Token authentication middleware for go-json-rest
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Token authentication middleware for go-json-rest


This package provides a Go-Json-Rest middleware useful for Token-based authentication. The middleware provides the following features:

  • Extracting authentication tokens from an incoming Authorization header
  • Injecting an appropriate WWW-Authenticate header for 401: Unauthorized
  • Calling your supplied Authenticator and Authorizer functions and setting request.Env["REMOTE_USER"].(string)
  • Secure generation of tokens, via New(), defaulting to the security guideline of 256-bit IDs
  • Secure comparison of tokens, via Equal() - but note that you should be looking up tokens, not doing equality tests

Token storage and expiration are out of scope. Put them in your database with a created timestamp and User ID, or store them in Redis with a mapped User ID and an Expires time.

It's also advisable to rotate tokens periodically - it doesn't need to be every request, as this introduces a lot of logistical fun, but something on the order of days will help harden the app against replay and hijacking attacks.

Requests must be made over HTTPS, or your app will be about as secure as wet paper.


You can do the usual:

go get

Plus or minus "you should use godep" and possibly vendoring.


The middleware should be instantiated by populating the following struct and adding it to your app via api.Use().

type AuthTokenMiddleware struct {
	// Realm name to display to the user. Required.
	Realm string

	// Callback function that should perform the authentication of the user based on token.
	// Must return userID as string on success, empty string on failure. Required.
	// The returned userID is normally the primary key for your user record.
	Authenticator func(token string) string

	// Callback function that should perform the authorization of the authenticated user.
	// Must return true on success, false on failure. Optional, defaults to success.
	// Called only after an authentication success.
	Authorizer func(request *rest.Request) bool

	// Nominal token entropy in bytes. Optional, defaults to recommended 32 bytes / 256-bit.
	TokenEntropy int
  • Realm is an arbitrary string, often the app name.
  • Authenticator should perform a lookup of the token and return the corresponding internal user ID as a string.
  • Authorizer should return true if the user is authorized for the request, false if they're not allowed.

If the middleware is properly configured, the user ID string for the authenticated and authorized user will be available as request.Env["REMOTE_USER"].(string) within your go-json-rest API functions.

Generating a new random token is done via tokenauth.New() and returns a base-64 encoded value. The result is URL safe and adheres to RFC 4648 per crypto/base64. Note that this function dovetails as a perfectly fine generator for password reset tokens (if so used, make sure to expire password reset tokens in a matter of hours).

The tokenauth.Hash() function gives a string taken as base64(md5(string)), for hashing tokens before storage. MD5 is fine since you'll be using 256-bit random IDs.

There's also a tokenauth.Equal() method which does constant-time comparison, but it's unlikely that you'll ever need it.


Assuming Redis via redigo with connection pooling, you could define your auth middlewares as follows.

var authRealm = "test"
var tokenNamespace = "user:"

var tokenAuthMiddleware = &tokenauth.AuthTokenMiddleware{
	Realm: authRealm,
	Authenticator: func(token string) string {
		rd := redisPool.Get()
		defer rd.Close()
		user, _ := redis.String(rd.Do("GET", tokenNamespace+tokenauth.Hash(token)))
		return user

var basicAuthMiddleware = &rest.AuthBasicMiddleware{
	Realm: authRealm,
	Authenticator: func(user string, password string) bool {
		if user == "user" && password == "password" {
			return true
		return false

The IfMiddleware is helpful for using HTTP Basic Auth for a /login endpoint and Token Auth for any other routes.

	Condition: func(request *rest.Request) bool {
		return request.URL.Path != "/login"
	IfTrue:  tokenAuthMiddleware,
	IfFalse: basicAuthMiddleware,

Simple login route, sets a Redis key that maps hashed token -> user, expires in seven days. You could do this equally well with a relational database and a created timestamp. This doesn't check for hash collisions after New(), which you should check since it's constrained by the MD5 address space and will run into collsions for enough users or events.

func login(w rest.ResponseWriter, r *rest.Request) {
	token, err := tokenauth.New()
	if err != nil {
		rest.Error(w, "Internal Server Error", http.StatusInternalServerError)

	rd := redisPool.Get()
	defer rd.Close()
	_, err = rd.Do("SET", tokenNamespace+tokenauth.Hash(token), r.Env["REMOTE_USER"].(string), "EX", 604800)

		"access_token": token,

Note: remember to define your /login route as a POST request, not GET.

Storing your tokens

The type of store to use is up to you, I like Redis, or else a relational database. Avoid using Memcached - it's not a good idea to have user sessions arbitrarily falling out the bottom of your store.

Should you hash your tokens? Yeah. The reason for this is that if someone got access to your stored tokens, they could run arbitrary requests using those tokens as if they were your users. Running any reasonable hash over the token before lookup, e.g. MD5, makes it so that the token as presented and the key as looked up are not the same, and leaking the key as looked up is not enough for an attacker to masquerade as those users.

Why is MD5 fine? In this case, scrypt or bcrypt would be a bad answer. And bcrypt in particular will behave badly if fed binary data, as from a random token. We need them normally to defend against rainbow tables and other similar issues, compounded by users recycling the same password across many services and the comparatively low entropy of human-interactive passwords. But with random IDs, such attacks are not relevant. There's no way for an attacker to guess 256-bit IDs, so we're fine with any non-reversible hash function.

Note that this means our probability of key collisions becomes controlled by the shorter address space of the hashed representation. Collisions go from astronomically improbable, to something which will happen eventually for enough users and events. But this is solved by checking whether a new token's hashed representation is already in your store. If it is, simply try a new random token.

When to use Token Auth

Token auth appropriate for securing user sessions in a JavaScript application after initial password authentication.

The authentication routine is similar to both HTTP Basic Auth and the use of random IDs to track HTTP sessions. But we combine the "avoid accepting auth over cookies" of HTTP Basic Auth with the "use secure random IDs instead of user passwords for every request" found with the session IDs which most sites use after initial login.

Token Auth vs. HTTP Basic Auth

HTTP Basic Auth is deeply problematic for many use cases because the user password must be used for every request. It's great for handling the initial login if that's to be done over an API endpoint, and it's fine for many simple APIs in their early stages. But it should be avoided for user sessions, as this would require storing the user's password in a readable format.

Token Auth solves this problem by replacing the user's password with a disposable large random ID. We no longer ask the user to assert their account identity either - we restrict that to a lookup on the server.

For a recommended 256-bit random token, such IDs are very secure. If we further harden our service with a minimal effort to log and throttle failed auth attempts, it's unlikely that user sessions themselves will be a useful attack point.

Token Auth vs. JSON Web Tokens

There are a few use cases for JSON Web Tokens (JWT) which are worth considering. However, there are a few major weaknesses, the most critical of which is that you have no simple way to invalidate a token, because JWT trusts any signed token as an assertion that the provider is the linked user.

JWT is a clever solution to avoid server-side state...but server time is cheap and it's not that challenging to integrate a database. It's a solution to a problem we usually don't have, which unnecessarily complicates our security. If for some reason you have a non-static server and still need a stateless app, maybe consider JWT. But it's unusual to have both of those happen at the same time.

Token Auth relies on server-side storage of valid tokens, which means that token invalidation is as simple as issuing a DELETE query. And it is the antethesis of clever. You issue a long random ID, it maps to a known user. When a user provides the long random ID, you look it up to find out which user they are. Done.

Token Auth vs. OAuth / OAuth 2

OAuth is more full-featured than Token Auth, but also more complex on both the server and client sides. Token Auth should be thought of as "just enough complexity to securely solve user identity."

In general, prefer Token Auth to secure requests from your own app, and OAuth to secure public APIs which need to have more precise and consistent behavior. Requests in transit should be equally secure in either case (provided you use HTTPS!). The main difference is complexity and how the credentials behave over their lifecycle.

Why don't we use HMAC signing?

If you want features like signed tokens, those can be implemented on top of the base Token Auth. However, this just creates a longer random number for an attacker to guess (or intercept). You can verify mathematically that you signed it...but you could already verify that you issued an unsigned token by looking up the answer, and 256-bit random IDs are already long enough to be considered secure. For reference, they're enough to leave more than 10^67 addresses for every person on Earth. You won't have enough users to put a dent in that.

Similarly, we could sign requests, but it would be kind of pointless when we're transmitting the signing key along with the request. All it would prove is that the user's computer is capable of executing mathematical algorithms and getting a consistent answer. The alternative factoring here would be to sign the request and not transmit the token, which is a potentially valid choice. But then we'd need to have assertion of identity, and signing/unsigning complexity, and that's not the series of choices that Token Auth has made.

Token Auth is the "don't be clever" solution to user identity. Use HTTPS and 256-bit tokens. More security holes are caused by trying to be clever or by failing to cover the basics than by anything else.