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Drop-in authlogic-based login system

branch: master
README.rdoc

Description

A compromise between building a perfect custom authentication system and using HTTP Authentication. You get a standard authentication system that is familar to users (like doing a custom system) with very little work (like HTTP Auth).

Setup

Add to your Gemfile

gem 'logmein'

If the model being authenticated is something other than “User” then in an initializer add:

Logmein.authenticated_model_name = 'Account'

Replace 'Account' with whatever your actual model name is. The model should use AuthLogic and likely will look something like this:

class User < ActiveRecord::Base
  acts_as_authentic
end

Although it is up to you to define the model this library does provide a migration to add the fields necessary for authentication. Just run:

rake railties:install:migrations

Access Control

ALL actions are assumed to be restricted and you must open up actions if you want them available to the general public. You do this by defining a PUBLIC_ACTIONS constant in your controller. The value of this constant is an array of action names. So:

class UsersController < ApplicationController
  PUBLIC_ACTIONS = %w(show)
end

This will make the “show” action on the UsersController accessible by anyone. All other actions on this controller will be restricted. If the constant is not defined then all actions will require an authenticated record.

When an un-authenticated user attempts to access a restricted action they will automatically be redirected to the login screen. After a successful login they will automatically be taken back to the restricted action (only if the action was a GET request as we cannot redirect to another HTTP request type).

If a user goes directly to the login page (i.e /login) this add-on won't know where to send the user after login. By default the user is sent to root_url since most applications define a “root” route that goes to the home page. If you want to override this default simply adjust in an initializer.

Logmein.login_destination = :profile_url

The value should be a symbol which can then be called via “send” in the controller. Usually this will be a named route.

Logout works the same way. After logout you are sent to the “root” route by default but can override by putting the following in an initializer.

Logmein.logout_destination = :login_url

Tips and Tricks

  • A “login” and “logout” route is defined allowing your URL to be more familar than the REST routes (GET /session/new and DELETE /session).

  • To get the current user use the helper “current_user”. This is available in controllers, helpers and view. If you change the authenticated model this method will be renamed to match (i.e. current_account if your model is Account).

  • The login page will check for the method “new_password_path”. If that method is defined, a forgot password link will be created on the login page. This allows you easily to have a forgot password feature without having to override the login template. This integrates nicely with the remindme companion rails add-on although you don't have to use that.

Alternatives

There are many ways to implement authentication in Rails. Here are a few of the alternatives so you can determine if this add-on is right for you.

Custom Authentication

Making a custom implementation from ground up provides a user experience that fits in perfectly with the app. Necessary for some apps, but really the most expensive way to go. Often less tested then using off-the-shelf code, so more room for authentication bugs. User privacy and security are too important to assume that it is easy to write from ground up without a lot of code review and testing. Also not all apps need perfectly formed authentication. Off-the-shelf is often good enough.

Authentication Generator

A generator gets a standard authentication up and running quickly. You can then customize to meet the needs of an app. Increased reliability over a custom implementation since the generator likely has had more eyes looking at the code. Also quick time to implement and still full ability to customize. But it adds a lot of code to your project that you may not end up customizing. This extra code must still be maintained adding extra on-going costs. As the generator gets enhanced you cannot take advantage of those enhancements easily.

Re-usable models, custom controller/views

A good example of this is AuthLogic. Lowers the barrier for creating a custom implementation by providing all the hard bits and letting you just focus on workflow and the visual UI. The extensive customization options and extensibility means that most anything is still open but with a lot less work. While an excellent solution sometimes you just don't care that much about having your login system being a perfect unique snowflake. You just want to drop something in and not have to think much more about it.

HTTP Auth

A drop-in authentication supported by Rails and browers out-of-the-box. Quick and easy to implement and supported by any browser. But the user experience is quite poor. The login prompt is a UI liability (ugly, hard to provide instruction, etc). Also many features users expect from a login system (remember me, forgot password, etc) are not an option. It doesn't even have an ability to logout!

logmein

While all the above options have their place, I wanted a development experience like HTTP Auth but with a UI experience more like the other options. This is what this Rails add-on provides. You can have a login system in minutes. Customization is limited (to keep things simple) but is still more flexible and capabile than HTTP Auth. Even if you think you eventually want your own system in your app this is a greater starter login system that you can then later replace after you have gotten more important things implemented relevant to your application domain.

CREDIT

  • Developed by Eric Anderson (pixelwareinc.com)

  • Enhanced via projects developed under Red Tusk Studios (redtusk.com)

  • SaveYourCall.com (saveyourcall.com), a call recording service, also contributed towards development.

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