I just started to use OAuth 2.0 as a way to authenticate my users. It works great - I just use the identity/profile API of each provider to get a validated email address of the user.

Now I read about OpenID Connect and am a little bit confused.

What is the difference between OpenID Connect and using the identity API over OAuth2? Is it just that I have a standard profile API, so that I don't have to worry whether I get an "email" or an "emails" JSON back?

Or is there more to it, which makes the OpenID Connect approach more secure than my first approach?

  • 1
    Alright, I didn't know about "OpenID Connect", I understood it as "OpenID" + "Connect". I'm sure you've already checked this: softwareforallseasons.blogspot.fr/2011/10/… + I suggest you edit your question so that it reads OAuth 2.0 instead of just OAuth.
    – Aki
    Jun 21 '13 at 15:04
  • @Aki: yes, I've seen the blog post, but couldn't make anything of it.
    – rdmueller
    Jun 22 '13 at 20:55
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    @Ralf: As I see it, you can build apps with oauth and authorize sharing or not of specific resources linked to the user account. Using openid connect, it is made easier, the provider doesn't have to implement its own layer above oauth to handle it and clients have a standard way to access data.
    – Aki
    Jun 26 '13 at 8:06
  • "I just use the identity/profile API of each provider to get a validated email address of the user." This means that you need to restrict the set of allowed providers. An arbitrary provider doesn't guarantee validation. Alternatively you could reject email addresses that don't match the domain of the provider. Nov 10 '13 at 15:16
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    As an article on oauth.net states: OAuth 2.0 is not an authentication protocol. It's actually authorization framework. They recommend using OpenID Connect (which is based on OAuth 2.0) if you want authentication.
    – Jonas
    Aug 11 '16 at 8:47

OpenID connect will give you an access token plus an id token. The id token is a JWT and contains information about the authenticated user. It is signed by the identity provider and can be read and verified without accessing the identity provider.

In addition, OpenID connect standardizes quite a couple things that oauth2 leaves up to choice. for instance scopes, endpoint discovery, and dynamic registration of clients.

This makes it easier to write code that lets the user choose between multiple identity providers.

  • Are you sure your statement "OpenID connect will give you an access token plus an id token." is correct? I thought an application can have an id_token and share it with a different application and then get an access token from that application. OIDC rides on top of the OAuth2 protocol but you don't necessarily get both. Although, it may happen most of the time. Dec 17 '18 at 18:08
  • "OpenID connect will give you an access token plus an id token." >> For most cases this is correct and the way it's usually handled. You make one request that consists of "token id_token" as responseTypes and "openid" as scope, which will return both an access token and an id token at the same time. The ID token is meant to be for the client, while the access token is meant to be opaque to the client and is meant to be passed on in requests to the resource server to protect, such as an API or other backend. Apr 8 '19 at 9:30
  • "I thought an application can have an id_token and share it with a different application and then get an access token from that application." >> You don't exchange an ID token for an access token, if that's what you meant. And both is issues by the authorization server / IdP, not from another application or resource server (although authorization server and resource server can sometimes be the same). Apr 8 '19 at 9:31

OAuth provides only and should only provides authorization using an access token. OpenID connect is built on OAuth 2 in order to provide user authentication information. However, it will not provide you a more robust implementation than OAuth (since it uses OAuth and add some extra interactions with a OpenID provider).

OpenID Connect 1.0 is a simple identity layer on top of the OAuth 2.0 [RFC6749] protocol. It enables Clients to verify the identity of the End-User based on the authentication performed by an Authorization Server, as well as to obtain basic profile information about the End-User in an interoperable and REST-like manner. OpenID Connect Core 1.0 - draft 17

OpenID connect provides you a "standard" way to obtain user identity. If you use OAuth and the API, you should adapt your request for each resource, which may not always provide the same information or may change over the time. And conceptually, you use OAuth to be allowed to use an API, not to authenticate an user.

As background, the OAuth 2.0 Authorization Framework [RFC6749] and OAuth 2.0 Bearer Token Usage [RFC6750] specifications provide a general framework for third-party applications to obtain and use limited access to HTTP resources. They define mechanisms to obtain and use Access Tokens to access resources but do not define standard methods to provide identity information. Notably, without profiling OAuth 2.0, it is incapable of providing information about the authentication of an End-User. OpenID Connect Core 1.0 - draft 17

Note that OpenID connect provides an id_token with some information about the user. However, if you want the whole set of information, you still need the access_token to request the OpenID provider to get the userinfo (which confused me the first time I saw it). That shows that requesting user information from an API or from the OpenID provider use almost the same method. See 5.3.1. userinfo request in the draft.

  • This answer is absolutely correct. Just wanted to point one minor thing out: "However, if you want the whole set of information, you still need the access_token to request the OpenID provider to get the userinfo" >> this isn't necessarily the case depending on the authorization server/broken used: it's also possible to already include the full profile inside the ID token = JWT token, or even any other information using custom claims; an example being auth0.com/docs/tokens/id-token#add-custom-claims. Then you don't need to do the /userinfo request anymore. Apr 8 '19 at 9:34

OAuth is an authorisation protocol, providing a way to give authorisation to access a protected resource. A by-product of the authorisation process is that the user is authenticated.

Technically, OAuth does not have to give you any information about the user. What it provides is a validation that the user has given authority to the application to access some data. This is governed by the scope of the authorisation grant.

OpenID Connect provides a way for the application to retrieve information about the authenticated user. Most importantly it provides a level of assurance that the information is valid (as far as the authorisation server is concerned anyway). This can then be used to facilitate identity federation.

In the past, federation was achieved with OAuth by granting a scope that allowed access to the user's identity information. OpenID Connect standardises that scope.

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    The external provider still needs to support opend Id right? You can't just implement open id on top of existing oauth 2 providers as a client of those external services. Mar 13 '17 at 6:22

OpenID Connect is a profile of OAuth2... defining an architecture that enables a person to authorize an identity provider to release certain user claims to a client (website / mobile application).

OAuth2 offers the Resource Owner Password Credential Grant, which is rightly maligned by IAM experts as "The Devil".

A common pattern for OpenID Connect API is three steps:
1) Get a code
2) Get tokens like the access_token, refresh_token, and id_token
3) Get user info which contains claims like username, email, etc.
The schema for the id_token, which is a JWT, is defined in the OpenID Connect scope, as are many other details.

Another reason to use OpenID Connect is that there is a secure solution for centralized authentication for mobile software (at least IOS and Android). The current best practice defined by Google is to use new security features that block a mobile application from seeing cookies or credentials in a web view. Google published the AppAuth IOS and Android libraries because they really don't want you to leak Google credentials! As of the time of this writing, there are several OpenID Providers (aka IDP's...) that support the Google OpenID Connect AppAuth software, including: Google, OKTA, Ping, and my product Gluu.

See Also:

  • OAuth 2.0 for Native Apps draft-wdenniss-oauth-native-apps-02
  • AppAuth for IOS
  • AppAuth for Android

Using OAuth as an authentication method is not recommended, it is explicitly designed as a delegated authorisation method.

Facebook was using OAuth as an authentication method, but an enterprising person discovered how to steal the access_token from Facebook - full blog entry

OpenID Connect makes it much more difficult to steal access tokens through such a mechanism.

  • thanx for the link - have to check what makes the difference...
    – rdmueller
    Dec 24 '15 at 12:05
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    OK. Read the blog entry. For me, this reads like facebook implemented some security holes, but not that OAuth is broken... So, when I use the OAuth scheme where I have to verify the access token server-to-server, the problem described in the blog couldn't have shown up... I am still convinced that OAuth - implemented the right way - is quite good...
    – rdmueller
    Dec 26 '15 at 22:06
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    This one is better in explaining why using OAuth as authentication mechanism creates security hole: thread-safe.com/2012/01/… Mar 15 '17 at 10:19

Open id connect is build on the top of OAuth and hence it's more robust. OAuth is the protocol which is used only for the authorization and open id connect is very similar to OAuth but it combines the feature of OAuth also. You can start communication between your RP's and IP's using this protocol and their are various loop holes in OAuth protocol that's why better to use Open Id Connect.

  • Would be interesting to know why this answer got a downvote...
    – rdmueller
    Oct 11 '13 at 18:18
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    which loopholes are you referring to (honest curiosity).. I'm struggling with the same question as the OP. It seems oAuth2 (on which Openid Connect is based) already does authentication, although I'm familiar with the session-hijacking and MiM replay attackes possible with simple Bearer tokens. Are these the loopholes you're referring to?
    – Geert-Jan
    Oct 29 '13 at 20:48
  • 7 years later... those loopholes surely aren't solved by OIDC though? You still have access tokens after all, and they still do the same thing they were supposed to do in OAuth2 in OIDC? It seems to me like if you have flaws in your implementation of OAuth2, layering OIDC on top isn't going to solve those problems.
    – Seer
    May 28 '20 at 8:47

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