guardian / pan-domain-authentication

Helper to provide a common federated authentication for all services within a domain


Pan Domain Authentication

Maven Central

Pan domain authentication provides distributed authentication for multiple webapps running in the same domain. Each application can authenticate users against an OAuth provider and store the authentication information in a common cookie. Each application can read this cookie and check if the user is allowed in the specific application and allow access accordingly.

This means that users are only prompted to provide authentication credentials once across the domain and any inter-app interactions (e.g javascript cross-origin requests) can be easily secured.

How it works

The library can be used in two ways:

  • Verify: read the Panda cookie and check whether the user is valid for the request
  • Issue: as above but redirecting the user to the OAuth provider to authenticate if the cookie is not present or expired

Simply verifying the cookie is useful for APIs that cannot provided a user-facing OAuth dance to acquire credentials. It is also useful to minimise the parts of your application that have to have knowledge of the private key.

To ensure the cookie is not tampered with, public/private key pair encryption is use. An issuing application signs the cookie using the private key and both verifying and issuing applications verify using the public key.

The cookie contains an expiry time generated at issue after which the user should be redirected to the OAuth provided again.

All OAuth 2.0 compliant providers are supported. There is additional support for verifying that the user has two-factor login enabled when using Google as the provider.

Each authenticated request that an application receives should be checked to see if there is a auth cookie.

  • If the cookie is not present then the user should be sent to the OAuth provider for authentication. Upon their return the user information should be checked and if the user is allowed in the app then the shared cookie should be set marking the user as valid in the application.

  • If there is a cookie but the cookie does not indicate that the the user is valid then the user should be validated for the application. This is an application-specific concern such as verifying the email address or checking two-factor is enabled. If they are valid then the cookie should be updated to indicate this or an error page displayed.

  • If there is a cookie and it indicates the user is valid in this application then the request should be processed as normal.

  • if there is a cookie but it indicates the the authentication is expired then the user should be sent off to the provider to renew their session. On their return the existing cookie is updated with the new expiry time.

What's provided

Pan domain auth is split into 5 modules.

The pan-domain-auth-verification library provides the basic functionality for sigining and verifying login cookies in Scala. For JVM applications that only need to VERIFY an existing login (rather than issue logins themselves) this is the library to use.

The pan-domain-auth-core library provides the core utilities to load settings, create and validate the cookie and check if the user has mutli-factor auth turned on when usng Google as the provider.

The pan-domain-auth-play_2-6 library provide an implementation for play apps. There is an auth action that can be applied to the endpoints in your application that will do checking and setting of the cookie and will give you the OAuth authentication mechanism and callback. This is the only framework specific implementation currently (due to play being the framework predominantly used at The Guardian), this can be used as reference if you need to implement another framework implementation. This library is for applications that need to be able to issue and verify logins which is likely to include user-facing applications.

The pan-domain-node library provides an implementation of verification only for node apps.

The pan-domain-auth-example provides an example Play 2.6 app with authentication. Additionally the nginx directory provides an example of how to set up an nginx configuration to allow you to run multiple authenticated apps locally as if they were all on the same domain which is useful during development.


If you are adding a new application to an existing deployment of pan-domain-authentication then you can skip to Integrating With Your App

  • At least one webapp running on subdomains of a single domain (eg. and

  • The apps must be using https - the cookie set by pan domain auth are set to secure and http only

  • An OAuth provider to use for authentication

Setting up your domain configuration

Panda is compatible with all OAuth2 providers, automatically discovering endpoints using a discovery document.

AWS Cognito

Follow these steps to create a new Cognito User Pool. This allows you to manage your users entirely within AWS.

You will need:

  • The AWS CLI and credentials for your AWS account
  • An OAuth callback URL for each application that will be issuing logins

Run the following commands:

  • Deploy the CloudFormation Template
  • Configure the user pool
    • ./cognito/ ${CLOUDFORMATION_STACK} ${REGION}
  • Generate settings and public/private keys
    • ./cognito/ ${CLOUDFORMATION_STACK} ${REGION}
    • This will also upload them to the configuration bucket
  • Add users
    • They will receive an email invite with a temporary password

Generic OAuth2 Provider

You will need:

  • An AWS S3 bucket where the configuration for your domain will live
  • Both a Client ID and secret are required
    • An OAuth discovery document is required
      • Example Google:
      • Example AWS Cognito:
    • You must also configure the callback URLs with your provider, one for each application under the domain that will be issuing logins.

The configuration file is named for the domain and is a simple properties style file. A good naming convention to follow is for apps on the * domain to name the file The contents of the file would look something like this:



There is a corresponding (publically available) file called The contents of the file looks like:

  • cookieName - the name of the cookie. This should be unique to each top-level domain.

  • clientId - this is the OAuth client id for the provider you are authenticating against

  • googleAuthSecret - this is the OAuth secret for the provider

  • googleServiceAccountId, googleServiceAccountCert, google2faUser and multifactorGroupId - these are optional parameters for using a group based 2 factor auth verification

  • privateKey - this is the private key used to sign the cookie

  • publicKey - this is the public key used to verify the cookie

Generating Keys

You can generate an rsa key pair as follows:

openssl genrsa -out private_key.pem 4096
openssl rsa -pubout -in private_key.pem -out public_key.pem

There is a helper script in the root of this project that uses the commands above and outputs a new keypair in the format used by the panda settings file:


Note: you only need to pass the key ie the blob of base64 between the start and end markers in the pem file.

Integrating with your Scala app

To verify logins

Add the verification library as an SBT dependency to your project, taking care to use the latest version:

Maven Central

libraryDependencies += "" %% "pan-domain-auth-verification" % "<<LATEST_VERSION>>"

Follow the example code provided here

Configuration settings are read from an S3 bucket. Follow the steps below if you do not yet have configuration set up.

If your application needs to issue logins

Add the core library as an SBT dependency to your project, taking care to use the latest version. If you are building your application using the Play framework, use the Play integration.

Maven Central

libraryDependencies += "" %% "pan-domain-auth-core" % "<<LATEST_VERSION>"


libraryDependencies += "" %% "pan-domain-auth-play_2-6" % "<<LATEST_VERSION>"

Example code for the Play Framework is provided here. In particular:

Ensure you pick the correct request handler for your needs:

  • AuthAction is used for endpoints that the user requests and will redirect unauthenticated users to the OAuth provider for authentication. Use this for standard page loads etc.

  • ApiAuthAction is used for api ajax / xhr style requests and will not redirect to the OAuth provider. This action will either process the action or return an error code that can be processed by your client javascript (see section on handling expired logins in a single page webapp).

    A grace period on expiry can be set by adding a apiGracePeriod. This is useful for when browsers have third party cookies disabled and reauthenticaiton solutions like pandular break due to cookies being blocked on or iframe requests. During this period we are hopeful of the user refreshing or revisiting the application through a standard browser request thus triggering off a reauthentication.

    The response codes are:

    • 401 - user not authenticated - probably tricky to get this response as presumably the user has already loaded a page that would have logged them in

    • 403 - not authorised - occurs then the user is authenticated but not valid in this app, this can happen when making cross app CORS requests

    • 419 - authorisation expired - occurs when the authorisation with the OAuth provider has expired (eg 1 hour for Google). You will need to re auth with the provider. This can typically be done transparently on the next page load request.

    See also Customising error responses for an authenticated API.

Example Scala code is not yet provided for web frameworks other than Play.

Customising error responses for an authenticated API

The default ApiAuthAction error responses returns sensible status codes but no body.

To customise the responses (code and body) of an authenticated API, you can provide your own implementation of the AbstractApiAuthAction trait that provides the various abstract result properties:

object VerboseAPIAuthAction extends AbstractApiAuthAction {
  val notAuthenticatedResult: Result = Unauthorized(errorResponse("Not authenticated"))
  val invalidCookieResult: Result    = notAuthenticatedResult
  val expiredResult: Result          = Forbidden(errorResponse("Session expired"))
  val notAuthorizedResult: Result    = Forbidden(errorResponse("Not authorized"))

  private def errorResponse(msg: String) = Json.obj("error" -> msg)

Using Google group based 2-factor authentication validation

Some applications may require that a multifactor authentication is used when authenticating a user. Since it is not possible to tell if this happened from the standard callback this is checked by asserting that the user is in a Google group that enforces 2 factor auth (this was the workaround suggested by Google themselves when we asked about checking 2fa). Since the group is likely set up within an apps for domains setup and not accessible to everyone checking the 2fa group uses different Google credentials from the main auth.

To configure multifactor checking you will need to create a service account that can access the Google directory api, see directory API docs. once this is configured fill in all the following properties in the domain's property file and upload the service accounts cert to the s3bucket. If you do not wish to use this feature just omit the properties:

  • googleServiceAccountId - the service account email that is set up to allow access to the directory API
  • googleServiceAccountCert - the name within the bucket of the certificate used to validate the service account
  • google2faUser - the admin user to connect to the directory api as, this is not the service account user but a user in your org who is authorised to access group information
  • multifactorGroupId - the name of the group that indicates and enforces that 2fa is turned on

To verify login in NodeJS

npm version

npm install --save-dev pan-domain-node
import { PanDomainAuthentication, AuthenticationStatus, User, guardianValidation } from 'pan-domain-node';

const panda = new PanDomainAuthentication(
  "gutoolsAuth-assym", // cookie name
  "eu-west-1", // AWS region
  "pan-domain-auth-settings", // Settings bucket
  "", // Settings file

// alternatively customise the validation function and pass at construction
function customValidation(user: User): boolean {
  const isInCorrectDomain ='') !== -1;
  return isInCorrectDomain && user.multifactor;

// when handling a request
function(request) {
  // Pass the raw unparsed cookies
  return panda.verify(request.headers['Cookie']).then(( { status, user }) => {
    switch(status) {
      case AuthenticationStatus.Authorised:
        // Good user, handle the request!

        // Bad user. Return 4XX

Dealing with auth expiry in a single page webapp

In a single page webapp there will typically be an initial page load and then all communication with the server will be initiated by JavaScript. This causes problems when the auth session expires as you can't redirect the request to the OAuth provider. To work around this all ajax type requests should return 419 responses on auth session expiry and this should be handled by the JavaScript layer.

See also the helper panda-session JavaScript library.