User Accounts and Authentication overview

Page last updated:

Cloud Foundry User Account and Authentication (UAA) is an open-source identity server project under the Cloud Foundry Foundation.

UAA provides enterprise-scale identity management features. It is used by these commercial services, for example:

What is UAA?

UAA provides identity based security for apps and APIs. It supports open standards for authentication and authorization, including:

  • OAuth
  • OpenID Connect
  • SAML
  • LDAP
  • SCIM

The major features of UAA include:

  • User Single Sign-On (SSO) using federated identity protocols
  • API security with OAuth
  • User and group management
  • Multi-tenancy support
  • Support for JWT and opaque as a token format
  • Token revocation
  • Operational flexibility
    • Operate and run as a BOSH release, which uses multi-cloud deployment capabilities
    • Push as an app to Cloud Foundry
  • Database flexibility, including support for MySQL and Postgres
  • Auditing, logging, and monitoring
  • Token exchange for SAML and JWT bearers
  • Rest APIs for authentication, authorization, and configuration management

UAA architecture

The following diagram illustrates the architecture of UAA:

UAA architecture.

The following table describes the protocols UAA can use:

Protocol Purpose Profiles
OAuth 2.0 Authorizes apps and APIs Authorization Server, Relying Party
OpenID Connect 1.0 Federates to external identity providers (IDPs) and acts as an IDP for SSO Identity Provider, Relying Party
SAML 2.0 Federates to external IDPs Service Provider
LDAP Authenticates users in external user store LDAP Client
SCIM 1.0 Manages users and groups Identity Provisioning

Client-side tools and libraries

The following table describes the client-side tools and libraries UAA uses:

Name Language
Spring Security OAuth Java
CF Java Client Java
UAA Javascript SDK (Singular) JS

The role of UAA in securing Cloud Foundry

Cloud Foundry relies on UAA for identity and access management requirements. UAA secures user and system access to Cloud Foundry installations.

Since Cloud Foundry is primarily used in the enterprise context, UAA supports enterprise SSO workflows. If you have already authenticated against the enterprise IDP, you can access Cloud Foundry without entering credentials again.

Some of the major components of Cloud Foundry that use UAA include:

  • Cloud Controller
  • Gorouter
  • Loggregator
  • Container networking

Each of these components expose APIs for user and system interaction. UAA uses OAuth to secure the APIs exposed by core Cloud Foundry components.

UAA secures many different Cloud Foundry components, including:

  • Cloud Foundry Command Line Interface (cf CLI)
  • Cloud Controller
  • Loggregator
  • Notifications
  • Gorouter
  • Container Networking
  • Diego
  • BOSH Director
  • Autoscaler

Token management

After authenticating, client apps access resources and services using tokens rather than account authentication credentials. UAA generates, manages, distributes, and validates these tokens. UAA provides new tokens only to client apps with valid authentication credentials.

Once granted, token validity is unchallenged until the token expires due to timeout.

UAA distributes two types of tokens: access tokens and refresh tokens.

Access tokens

Client apps use UAA provided access tokens to request access to API endpoints, resources, and services. The access token presented by a client app must be valid in order to access a resource.

Access tokens are valid for a short period of time.

After a UAA-provided access token has expired, a client app can request UAA provide a replacement. To request a replacement access token from UAA, a client app must present a valid refresh token.

Refresh tokens

Client apps use UAA-provided refresh tokens to request replacements for expired access tokens. The refresh token presented by a client app must be valid in order to replace an expired access token.

Refresh tokens are valid for a long period of time.

UAA does not provide replacement refresh tokens. To obtain a new refresh token, a client app must re-authenticate.

Token timeouts

The token interactions that are listed previously produce certain end results.

Authenticated client apps are running and interacting with services using tokens, not the service account’s authentication. An admin can revoke a service account’s access and privileges, but a client app running under that service account can continue to interact with the environment, unchallenged, as long as its token is valid. Therefore:

  • The access token timeout is the maximum period during which an already running app can continue to access services after an admin has revoked privileges from the service account the app is running under.

  • The refresh token timeout is the maximum period during which a client app can access services without re-authentication.

The default access and refresh token timeout values are the UAA token timeout values Cloud Foundry recommends. Before altering token timeout settings, consider:

  • Short default token timeout periods create overhead within your system.

    • A short access token timeout requires a client app to frequently request a replacement access token from the UAA server.
    • A short refresh token timeout requires frequent re-authentication, which might be impossible at the designated timeout frequency.

    Setting a short token timeout period, such as 0, can render all associated services and resources inaccessible.

  • Long timeout periods represent a security risk.

    • A long access token timeout allows an authenticated process to continue accessing services and resources for a long period after an admin has revoked privileges from the service account used by the process.
    • A long refresh token timeout allows an already authenticated app to continue running for a long period of time on stale authentication credentials without being challenged to re-authenticate.

    Setting a long timeout period, such as one lasting days, can result in a client app running unchallenged for days.

Create a pull request or raise an issue on the source for this page in GitHub