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Usage Recommendation ⚠️

If you are creating a new NATS deployment we highly recommend using the internal NATS Resolver for a much simpler and easy to manage account resolution system.

This account server is functional and still serves as a good reference to build upon for custom account resolution.

The NATS Account Server

A simple HTTP server to host account JWTs for nats-server 2.0 account authentication.

NATS 2.0 introduced the concept of accounts to provide secure multi-tenancy through separate subject spaces. These accounts are configured with JWTs that encapsulate the account settings. User JWTs are used to authenticate. The nats-server can be configured to use local account information or to rely on an external, HTTP-based source for account JWTs. The server in this repository is intended as a simple to use solution for hosting account JWTs.

This server is also intended as an example for developers that want to implement their own version of the server for resolving JWTs.

The nats-account-server does not have or need access to any private keys. Public keys are used to identify the operator and accounts.


The server's primary responsibility is to host account JWTs over HTTP. The NATS server, or other clients, can access an accounts JWT using the URL:

GET /jwt/v1/accounts/<pubkey>

this endpoint will:

  • Contains cache control headers
  • Uses the JTI as the ETag
  • Has content type application/jwt
  • Is unvalidated, and the JWT may have expired
  • Returns 304 if the request contains the appropriate If-None-Match header
  • Returns 404 if the JWT is not found
  • Return 200 and the encoded JWT if it is found

Several optional and mutually exclusive query parameters are supported:

  • text - set to "true" to change the content type to text/plain
  • decode - set to "true" to display the decoded JSON for the JWT header and body
  • check - set to "true" to tell the server to return 404 if the JWT is expired
  • notify - set to "true" to tell the server to send a notification to the nats-server indicating that this account changed.

For example, curl http://localhost:8080/jwt/v1/accounts/<pubkey>?check=true will return a 404 error if the JWT is expired.

The NATS server will hit this endpoint without a public key on startup to test that the server is available, so the server responds to GET /jwt/v1/accounts/ and GET /jwt/v1/accounts with a status 200.

When run with a mutable JWT store, the server will also allow JWTs to be uploaded.

POST /jwt/v1/accounts/<pubkey>

The JWT must be signed by the operator specified in the server's configuration.

A status 400 is returned if there is a problem with the JWT or the server is in read-only mode. In rare cases a status 500 may be returned if there was an issue saving the JWT.

Activation Tokens

The account server also supports storing activation tokens. These tokens are used when one account needs to give permission to another account to access a private export. Tokens can be configured as full tokens, or URLs. By hosting them in the account server you can avoid the copy/paste process of embedding tokens. They can also be updated more easily on expiration.

GET /jwt/v1/activations/<hash>

Retrieve an activation token by its hash.

The hash is calculated by creating a string with jwtIssuer.jwtSubject.[subject] and constructing the SHA-256 hash and base32 encoding that. Where [subject] is the exported subject, minus any wildcards, so foo.* becomes foo. The one special case is that if the export starts with "*" or is ">" the [subject] will be set to "_".

Three optional query parameters are supported:

  • text - can be set to "true" to change the content type to text/plain
  • decode - can be set to "true" to display the JSON for the JWT header and body
  • notify - can be set to "true" to trigger a notification event if NATS is configured

The response contains cache control headers, and uses the JTI as the ETag.

A 304 is returned if the request contains the appropriate If-None-Match header.

POST /jwt/v1/activations

Post a new activation token a JWT.

The body of the POST should be a valid activation token, with an account subject and issuer.

Activation tokens are stored by their hash, so two tokens with the same hash will overwrite each other, however this should only happen if the accounts and subjects match which requires either the same export or a matching one.

A status 400 is returned if there is a problem with the JWT or saving it. In rare cases a status 500 may be returned if there was an issue saving the JWT. Otherwise a status 200 is returned.


A help page, for the API, is available at:

GET /jwt/v1/help

JWT Stores

This repository provides three JWT store implementations, and can be extended to provide others.

  • Directory Store - The directory store saves and loads JWTs into an optionally sharded structure under a root folder. The last two characters in the accounts public key are used to create a sub-folder, and the accounts public key is used as the file name, with ".jwt" appended. The directory store can be run in read-only mode. The server will watch for changes in read-only mode and send NATS notifications on changes, if configured to do so. In writable mode the server will only notify the nats-server of a change if the POST command is used to update a JWT.

  • NSC Store - The NSC store uses an operator folder, as created by the nsc tool as a JWT source. The store is read-only, but will automatically host new JWTs added by nsc. The server will watch for changes in the account JWT files and send NATS notifications on changes, if configured to do so.

  • Memory Store - By default the account server uses an in-memory store. This store is provided for testing and shouldn't be used in production.

The server understands one special JWT that doesn't have to be in the store. This JWT, called the system account, can be set up in the config file. The server will always try to return a JWT from the store, and if that fails, and the request was for the system JWT will try to return it directly.

NATS Notifications

The nats-server listens for notifications about changes to account JWTs on a system account. The account-server sends these notifications when a POST request is received, or when the notify query parameter is used with a GET request. Security for the NATS connection is configured via a credentials file in the configuration or on the command line.

The account server can be started with or without a NATS configuration, and will try to connect on a regular timer if it is configured to talk to NATS but can't find a server. This reconnect strategy allows us to avoid the chicken and egg problem where the NATS server requires its account resolver to be running but the account server can't find a valid nats-server to connect to.

Running the server

The server will compile to an executable named nats-account-server. You can run this executable without flags to get a memory based account server with no notifications. For more interesting operation there are a hand full of flags and a configuration file.

NSC Mode

To run the server on an NSC folder, use the -nsc flag to point to a specific operator folder in your NSC directory. For example:

% nats-account-server -nsc ~/.nsc/nats/signing_test

will run the account server, in read-only mode, on the operator folder named signing_test. Any account in signing test will be available via HTTP to the nats-server or another client. To enable notifications you can add the -nats parameter, and optionally the -creds flag to set a credential file.

% nats-account-server -nsc ~/.nsc/nats/signing_test -nats nats://localhost:4222

If the -nats flag is set, you can force a notification using a GET request like:

% curl http://localhost:58385/jwt/v1/accounts/ABVSBM3U45DGYEUECKXQS7BENHWG7KFQUDRTEHAJASORPVWBZ4HOIKCH\?notify\=true

The nsc-based account server will not accept POST requests.

Directory Mode

To run against a folder, use the -dir flag with an optional -ro flag. The -ro flag tells the server not to accept POST requests, and instead to watch the file system for changes. If the server accepts POST requests, it does not watch the file system for changes.

% nats-account-server -dir ~/myjwts

Directory Mode and Git

If you want to store your JWTs in a revision controlled folder, you can do something like:

% git clone <url to myjwts> myjwts
% nats-account-server -dir myjwts -ro -nats nats://

The account server will watch for file changes and send notifications to the nats-server when a change occurs. Only account JWTs are watched, activation JWT changes are ignored.

Note, creation of a file won't send the notification, only an actual write to the file. So if you edit a JWT and do a git pull, the notification will be sent.

Running with a Configuration File

To run with a configuration file, use the -c flag:

% nats-account-server -c <config file>

Any settings in the configuration file are applied first, then other flags are used. This allows you to override some settings on the command line.

Finally, you can use the -D, -V or -DV flags to turn on debug or verbose logging. The -DV option will turn on all logging, depending on the config file settings.

Replica Mode

For larger clusters you may deploy nats-servers in distributed locations geographically. This can lead to delay times when the server requests a JWT from the account server. To help alleviate this delay, or to allow load balancing and fault tolerance, the account server can run in replica mode. In this mode the server retrieves all JWTs from its primary. The replica will listen for NATS notifications and update appropriately. The replica will also look update on a regular time table in case a NATS message is missed.

Both account and activation tokens are replicated.

A replication timeout can be used to tune HTTP/network delays between the replica and the primary server.

Currently, replica mode only works if the primary nats-account-server is running in Directory Mode.

Replicas will try to download an initial set of JWTs from the master on startup. You can configure the maximum number to get with MaxReplicationPack, the default is 10,000, use 0 to disable this feature. JWTs are downloaded in no particular order, so if you have 100 and set max to 50 you will get a random set of 50. Also, if a directory store is used, the JWTs will only be saved if they were issued after the one the replica currently knows about.


The configuration file uses the same YAML/JSON-like format as the nats-server. Configuration is organized into a root section with several sub-sections. The root section can contain the following entries:

  • logging - configuration for server logging
  • nats - configuration for the NATS connection
  • http - configuration for the HTTP Server
  • store - the store configuration parameters
  • operatorjwtpath - the path to an operator JWT, required for stores that accept POST request, all JWTs sent in a POST must be signed by one of the operator's keys
  • systemaccountjwtpath - the path to an account JWT that should be returned as the system account, works outside the normal store if necessary, however, the system account can be in the store, in which case this setting is optional
  • primary - the URL for the primary server, sets the server to run in replica mode, the format of the url is protocol://host:port
  • replicationtimeout - the time in milliseconds that the replica allows when talking to the primary, defaults to 5,000, or five seconds
  • maxreplicationpack - the number of JWTs to try to sync with the primary on startup, defaults to 10,000

The default configuration is:

    logging: {
        colors: true,
        time:   true,
        debug:  false,
        trace:  false,
    http: {
        readtimeout:  5000,
        writetimeout: 5000,
    nats: {
        connecttimeout: 5000,
        reconnectwait:  1000,
        maxreconnects:  0,
    replicationtimeout: 5000,


Logging is configured in a manner similar to the nats-server:

logging: {
  time: true,
  debug: false,
  trace: false,
  colors: true,
  pid: false,

These properties are configured for:

  • time - include the time in logging statements
  • debug - include debug logging
  • trace - include verbose, or trace, logging
  • colors - colorize the logging statements
  • pid - include the process id in logging statements

Debug and trace can also be set on the command line with -D, -V and -DV to match the nats-server.


The NATS and HTTP configurations take an optional TLS setting. The TLS configuration takes three possible settings:

  • root - file path to a CA root certificate store, used for NATS connections
  • cert - file path to a server certificate, used for HTTPS monitoring and optionally for client side certificates with NATS
  • key - key for the certificate store specified in cert

NATS Configuration

The account server can connect to NATS to send notifications to the nats-servers associated with it. This connection requires a single section in the main configuration:

nats: {
  Servers: ["localhost:4222"],
  ConnectTimeout: 5000,
  MaxReconnects: 5,
  ReconnectWait: 5000,

NATS can be configured with the following properties:

  • servers - an array of server URLS
  • connecttimeout - the time, in milliseconds, to wait before failing to connect to the NATS server
  • reconnectwait - the time, in milliseconds, to wait between reconnect attempts
  • maxreconnects - the maximum number of reconnects to try before exiting the bridge with an error.
  • tls - (optional) TLS configuration. If the NATS server uses unverified TLS with a valid certificate, this setting isn't required.
  • UserCredentials - (optional) the path to a credentials file for connecting to the system account.

The account server uses the reconnect wait in two ways. First, it is used for normal NATS reconnections. Second, it is used with a timer if the account server can't connect to the NATS server upon startup. This failure at startup is expected since the nats-server configured with a URL resolver requires an account-server but the account server doesn't "require" NATS to host JWTs.

HTTP Configuration

HTTP is configured in the main section under http:

http: {
  host: "localhost",
  port: 9090,
  readtimeout: 5000,
  writetimeout: 5000,

The HTTP section contains the following properties:

  • host - a host on the local machine
  • port - the port to run on
  • readtimeout - the time, in milliseconds, to wait for reads to complete
  • writetimeout - the time, in milliseconds, to wait for writes to complete
  • tls - (optional) TLS configuration, only the cert and key properties are used.

If no host and port are provided the server will bind to all network interfaces and an ephemeral port.

Store Configuration

The store is configured in a single section called store:

store: {
    nsc: ~/.nsc/nats/signing_test

This section can contain the following properties:

  • nsc - the path to an NSC operator folder, this setting takes precedent over the others
  • dir - the path to a folder to use for storing JWTS
  • readonly - turns on/off mutability for the directory or memory stores
  • shard - if "true" the directory store will shard the files into sub-directories based on the last 2 characters of the public keys.

A memory store is created if nsc and dir are not set.

Building the Server

This project uses go modules and provides a make file. You should be able to simply:

% git clone
% cd nats-account-server
% make

Note: Since changes to this project are not too frequent, it is possible that when you download the source and build the server, the tooling used to check code (staticcheck) finds issues that were not present the last time a commit was pushed. If that is the case, open an issue or if you are able, submit a PR with a fix. Thank you!

Use make test to run the tests, and make install to install.

The server does depend on the nats-server repo as well as nsc, and as a result contains a number of dependencies. However, the final executable is fairly small, ~10mb.


You can build the docker image using:

% docker build . -t "nats-io/nats-account-server:0.5"

Then run it with:

% docker run -v ~/.nsc/nats/<op name>:/<op name> -p 9090:9090 "nats-io/nats-account-server:0.5" -nsc /<op name> -nats -hp

Note the use of for the mac host, and update that properly. Also, we use the operator name for the folder name to allow the server to find the operator JWT.

External Resources


Unless otherwise noted, the nats-account-server source files are distributed under the Apache Version 2.0 license found in the LICENSE file.


A simple HTTP/NATS server to host JWTs for nats-server 2.0 account authentication.




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