Since this topic became very extensive, I decided to split up the blog into 4 parts. To keep blog lengths manageable. Here is the split up
For an introduction around JWT Tokens, you can have a look at the first part of this blog. It also contains a description how the Keycloak service is created for the example programs described in this part.
Part 2 and 3 contains the description of the example application for each runtime.
In parts 2 and 3, I showed the most important aspects of using a JWT token with Payara Micro (Jakarta EE), Spring Boot, Quarkus, Kotlin, and Atbash Runtime. The JWT tokens themselves are standardised but how you must use them in the different runtimes is not defined and thus different. Although there exists the MicroProfile JWT Auth specification, even those runtimes that follow it, have differences in how it should be activated and how roles should be verified, especially when you don’t want to check a role. The specification, besides duplicating a few things from the JWT specification itself like how validation needs to be done, only defines how a MicroProfile application should retrieve claim values.
It is obvious that for each runtime we need to add some dependency that brings in the code to handle the JWT tokens. But for several of these runtimes, you also need to activate the functionality. This is the case for Payara Micro through the
@LoginConfig and also for Atbash Runtime since the functionality is provided there by a non-core module.
Another configuration aspect is the definition of the location of the certificates. Spring Boot is the only one that makes use of the OAuth2 / OpenId Connect well know endpoint for this. The other runtimes require you to specify the URL where the keys can be retrieved in a certain format. This allows for more flexibility of course and potential support for providers that do not follow the standard in all its extends. But since we are talking about security, it would probably be better that only those certified, properly tested providers would be used as is the case with the Spring Boot implementation.
The main difference in using a JWT token on runtime is how the roles are verified. Not only is not specified which claim should hold the role names, nor is it defined how the authorization should be performed. This leads to important differences between the runtimes.
Within Kotlin Ktor, We should define a security protocol for each different role we want to check and assign it a name. Or you create a custom extension function that allows you to specify the role at the endpoint as I have done in the example. But important to note is that we need to be explicit in each case. Which role or if no role at all is required, we need to indicate this.
This is not the case for the other runtimes, except the Atbash Runtime.
When you don’t use any annotation on the JAX-RS method with Payara Micro and Spring Boot, no role is required, only a valid JWT token. But with Quarkus, when not specifying anything, the endpoint becomes publicly accessible. This is not a good practice because when you as a developer forget to put an annotation, the endpoint becomes available for everyone, or at least any authenticated user for certain runtime. This violates the “principle of least privilege” that by default, a user has no rights and you explicitly need to define who is allowed to call that action. That is the reason why Atbash Runtime treats the omission of an annotation to check on roles as an error and hides the endpoint and shows a warning in the log.
If you do not want to check for a role when using Atbash Runtime, you can annotate the JAX-RS method with
@PermitAll. The JavaDoc says “Specifies that all security roles are allowed to invoke the specified method(s)” and thus it is clearly about the authorization on the endpoint. But if you use
@PermitAll in Payara Micro, the endpoint becomes publicly accessible, dropping also authentication. That is not the intention of the annotation if you ask me. Although the Javadoc might be to blame for this as it mentions “that the specified method(s) are ‘unchecked'” which might be interpreted as no check at all.
All major frameworks and runtimes have support for using JWT Tokens within your application to authenticate and authorise a client call to a JAX-RS endpoint. When adding the necessary dependency to have the code available and adding some minimal configuration like defining where the keys can be retrieved to verify the signature, you are ready to go. The only exception here might be Kotlin Ktor where you are confronted with a few manual statements about the verification and validation of the token. It is not completely hidden away.
The most important difference lies in how the check for the roles is done. And especially in the case that we don’t require any role, just a valid JWT token. Only Atbash Runtime applies the “principle of least privilege”. On the other runtimes, forgetting to define a check for a role leads to the fact that the endpoint becomes accessible to any authenticated user or even worse, publicly accessible.
There is also confusion around
@PermitAll which according to the java doc is about authorization, but in Jakarta EE runtime like Payara Micro, the endpoint also suddenly becomes publicly accessible.
Interested in running an example on the mentioned runtimes, check out the directories in the https://github.com/rdebusscher/Project_FF/tree/main/jwt repo which work with KeyCloak as the provider.
Training and Support
Do you need a specific training session on Jakarta EE, Quarkus, Kotlin or MicroProfile? Have a look at the training support that I provide on the page https://www.atbash.be/training/ and contact me for more information.