Skip to content

phantom-token: Phantom Token NGINX Module

Installation

CentOS/RHEL 6, 7, 8 or Amazon Linux 2

yum -y install https://extras.getpagespeed.com/release-latest.rpm
yum -y install nginx-module-phantom-token

Enable the module by adding the following at the top of /etc/nginx/nginx.conf:

load_module modules/ngx_curity_http_phantom_token_module.so;

This document describes nginx-module-phantom-token v1.1.1 released on Feb 17 2021.


Quality Availability

NGINX module that introspects access tokens according to RFC 7662, producing a "phantom token" that can be forwarded to back-end APIs and Web services.

This module, when enabled, filters incoming requests, denying access to those which do not have a valid OAuth access token presented in an Authorization header. From this header, the access_token is extracted and introspected using the configured endpoint. Curity replies to this request according to the standard. For an active access token, the body of Curity's response contains the JWT that replaces the access token in the header of the request that is forwarded by NGINX to the back-end. If the token is not valid or absent, no request to the back-end is made and the caller is given a 401, unauthorized, error. This flow is shown in the following diagram:

NGINX / Curity integration

The initial calls by the app (web or native) are done using OpenID Connect (OIDC). The important part is that the token that is issued is an opaque access token. It is a GUID or UUID or a few handfuls of random bytes; there is no identity-related data in this token. It is a phantom of the actual user data, hence the name -- phantom token. The app presents the token to the NGINX gateway according to the Bearer Token Usage specficiation (i.e., RFC 6750). This standard says that the app should send the phantom token in the Authorization request header.

Once the NGINX server receives the access token, this module will kick in. Using configuration like that below, this module will interrogate the request, find the token, and make a sideways call to Curity. This web service request will be done using the Token Introspection standard (RFC 7662) with an Accept type of application/jwt (as defined in RFC 7519). This will cause Curity to return not JSON but just a JWT. Then, the module will forward the JWT token to the back-end APIs and microservices.

If the module is also configured to cache the results of the call to Curity (which it should be for production cases), the phantom token will be used as a cache key for the corresponding JWT token. This will elevate the need for subsequent calls to Curity for as long as Curity tells the NGINX module it may cache the JWT for.

The tl;dr is a very simple API gateway that is blazing fast, highly scalable, and without any bells and whistles to get in the way. All the code is here, so it's easy to change and use with other OAuth servers even!

Configuration Directives

Required Configuration Directives

All the directives in this subsection are required; if any of these are omitted, the module will be disabled.

phantom_token

Syntax: phantom_token on | off

Default: off

Context: location

phantom_token_client_credential

Syntax: phantom_token_client_credential string string

Default:

Context: location

The client ID and secret of the OAuth client which will be used for introspection. The first argument to this directive is the client ID and the second is the secret. The maximum total length of the two arguments must be less than 255 characters. Both should be printable ASCII values; non-ASCII values may work but are untested. If this directive is not configured, then the module will be disabled.

phantom_token_introspection_endpoint

Syntax: phantom_token_introspection_endpoint string

Default:

Context: location

The name of the location that proxies requests to Curity. Note that this location needs to be in the same server as the one referring to it using this directive.

Example configuration:

server {
    location /api {
        ...
        phantom_token_introspection_endpoint my_good_location_name_for_curity;
    }

    location my_good_location_name_for_curity {
        ...
    }
}

Optional Configuration Directives

The following directives are optional and do not need to be configured.

phantom_token_realm

Syntax: phantom_token_realm string

Default: api

Context: location

The name of the protected realm or scope of protection that should be used when a client does not provide an access token.

Example configuration:

location / {
   ...
   phantom_token_realm "myGoodRealm";
}   

phantom_token_scopes

Syntax: phantom_token_scopes string

Default:

Context: location

The space-separated list of scopes that the server should inform the client are required when it does not provide an access token.

Example configuration:

location / {
   ...
   phantom_token_scopes "scope_a scope_b scope_c";
}

phantom_token_scope

Syntax: phantom_token_scope string

Default:

Context: location

An array of scopes that the server should inform the client are required when it does not provide an access token. If phantom_token_scopes is also configured, that value will supersede these.

Example configuration:

location / {
   ...
   phantom_token_scope "scope_a";
   phantom_token_scope "scope_b";
   phantom_token_scope "scope_c";
}

Sample Configuration

Loading the Module

If the module is downloaded from GitHub or compiled as a shared library (the default) and not explicitly compiled into NGINX, it will need to be loaded using the load_module directive. This needs to be done in the main part of the NGINX configuration:

load_module modules/ngx_curity_http_phantom_token_module.so;

The file can be an absolute or relative path. If it is not absolute, it should be relative to the NGINX root directory.

Simple Configuration

The following is a simple configuration that might be used in demo or development environments where the NGINX reverse proxy is on the same host as the Curity Identity Server:

server {
    location /api {
        proxy_pass         https://example.com/api;

        phantom_token on;
        phantom_token_client_credential "client_id" "client_secret";
        phantom_token_introspection_endpoint curity;
    }

    location curity {
        proxy_pass "https://curity.example.com/oauth/v2/introspection";
    }
}

Complex Configuration

The following is a more complex configuration where the NGINX reverse proxy is on a seperate host then the Curity Identity Server:

server {
    server_name server1.example.com;n
    location /api {
        proxy_pass         https://example.com/api;

        phantom_token on;
        phantom_token_client_credential "client_id" "client_secret";
        phantom_token_introspection_endpoint curity;

        phantom_token_realm "myGoodAPI";
        phantom_token_scopes "scope_a scope_b scope_c";
    }

    location curity {
        proxy_pass "https://server2.example.com:8443/oauth/v2/introspection";
    }
}

server {
    listen 8443;
    server_name server2.example.com;
    location / {
        proxy_pass "https://curity.example.com";
    }
}

More Advanced Configuration with Separate Servers and Caching

This module takes advantage of NGINX built-in proxy_cache directive. In order to be able to cache the requests made to the introspection endpoint, except of the proxy_cache_path in http context and proxy_cache in location context, you have to add the following 3 directives in the location context of the introspection endpoint.

  • proxy_cache_methods POST; POST requests are not cached by default.
  • proxy_cache_key $request_body; The key of the cache is related to the access_token sent in the original request. Different requests using the same access_token reach the same cache.
  • proxy_ignore_headers Set-Cookie; NGINX will not cache the response if Set-Cookie header is not ignored.
http {
    proxy_cache_path /path/to/cache/cache levels=1:2 keys_zone=my_cache:10m max_size=10g
                     inactive=60m use_temp_path=off;
    server {
        server_name server1.example.com;
        location /api {
            proxy_pass         https://example.com/api;

            phantom_token on;
            phantom_token_client_credential "client_id" "client_secret";
            phantom_token_introspection_endpoint curity;
            phantom_token_scopes "scope_a scope_b scope_c";
            phantom_token_realm "myGoodAPI";
        }

        location curity {
            proxy_pass "https://server2.example.com:8443/oauth/v2/introspection";

            proxy_cache_methods POST;
            proxy_cache my_cache;
            proxy_cache_key $request_body;
            proxy_ignore_headers Set-Cookie;
        }
    }

    server {
        listen 8443;
        server_name server2.example.com;
        location / {
            proxy_pass "https://curity.example.com";
        }
    }
}   

Installation and Development

To build this module, simply do the following:

./configure
make && make install

This will download the NGINX source code if it is not already local. If it is, the location may be provided when prompted. By default, version 1.19.0 will be downloaded; a different version can be fetched by setting NGINX_VERSION before running the configure script. Any additional parameters (e.g., --prefix) that NGINX's configure script supports can also be provided. When this module's configure script is run, it will pass along --with-compat to NGINX's script. It asks if a dynamic module should be created (thus passing along --add-dynamic-module) or if the module should be compiled into the NGINX binary (thus passing --add-module); by default, it created a dynamically-linked module. It will also ask if debug flags should be enabled; if so, --with-debug and certain GCC flags will be passed on to NGINX's configure script to make debugging easier. After the script is run, just execute make && make install. These too will delegate to NGINX's Makefile. After this, the module will be usable and can be configured as described above.

WARNING If --without-pcre, --without-http_gzip_module and potentially other flags are provided to the configure script and a module is created, it will not be compatible with NGINX Plus or the pre-compiled open source NGINX binaries; if you include such flags (when building the module), you will only be able to load it into a custom build of NGINX that also excludes the same functionality. If the configure script exits with an error about a missing dependency, like PCRE and zlib, install those instead of excluding them if compatibility with pre-build NGINX binaries is desired.

The code can be imported into CLion 2020.2 or newer as a Makefile project. To do this though, you need to run the configure script without running make or make all. Also, CLion will not work if the clean target it set since this target deletes the Makefile, which is generated by the configure script. If this process is followed, the project will import easily and all the smart IDE features will work.

Certifying a Release

To certify that a build is compatible with NGINX+, a shared library needs to be built and it must be tested with NGINX's certification test suite. For some background on this, refer to the NGINX Plus Certified Modules Program documentation. As described there:

  1. A module must be built for each supported platform (see below).
  2. NGINX+ must be installed on each of these platforms as well.
  3. The certification test suite and its dependencies must be installed.
  4. With the NGINX+ service stopped, run the test suite, like this for example:
sudo -u nginx \
    TEST_NGINX_BINARY=/usr/sbin/nginx \
    TEST_NGINX_GLOBALS="load_module /tmp/modules/ngx_curity_http_phantom_token_module.so;" \
    TEST_NGINX_GLOBALS_HTTP="phantom_token off;" \
    prove -v . > ../nginx-plus-module-prove-test-verbose 2>&1

If all certification tests and the phantom-token specific tests (see below) pass, the build can be certified. Also, it should be released on GitHub.

Building dynamic modules

You can build the module (for all supported platforms) using the build.sh script.

This script reuquires docker and builds locally all 10 platforms that are listed below in Releases. You can build for any NGINX release by running it like so:

NGINX_VERSION=X.X.X ./build.sh

After running, all 10 .so files will be in the ./build directory.

Testing

To test this module, you'll need the Test::Nginx Perl module and docker-compose installed.

To run the tests do the following:

  • run ./configure, make sure you select No for Dynamic module
  • run make
  • Setup an ADMIN_PASSWORD and the LICENSE_KEY for the Curity Identity server that is used in tests*
  • run make test

This, will run prove passing in the test or test directory (t).

Internet access to hub.docker.com is required for the curity.t test suite to pass, if the images required are not present locally.

* These variables can be set inline, in your environment or in the docker-compose.yaml file.

NGINX must be in the system path; the tests will run the first nginx command that's found or bail if none is located. Also, the tests assume that the module is statically linked with NGINX. Before running them, be sure that the module is linked into the NGINX binary. Also, debug logging must be compiled into NGINX for some tests in config.t to pass. (This is the case if nginx -V includes --with-debug in the output.)

Status

This module is fit for production usage.

More Information

For more information about Curity, its capabilities, and how to use it to issue phantom tokens, visit curity.io. For background information on using Curity for API access, consult the API integration section of the Curity developer manual. For additional insights in how to apply this pattern to microservices and APIs, read How to Control User Identity within Microservices on the Nordic APIs blog.

Licensing

This software is copyright (C) 2017 Curity AB. It is open source software that is licensed under the Apache v. 2. For commercial support of this module, please contact Curity sales.

GitHub

You may find additional configuration tips and documentation for this module in the GitHub repository for nginx-module-phantom-token.

Back to top