Network Working Group M.B. Jones
Internet-Draft Microsoft
Intended status: Standards Track D. Hardt
Expires: April 22, 2012 independent
D. Recordon
October 20, 2011

The OAuth 2.0 Authorization Protocol: Bearer Tokens


This specification describes how to use bearer tokens in HTTP requests to access OAuth 2.0 protected resources. Any party in possession of a bearer token (a "bearer") can use it to get access to granted resources (without demonstrating possession of a cryptographic key). To prevent misuse, the bearer token MUST be protected from disclosure in storage and in transport.

Status of this Memo

This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Note that other groups may also distribute working documents as Internet-Drafts. The list of current Internet- Drafts is at

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This Internet-Draft will expire on April 22, 2012.

Copyright Notice

Copyright (c) 2011 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the document authors. All rights reserved.

This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal Provisions Relating to IETF Documents ( in effect on the date of publication of this document. Please review these documents carefully, as they describe your rights and restrictions with respect to this document. Code Components extracted from this document must include Simplified BSD License text as described in Section 4.e of the Trust Legal Provisions and are provided without warranty as described in the Simplified BSD License.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

OAuth enables clients to access protected resources by obtaining an access token, which is defined in [I-D.ietf-oauth-v2] as "a string representing an access authorization issued to the client", rather than using the resource owner's credentials directly.

Tokens are issued to clients by an authorization server with the approval of the resource owner. The client uses the access token to access the protected resources hosted by the resource server. This specification describes how to make protected resource requests when the OAuth access token is a bearer token.

This specification defines the use of bearer tokens with OAuth over HTTP [RFC2616] using TLS [RFC5246]. Other specifications may extend it for use with other transport protocols.

1.1. Notational Conventions

The key words 'MUST', 'MUST NOT', 'REQUIRED', 'SHALL', 'SHALL NOT', 'SHOULD', 'SHOULD NOT', 'RECOMMENDED', 'MAY', and 'OPTIONAL' in this document are to be interpreted as described in [RFC2119].

This document uses the Augmented Backus-Naur Form (ABNF) notation of [I-D.ietf-httpbis-p1-messaging], which is based upon the Augmented Backus-Naur Form (ABNF) notation of [RFC5234]. Additionally, the following rules are included from [I-D.ietf-httpbis-p7-auth]: b64token, auth-param, and realm; from [I-D.ietf-httpbis-p1-messaging]: quoted-string; and from [RFC3986]: URI-Reference.

Unless otherwise noted, all the protocol parameter names and values are case sensitive.

1.2. Terminology

Bearer Token

A security token with the property that any party in possession of the token (a "bearer") can use the token in any way that any other party in possession of it can. Using a bearer token does not require a bearer to prove possession of cryptographic key material (proof-of-possession).

All other terms are as defined in [I-D.ietf-oauth-v2].

1.3. Overview

OAuth provides a method for clients to access a protected resource on behalf of a resource owner. In the general case, before a client can access a protected resource, it must first obtain an authorization grant from the resource owner and then exchange the authorization grant for an access token. The access token represents the grant's scope, duration, and other attributes granted by the authorization grant. The client accesses the protected resource by presenting the access token to the resource server. In some cases, a client can directly present its own credentials to an authorization server to obtain an access token without having to first obtain an authorization grant from a resource owner.

The access token provides an abstraction layer, replacing different authorization constructs (e.g. username and password, assertion) for a single token understood by the resource server. This abstraction enables issuing access tokens valid for a short time period, as well as removing the resource server's need to understand a wide range of authentication schemes.

+--------+                               +---------------+
|        |--(A)- Authorization Request ->|   Resource    |
|        |                               |     Owner     |
|        |<-(B)-- Authorization Grant ---|               |
|        |                               +---------------+
|        |
|        |        Authorization Grant &  +---------------+
|        |--(C)--- Client Credentials -->| Authorization |
| Client |                               |     Server    |
|        |<-(D)----- Access Token -------|               |
|        |                               +---------------+
|        |
|        |                               +---------------+
|        |--(E)----- Access Token ------>|    Resource   |
|        |                               |     Server    |
|        |<-(F)--- Protected Resource ---|               |
+--------+                               +---------------+

The abstract flow illustrated in Figure 1 describes the overall OAuth 2.0 protocol architecture. The following steps are specified within this document:

2. Authenticated Requests

Clients MAY use bearer tokens to make authenticated requests to access protected resources. This section defines three methods of sending bearer access tokens in resource requests to resource servers. Clients MUST NOT use more than one method to transmit the token in each request

2.1. The Authorization Request Header Field

When sending the access token in the Authorization request header field defined by [I-D.ietf-httpbis-p7-auth], the client uses the Bearer authentication scheme to transmit the access token.

For example:

GET /resource HTTP/1.1
Authorization: Bearer vF9dft4qmT

The Authorization header field uses the framework defined by [I-D.ietf-httpbis-p7-auth] follows:

credentials = "Bearer" 1*SP b64token

Clients SHOULD make authenticated requests with a bearer token using the Authorization request header field with the Bearer HTTP authorization scheme. Resource servers MUST support this method.

2.2. Form-Encoded Body Parameter

When sending the access token in the HTTP request entity-body, the client adds the access token to the request body using the access_token parameter. The client MUST NOT use this method unless all of the following conditions are met:

The entity-body MAY include other request-specific parameters, in which case, the access_token parameter MUST be properly separated from the request-specific parameters using & character(s) (ASCII code 38).

For example, the client makes the following HTTP request using transport-layer security:

POST /resource HTTP/1.1
Content-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded


The application/x-www-form-urlencoded method SHOULD NOT be used except in application contexts where participating browsers do not have access to the Authorization request header field. Resource servers MAY support this method.

2.3. URI Query Parameter

When sending the access token in the HTTP request URI, the client adds the access token to the request URI query component as defined by [RFC3986] using the access_token parameter.

For example, the client makes the following HTTP request using transport-layer security:

GET /resource?access_token=vF9dft4qmT HTTP/1.1

The HTTP request URI query can include other request-specific parameters, in which case, the access_token parameter MUST be properly separated from the request-specific parameters using & character(s) (ASCII code 38).

For example:

Because of the Security Considerations [sec-con] associated with the URI method, it SHOULD NOT be used unless it is the only feasible method. Resource servers MAY support this method.

3. The WWW-Authenticate Response Header Field

If the protected resource request does not include authentication credentials or does not contain an access token that enables access to the protected resource, the resource server MUST include the HTTP WWW-Authenticate response header field; it MAY include it in response to other conditions as well. The WWW-Authenticate header field uses the framework defined by [I-D.ietf-httpbis-p7-auth] as follows:

challenge       = "Bearer" [ 1*SP 1#param ]

param           = realm / scope /
                  error / error-desc / error-uri /

scope           = "scope" "=" <"> scope-val *( SP scope-val ) <">
scope-val       = 1*scope-val-char
scope-val-char  = %x21 / %x23-5B / %x5D-7E
  ; HTTPbis P1 qdtext except whitespace, restricted to US-ASCII

error           = "error" "=" quoted-string
error-desc      = "error_description" "=" <"> *error-desc-char <">
error-desc-char = SP / VCHAR
error-uri       = "error_uri" "=" <"> URI-reference <">

The scope attribute is a space-delimited list of scope values indicating the required scope of the access token for accessing the requested resource. The scope attribute MUST NOT appear more than once. The scope value is intended for programmatic use and is not meant to be displayed to end users.

If the protected resource request included an access token and failed authentication, the resource server SHOULD include the error attribute to provide the client with the reason why the access request was declined. The parameter value is described in Section 3.1. In addition, the resource server MAY include the error_description attribute to provide developers a human-readable explanation that is not meant to be displayed to end users. It also MAY include the error_uri attribute with an absolute URI identifying a human-readable web page explaining the error. The error, error_description, and error_uri attribute MUST NOT appear more than once.

For example, in response to a protected resource request without authentication:

HTTP/1.1 401 Unauthorized
WWW-Authenticate: Bearer realm="example"

And in response to a protected resource request with an authentication attempt using an expired access token:

HTTP/1.1 401 Unauthorized
WWW-Authenticate: Bearer realm="example",
                  error_description="The access token expired"

3.1. Error Codes

When a request fails, the resource server responds using the appropriate HTTP status code (typically, 400, 401, or 403), and includes one of the following error codes in the response:


The request is missing a required parameter, includes an unsupported parameter or parameter value, repeats the same parameter, uses more than one method for including an access token, or is otherwise malformed. The resource server SHOULD respond with the HTTP 400 (Bad Request) status code.

The access token provided is expired, revoked, malformed, or invalid for other reasons. The resource SHOULD respond with the HTTP 401 (Unauthorized) status code. The client MAY request a new access token and retry the protected resource request.

The request requires higher privileges than provided by the access token. The resource server SHOULD respond with the HTTP 403 (Forbidden) status code and MAY include the scope attribute with the scope necessary to access the protected resource.

If the request lacks any authentication information (i.e. the client was unaware authentication is necessary or attempted using an unsupported authentication method), the resource server SHOULD NOT include an error code or other error information.

For example:

HTTP/1.1 401 Unauthorized
WWW-Authenticate: Bearer realm="example"

4. Security Considerations

This section describes the relevant security threats regarding token handling when using bearer tokens and describes how to mitigate these threats.

4.1. Security Threats

The following list presents several common threats against protocols utilizing some form of tokens. This list of threats is based on NIST Special Publication 800-63 [NIST800-63]. Since this document builds on the OAuth 2.0 specification, we exclude a discussion of threats that are described there or in related documents.

Token manufacture/modification:
An attacker may generate a bogus token or modify the token contents (such as the authentication or attribute statements) of an existing token, causing the resource server to grant inappropriate access to the client. For example, an attacker may modify the token to extend the validity period; a malicious client may modify the assertion to gain access to information that they should not be able to view.
Token disclosure:
Tokens may contain authentication and attribute statements that include sensitive information.
Token redirect:
An attacker uses a token generated for consumption by one resource server to gain access to a different resource server that mistakenly believes the token to be for it.
Token replay:
An attacker attempts to use a token that has already been used with that resource server in the past.

4.2. Threat Mitigation

A large range of threats can be mitigated by protecting the contents of the token by using a digital signature or a Message Authentication Code (MAC). Alternatively, a bearer token can contain a reference to authorization information, rather than encoding the information directly. Such references MUST be infeasible for an attacker to guess; using a reference may require an extra interaction between a server and the token issuer to resolve the reference to the authorization information. The mechanics of such an interaction are not defined by this specification.

This document does not specify the encoding or the contents of the token; hence detailed recommendations for token integrity protection are outside the scope of this document. We assume that the token integrity protection is sufficient to prevent the token from being modified.

To deal with token redirect, it is important for the authorization server to include the identity of the intended recipients (the audience), typically a single resource server (or a list of resource servers), in the token. Restricting the use of the token to a specific scope is also recommended.

To provide protection against token disclosure, confidentiality protection is applied via TLS [RFC5246] with a ciphersuite that offers confidentiality protection. This requires that the communication interaction between the client and the authorization server, as well as the interaction between the client and the resource server, utilize confidentiality protection. Since TLS is mandatory to implement and to use with this specification, it is the preferred approach for preventing token disclosure via the communication channel. For those cases where the client is prevented from observing the contents of the token, token encryption MUST be applied in addition to the usage of TLS protection.

To deal with token capture and replay, the following recommendations are made: First, the lifetime of the token MUST be limited by putting a validity time field inside the protected part of the token. Note that using short-lived (one hour or less) tokens reduces the impact of them being leaked. Second, confidentiality protection of the exchanges between the client and the authorization server and between the client and the resource server MUST be applied, for instance, through the use of TLS [RFC5246]. As a consequence, no eavesdropper along the communication path is able to observe the token exchange. Consequently, such an on-path adversary cannot replay the token. Furthermore, when presenting the token to a resource server, the client MUST verify the identity of that resource server, as per [RFC2818]. Note that the client MUST validate the TLS certificate chain when making these requests to protected resources. Presenting the token to an unauthenticated and unauthorized resource server or failing to validate the certificate chain will allow adversaries to steal the token and gain unauthorized access to protected resources.

4.3. Summary of Recommendations

Safeguard bearer tokens
Client implementations MUST ensure that bearer tokens are not leaked to unintended parties, as they will be able to use them to gain access to protected resources. This is the primary security consideration when using bearer tokens and underlies all the more specific recommendations that follow.
Validate SSL certificate chains
The client MUST validate the TLS certificate chain when making requests to protected resources. Failing to do so may enable DNS hijacking attacks to steal the token and gain unintended access.
Always use TLS (https)
Clients MUST always use TLS [RFC5246] (https) or equivalent transport security when making requests with bearer tokens. Failing to do so exposes the token to numerous attacks that could give attackers unintended access.
Don't store bearer tokens in cookies
Implementations MUST NOT store bearer tokens within cookies that can be sent in the clear (which is the default transmission mode for cookies). Implementations that do store bearer tokens in cookies MUST take precautions against cross site request forgery.
Issue short-lived bearer tokens
Token servers SHOULD issue short-lived (one hour or less) bearer tokens, particularly when issuing tokens to clients that run within a web browser or other environments where information leakage may occur. Using short-lived bearer tokens can reduce the impact of them being leaked.
Issue scoped bearer tokens
Token servers SHOULD issue bearer tokens that contain an audience restriction, scoping their use to the intended relying party or set of relying parties.
Don't pass bearer tokens in page URLs
Bearer tokens SHOULD NOT be passed in page URLs (for example as query string parameters). Instead, bearer tokens SHOULD be passed in HTTP message headers or message bodies for which confidentiality measures are taken. Browsers, web servers, and other software may not adequately secure URLs in the browser history, web server logs, and other data structures. If bearer tokens are passed in page URLs, attackers might be able to steal them from the history data, logs, or other unsecured locations.

5. IANA Considerations

5.1. OAuth Access Token Type Registration

This specification registers the following access token type in the OAuth Access Token Type Registry.

5.1.1. The "Bearer" OAuth Access Token Type

Type name:

Additional Token Endpoint Response Parameters:

HTTP Authentication Scheme(s):

Change controller:

Specification document(s):

[[ this document ]]

5.2. Authentication Scheme Registration

This specification registers the following authentication scheme in the Authentication Scheme Registry defined in [I-D.ietf-httpbis-p7-auth].

5.2.1. The "Bearer" Authentication Scheme

Authentication Scheme Name:

Pointer to specification text:

[[ this document ]]
Notes (optional):


6. References

6.1. Normative References

[RFC2119] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.
[RFC2616] Fielding, R., Gettys, J., Mogul, J., Frystyk, H., Masinter, L., Leach, P. and T. Berners-Lee, "Hypertext Transfer Protocol -- HTTP/1.1", RFC 2616, June 1999.
[RFC2818] Rescorla, E., "HTTP Over TLS", RFC 2818, May 2000.
[RFC3986] Berners-Lee, T., Fielding, R. and L. Masinter, "Uniform Resource Identifier (URI): Generic Syntax", STD 66, RFC 3986, January 2005.
[RFC5234] Crocker, D. and P. Overell, "Augmented BNF for Syntax Specifications: ABNF", STD 68, RFC 5234, January 2008.
[RFC5246] Dierks, T. and E. Rescorla, "The Transport Layer Security (TLS) Protocol Version 1.2", RFC 5246, August 2008.
[W3C.REC-html401-19991224] Raggett, D., Hors, A. and I. Jacobs, "HTML 4.01 Specification", World Wide Web Consortium Recommendation REC-html401-19991224, December 1999.
[I-D.ietf-httpbis-p1-messaging] Fielding, R, Gettys, J, Mogul, J, Nielsen, H, Masinter, L, Leach, P, Berners-Lee, T, Reschke, J and Y Lafon, "HTTP/1.1, part 1: URIs, Connections, and Message Parsing", Internet-Draft draft-ietf-httpbis-p1-messaging-16, August 2011.
[I-D.ietf-httpbis-p7-auth] Fielding, R, Gettys, J, Mogul, J, Nielsen, H, Masinter, L, Leach, P, Berners-Lee, T, Reschke, J and Y Lafon, "HTTP/1.1, part 7: Authentication", Internet-Draft draft-ietf-httpbis-p7-auth-16, August 2011.
[I-D.ietf-oauth-v2] Hammer-Lahav, E, Recordon, D and D Hardt, "The OAuth 2.0 Authorization Protocol", Internet-Draft draft-ietf-oauth-v2-22, September 2011.

6.2. Informative References

[RFC2617] Franks, J., Hallam-Baker, P.M., Hostetler, J.L., Lawrence, S.D., Leach, P.J., Luotonen, A. and L. Stewart, "HTTP Authentication: Basic and Digest Access Authentication", RFC 2617, June 1999.
[NIST800-63] Burr, W., Dodson, D., Perlner, R., Polk, T., Gupta, S. and E. Nabbus, "NIST Special Publication 800-63-1, INFORMATION SECURITY", December 2008.

Appendix A. Acknowledgements

The following people contributed to preliminary versions of this document: Blaine Cook (BT), Brian Eaton (Google), Yaron Y. Goland (Microsoft), Brent Goldman (Facebook), Raffi Krikorian (Twitter), Luke Shepard (Facebook), and Allen Tom (Yahoo!). The content and concepts within are a product of the OAuth community, the WRAP community, and the OAuth Working Group.

The OAuth Working Group has dozens of very active contributors who proposed ideas and wording for this document, including: Michael Adams, Amanda Anganes, Andrew Arnott, Dirk Balfanz, Brian Campbell, Leah Culver, Bill de hÓra, Brian Ellin, Igor Faynberg, George Fletcher, Tim Freeman, Evan Gilbert, Justin Hart, John Kemp, Eran Hammer-Lahav, Chasen Le Hara, Michael B. Jones, Torsten Lodderstedt, Eve Maler, James Manger, Laurence Miao, Chuck Mortimore, Anthony Nadalin, Justin Richer, Peter Saint-Andre, Nat Sakimura, Rob Sayre, Marius Scurtescu, Naitik Shah, Justin Smith, Jeremy Suriel, Christian Stübner, Paul Tarjan, and Franklin Tse.

Appendix B. Document History

[[ to be removed by the RFC editor before publication as an RFC ]]












Authors' Addresses

Michael B. Jones Microsoft EMail: URI:
Dick Hardt independent EMail: URI:
David Recordon Facebook EMail: URI: