session or some interactive prompt is required.

Any applicable rules will be executed as part of the silent authentication process.

Successful authentication response

If the user was already logged in into Auth0 and no other interactive prompts are required, Auth0 will respond exactly as if the user had authenticated manually through the login page.

For example, when using the Single-Page Login Flow (response_type=id_token token, used for single page applications), Auth0 will respond with the requested tokens:

GET https://YOUR_APP/callback

Note that this response is indistinguishable from a login performed directly without the prompt=none parameter.

Error response

If the user was not logged in via SSO or their SSO session had expired, Auth0 will redirect to the specified redirect_uri (callback URL) with an error:

GET https://your_callback_url/

The possible values for ERROR_CODE are defined by the OpenID Connect specification:

  • login_required: The user was not logged in at Auth0, so silent authentication is not possible
  • consent_required: The user was logged in at Auth0, but needs to give consent to authorize the application
  • interaction_required: The user was logged in at Auth0 and has authorized the application, but needs to be redirected elsewhere before authentication can be completed; for example, when using a redirect rule.

If any of these errors are returned, the user must be redirected to the Auth0 login page without the prompt=none parameter to authenticate.

Renew expired tokens

Since Single Page Applications cannot request or use Refresh Tokens to renew an expired token, a silent authentication request can be used instead to get new tokens as long as the user still has a valid session at Auth0.

The checkSession method from auth0.js uses a silent token request in combination with response_mode=web_message so that the request happens in a hidden iframe. Auth0.js handles the result processing (either the token or the error code) and passes the information through a callback function provided by the application. This results in no UX disruption (no page refresh or lost state).

Access Token expiration

Access Tokens are opaque to applications. This means that applications are unable to inspect the contents of Access Tokens to determine their expiration date.

There are two options to determine when an Access Token expires:

  1. Read the expires_in response parameter returned by Auth0
  2. Ignore expiration dates altogether. Instead, try to renew the Access Token if your API rejects a request from the application (such as with a 401).

In the case of the Single-Page Login Flow, the expires_in parameter is returned by Auth0 as a hash parameter following a successful authentication. In the Regular Web App Login Flow, it is returned to the backend server when performing the authorization code exchange.

The expires_in parameter indicates how many seconds the Access Token will be valid for, and can be used to anticipate expiration of the Access Token.

Polling with checkSession()

In some multi-application scenarios, where Single Log Out is desired (a user logging out of one application needs to be logged out of other applications), an application can be set up to periodically poll Auth0 using checkSession() to see if a session exists. If the session does not exist, you can then log the user out of the application. The same polling method can be used to implement silent authentication for a Single Sign-On scenario.

The poll interval between checks to checkSession() should be at least 15 minutes between calls to avoid any issues in the future with rate limiting of this call.

How to implement

Implementation of token renewal will depend on the type of application and framework being used. Sample implementations for some of the common platforms can be found below: