JavaScript implementation of JSON Web Signatures, JSON Web Tokens, and JSON Web Certificates
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JavaScript implementation of JSON Web Signatures and JSON Web Tokens, especially as needed by BrowserID.

Build Status

  • libs contains third-party libraries that need to be included. See libs/dependencies.txt and libs/package.txt

  • This is written as CommonJS modules for node and such. Browserify is used to bundle it all up.

NOTE: this is written as future documentation of v0.2 APIs, which will not be backwards compatible with v0.1.


JSON Web Tokens (JWTs) look like:


(line breaks are for readability)

JWTs are made up of three components, each base64url-encoded, joined by a period character. A JWT can be either a JWS (JSON Web Signature) or a JWE (JSON Web Encryption). In this library, we only consider JWS. Because JWT is effectively the abstract superclass of both JWS and JWE, we don't expose JWT APIs directly (as of v0.2.0). We simply expose a JWS API.

We use JWK (JSON Web Keys) to specify keys:

We use JWA (JSON Web Algorithms) to specify algorithms: (we add algorithm "DS" to indicate DSA, with DS160 the standard DSA 1024/160.)


  1. ensure that libgmp is installed on your system (e.g. apt-get install libgmp-dev), it's required by bigint, upon which jwcrypto depends
  2. npm install jwcrypto
  3. in javascript: require('jwcrypto')

Basic API

var jwcrypto = require("jwcrypto");

// random number generation is taken care of automatically
// with auto-seeding that is optimized for server or browser
// setup

// more entropy can be added as follows
// this can be useful to incorporate server-provided entropy
// on clients that don't have any good entropy of their own
// entropy should be either a 32 bit int, an array of ints, or a string

// generate a key
// we use DSA, which is "DS" in JSON Web Algorithm parlance
// we use keysize 160, which has a specific interpretation based
// on the algorithm, in this case DSA 1024/160, standard DSA.
    algorithm: 'DS',
    keysize: 160
}, function(err, keypair) {
    // error in err?

    // serialize the public key

    // just the JSON object to embed in another structure
    console.log(JSON.stringify({stuff: keypair.publicKey.toJSONObject()}));

    // create and sign a JWS
    var payload = {principal: {email: 'some@dude.domain'},
                   pubkey: jwcrypto.loadPublicKey(publicKeyToCertify)};

    jwcrypto.sign(payload, keypair.secretKey, function(err, jws) {
       // error in err?

       // serialize it

    // also, if loading a secret key from somewhere
    var otherSecretKey = jwcrypto.loadSecretKey(storedSecretKey);

    // verify it
    jwcrypto.verify(signedObject, publicKey, function(err, payload) {
      // if verification fails, then err tells you why
      // if verification succeeds, err is null, and payload is
      // the signed JS object.


Sometimes the JSON object to sign should be a standard assertion with pre-defined fields.

var assertion = require("jwcrypto").assertion;

// payload of the assertion
var payload = {principal: {email: 'some@dude.domain'}};

// add special fields which will be encoded properly
// payload cannot contain reserved fields
assertion.sign(payload, {issuer: "", expiresAt: new Date(new Date().valueOf() + 5000),
                         issuedAt: new Date().valueOf(), audience: ""},
                  function(err, signedAssertion) {
   // a normal signedObject, much like above
   // can be verified with jwcrypto.verify

   // or verified specifically for jwt, with expiration verification
   var now = new Date();
   assertion.verify(signedObject, keypair.publicKey, now, function(err, payload, assertionParams) {
      // payload is the original payload
      // assertionParams contains issuedAt, expiresAt as dates
      // and issuer and audience as strings.

Note that timestamps (for issuedAt and expiresAt) are integers containing the standard JS milliseconds-since-epoch, or objects with methods named .valueOf() which will return such an integer. The assertion format currently serializes these integers verbatim; a future version may serialize them as seconds (instead of milliseconds) to conform with the JWT specifications.


Sometimes the JSON objects to sign are certificates

var cert = require("jwcrypto").cert;

var keyToCertify = keypairToCertify.publicKey;
var principal = {email: ""};

var assertionParams = {issuer: "", issuedAt: new Date(),
                       expiresAt: new Date()};

// cert params, kid is optional, others are required
var certParams = {kid: "key-2012-08-11",
                  publicKey: keyToCertify,
                  principal: principal};

var additionalPayload = {};

// payload cannot contain reserved fields
          assertionParams, additionalPayload,
          function(err, signedObject) {
   // normal signedObject
   // can be verified with jwcrypto.verify

   // or verified specifically for certification
   // include a date that is considered the "now"
   cert.verify(signedObject, keypair.publicKey, now, function(err, payload, assertionParams, certParams) {
      // the extra payload
      // the assertionParams specifics
      // the certParams include publicKey being certified, and principal bound to it.

// bundle a cert chain and an assertion
var bundle = cert.bundle([certs], assertion);

function getPK(issuer, next) {
    // function to get a public key for an issuer

var now = new Date();

// verify just the chain of certs
cert.verifyChain([certs], now, getPK, function(err, certParamsArray) {
   // err is an error or null
   // if no error:
   // certParamsArray is the array of individual cert params from each verification
   // including specifically the publicKey and principal parameters

// verify a chain of certs and assertion
cert.verifyBundle(bundle, now, getPK, function(err, certParamsArray, payload, assertionParams) {
   // err is an error or null
   // if no error:
   // certParamsArray is the array of individual cert params from each verification
   // payload is the assertion payload, and assertionParams is the assertion params.


The formats of public-keys, as well as the special payload parameters of assertions and certificates, will be versioned.

Not indicating a version number in the serialized payload indicates the alpha format in the BrowserID specification from June 2012. Otherwise, a version number is required. The BrowserID Beta version number is 2012.08.15.

By default, jwcrypto will use the latest format automatically, and will parse any past format (unless that becomes impossible, in which case we'll define behavior then.)

The version of the data format can be discovered as:


If one wishes to use jwcrypto with an older data format:


or, to use the pre-versioning format:


or, to go back to the library default: