Category Archives: JSON

All JSON-RPC 2.0 libraries are now in Maven Central

masthead-jsonrpc2baseThe migration from Ant to Maven is now complete and all Java libraries for handling JSON-RPC 2.0 messages are now published in Maven Central.

You can find them under the com.thetransactioncompany.com groupId:

The useful JSON-RPC 2.0 Shell tool, available for purchase, has also been completely mavenised. It has found a lot of use in Android development recently and there have been plans to add HTTP basic authentication support to it (via a prompt).

JSON-RPC 2.0 libraries and tools switch to Maven

masthead-jsonrpc2baseThe Java libraries and tools for JSON-RPC 2.0 message serving and processing now use Apache Maven to build.

Migrating the previous Apache Ant scripts took about a day a to complete and was not without hassles, notable the ZIP package distribution and the automatic versioning of JavaDocs. We’ll now be able to gain from Maven’s automatic dependency resolution and I have gained enough knowledge to begin considering myself a Maven power user 🙂

The following related JSON-RPC 2.0 projects also got a Maven make-over:

Publishing to Maven Central is on the to-do list complete now 🙂

The JSON-RPC 2.0 Client can now handle GZIP and DEFLATE compression

Does your JSON-RPC server return large amounts of data? If so applying HTTP response compression can greatly reduce network traffic and response time, occasionally by a whole magnitude if your JSON structures contain long repeating keys or values.

Today we released a new version of the JSON-RPC 2.0 Client library for Java that adds support for GZIP and DEFLATE compression. These two algorithms are commonly implemented by web servers such as Apache HTTPD and Apache Tomcat.

To enable HTTP response compression in your Java client app:

URL serverURL = new URL("http://example.com/jsonrpc2/");

JSONRPC2Session mySession = new JSONRPC2Session(serverURL);

mySession.getOptions().enableCompression(true);

The JSON-RPC client will then set the Accept-Encoding request header to signal that it can process compressed responses. Note that many web servers don’t have HTTP compression enabled by default so this setting will simply be ignored by them.

To enable compression in Apache Tomcat you need to configure the HTTP connector by setting compression to “on”.

The JSON-RPC client will then automatically decompress the HTTP responses before processing the JSON payload.

The new version of the JSON-RPC client library also improves HTTP cookie support. It has dropped the primitive internal cookie store in favour of the standard java.net.CookieManager so now cookie expiration and replacement are also handled.

Plain SASL authentication

Json2Ldap iconYesterday’s 2.0 release of Json2Ldap brings a lot of new good things. Some of them are hidden, representing various little stubs under the hood that will enable cool new features to be added in future (patience, you’ll find out in due time!). On the outside, the most noticeable addition is the arrival of plain SASL authentication support. This LDAP authentication method offers two key advantages over the traditional simple bind. Here I’ll explain what these are and how you could apply them.

Simpler authentication with username instead of DN

The traditional ldap.simpleBind method authenticates users with their distinguished name (DN) and password. Using DNs for web app login, however, is a bit cumbersome. Why? Because you first have to establish a search connection (bound as some service user) in order to resolve the user’s DN from the entered username or email address, typically with a filter like "|(uid=%u)(mail=%u)", and only then you can make the actual ldap.simpleBind request.

ldap.plainBind spares us these preliminary steps by taking care of the underlying user DN resolution. With it you can just pass the user’s name / email + password and be authenticated. The only snag is that the LDAP directory may require some configuration before that, to allow plain SASL binds and to know which user record attributes will serve as “username”.

Here is an example plain SASL auth included in the ldap.connect request:

{ "method"  : "ldap.connect",
  "params"  : { "host"      : "ds.wonderland.net",
                "port"      : 389,
	        "security"  : "StartTLS",
		"plainBind" : { "username" : "alice",
		                "password" : "secret" },
  "id"      : 1,
  "jsonrpc" : "2.0" }

Proxied authorisation / switching the current user

Proxied authorisation is similar to the sudo command on Unix systems. It allows you to authenticate to the directory with the credentials of one user and then perform all subsequent operations as another user. This is the other significant feature of plain SASL bind.

{ "method"  : "ldap.connect",
  "params"  : { "host"      : "ds.wonderland.net",
                "port"      : 389,
	        "security"  : "StartTLS",
		"plainBind" : { "username"       : "myWebApp",
		                "targetUsername" : "alice",
		                "password"       : "secret" },
  "id"      : 1,
  "jsonrpc" : "2.0" }

Where could proxied authorisation come to use?

In situations when a web app has to modify user data on behalf of another user. In the above example the JSON call authenticates as “myWebApp” but then requests the resulting connection to receive the identity (and privileges) of user “alice”.

Proxied authorisation can also be used to create custom external login procedures, for example based on OAuth 2.0 tokens. Here a helper app upon establishing the identity of the user through some other external mean authenticates to the directory as itself but then through the targetDN / targetUsername parameter requests the connection to take on the identity of the target user.

Note that enabling proxied authorisation for a particular service account requires the underlying LDAP directory to be explicitly configured for that. Check out the docs of your particular directory server for detailed instructions.

Which directory servers support PLAIN SASL bind (RFC 4616)?

  • OpenDJ / OpenDS
  • OpenLDAP
  • Apache DS
  • 389 Directory Server
  • UnboundID in-memory DS
  • Novell eDirectory
  • IBM Tivoli Directory Server

Directory servers without PLAIN SASL bind support:

  • MS Active Directory

JSON-RPC and cookies

JSON-RPC ShellToday’s releases of the JSON-RPC 2.0 Client (version 1.6) and JSON-RPC 2.0 Shell (version 1.10) include support for handling HTTP cookies, just like browsers do. These latest updates came about after a developer in Norway wrote that the JSON-RPC software was not working as expected against the web API of a particular service provider. A quick look at the API docs revealed that the service was pushing session tokens outside the regular JSON-RPC message flow, using HTTP cookies. The inclusion of cookie support took about a day to code and test out and is now publicly available.

I know, to purists using out-of-channel means to pass the session tokens of a JSON-RPC service is not a clean thing to do. I also value the simplicity of having all message data passed in-channel and our JSON-RPC based services – from Json2Ldap to JsonSSO use the regular JSON-RPC parameters and result fields to communicate session tokens. But at the same time, if you’re programming a servlet-based web service, using the built-in session mechanisms can be too convenient (and routinely done) to ignore.

There is another pitfall with passing cookies from a JSON-RPC service: if you want to allow cross-domain XHR access from browsers to your service, IE will certainly block any cookies for security reasons.

So my advice is to stay away from cookies in JSON-RPC, despite their relative convenience.

JSON-RPC for Android apps

JSON-RPC 2.0 Thanks to user feedback I recently discovered that the JSON-RPC 2.0 Base and related libraries and JSON-RPC shell are finding increasing use in Android applications, mostly to hook to remote JSON-RPC services.

While I’m not really into mobile gadgets and don’t own a smart phone, I do sense there is usefulness in mobile apps to people. I’m now considering a mobile version of the Json2Ldap demo. The upcoming Transaction Company software will also certainly a boast a few mobile apps, to allow users to check their balance and pay co-workers while on the go. Application Craft‘s offering may be just the right mean to do that, as it provides both a development and hosting environment in one.

Easy LDAP user authentication over the web

NimbusDS AuthServiceAuthService is a simple web service software offered by Nimbus Directory Services. It can authenticate users against any LDAP directory using a web-friendly HTTP+JSON protocol.

Where to use?

AuthService can be used in any situation where you have to authenticate user credentials (login) over the web against an LDAP-compatible directory such as Microsoft Active Directory, Novell eDirectory or OpenLDAP.

  • You’re a SaaS provider and want to provide your corporate customers with a method for authenticating users against their internal directory.
  • Your company has applications in the cloud and wish them to use the corporate directory for user login.
  • You’re designing an Ajax app and want to authenticate users with a single JSON XHR. No redirection and page reloading, please!

How does it work?

AuthService is a nimble web service that sits in front of an LDAP directory and receives JSON-RPC request from web clients. It resolves the supplied usernames to valid directory entry entries (DNs) and translates between the binary LDAP protocol and HTTP/JSON.

AuthService authenticates users against an LDAP-compatible directory

The JSON request and response messages, what do they look like?

AuthService communicates with simple JSON messages. These follow the standard JSON-RPC 2.0 protocol.

Example user authentication request:

{ 
  "method"  : "user.auth",
  "params"  : { "username" : "alice@wonder.net",
                "password" : "s3cr3t" },
  "id"      : "0001",
  "jsonrpc" : "2.0" 
}

And here is an example response indicating the supplied username and password were correct:

{ 
  "result"  : true,
  "id"      : "0001",
  "jsonrpc" : "2.0"
}

The complete AuthService web API is documented online.

Can you retrieve a user’s details from the directory?

Yes! In addition to checking the user’s credentials you can also configure AuthService to return a selected set of user’s directory entry attributes on auth success. This is done via the authService.userAttributes configuration setting.

Here is a sample list of attributes that can typically be retrieved:

  • Given name, surname, full name.
  • Email address.
  • Office, home and mobile phone numbers.
  • Organisational details such as manager, department and authorisations / permissions.

Here is an example of such a JSON user auth response that returns selected user details:

{ "result"  : { "userID" : "alice",
                "name"   : "Alice Wonderland",
		"email"  : "alice@wonderland.net",
		"phone"  : "+44 711 567 8910" }
  "id"      : "0001",
  "jsonrpc" : "2.0"
}

Which directory servers is AuthService compatible with?

AuthService works with any LDAP v3 compatible directory. This includes Microsoft Active Directory, Novell eDirectory, IBM’s and Oracle’s directory services, the open source OpenLDAP, OpenDJ and ApacheDS servers.

What about installation?

AuthService is delivered as a standard Java servlet application, packaged as a WAR file and ready for immediate installation into any Java web server, such as the popular free Apache Tomcat or Jetty servers. The WAR file weighs a nimble 2.5 megabytes.

How about security?

AuthService includes a number of configuration settings for managing and protecting access to the service.

  • Whitelist of allowed client IPs / hostnames that may access the service.
  • Whether secure HTTPS is mandatory.
  • Whether clients are required to authenticate with a valid X.509 certificate issued by a trusted certificate authority (CA).
  • Whether the subject of the presented X.509 client certificate must match an authorised distinct name (DN).

What about price and support?

AuthService licenses come at a super affordable price. For immediate purchase and download check out the NimbusDS online shop. Attractive discounts are available if you with to distribute the software as part of your own product or SaaS offerings, for 100, thousand or even more copies.

NimbusDS, which operates out of London, UK and Bulgaria, also offers excellent integration and consulting services, with emphasis on LDAP directory design, meeting organisational objectives, web and cloud directory applications.

The NimbusDS line gets a speed boost

The Nimbus Directory Services product lineThe complete Nimbus Directory Services product line received a speed boost in June. The latest versions of Json2Ldap, JsonSSO and AuthService now feature a greatly improved JSON parser which speeds up decoding of incoming requests by impressive 380 per cent!

Thanks to Uriel Chemouni from the JSON Smart project for his top work!

What is next on the immediate NimbusDS roadmap?

So, expect more good news as we are heading into the summer. Here in London we had quite a promising start, warm and sunny!

How to use an LDAP directory for central listing and configuration of web services

Json2Ldap iconLDAP – compatible directories such as MS AD and OpenDJ are an excellent tool for bringing order and organising things. Businesses that make extensive use of web services may benefit from having all of them nicely listed and configured in a central location. A directory server can serve this purpose well, and with a gateway such as Json2Ldap, this can be done over the web too.

Basic web service listing

At a basic level, the directory may just list the available web services with their key usage details, such as their name, protocol and the URLs where web clients can access them.

The example below shows one such case where the services are listed under a directory branch named ou=Services,dc=NimbusDS,dc=com. Each entry is a webService class which supports attributes for storing a service’s name, URL, protocol and other detail. Directories allow their schema to be freely extended, so you can define your own class for your web services and the properties you wish to store.

Listing web services in an LDAP directory

The web services entries can be administered from the console or with LDAP GUI tools such as the excellent Apache Directory Studio.

Web service lookup

If you have a Json2Ldap instance installed the service listings may be queried by web clients, for example to dynamically look up the URL for a particular web service.

Here is a Json2Ldap ldap.getEntry request to obtain the URL of a TransactionCenter service:

{
  "method"  : "ldap.getEntry",
  "params"  : { "CID"        : "1f52b0c4-5d0d-4812-8688-8bf90b70eebf",
                "DN"         : "wsName=TransactionCenter,ou=Services,dc=NimbusDS,dc=com",
                "attributes" : "wsURL" },
  "id"      : "001",
  "jsonrpc" : "2.0"
}

The resulting JSON response:

{ "result" : { "DN"    : "wsName=TransactionCenter,ou=Services,dc=NimbusDS,dc=com",
               "wsURL" : [ "https:\/\/n1.cloudbase.net:8080\/tcenter\/"] },
  "id"      : "001",
  "jsonrpc" : "2.0" 
}

Centralised web service configuration

The administration of web services can be further centralised by storing their configuration variables in their own directory entries instead. In effect, this means projecting all configurations from your directory server. The web services would then only need to know the LDAP URL of the directory server and be provided with the appropriate credentials (username/password pair or X.509 certificate) to connect and authenticate to it.

If done on a consistent basis, having all configurations in a single place may greatly improve the manageability of your services and simplify the work of your IT administrators.

To accomplish this each web service must be provided with a set of credentials for accessing its configuration variables. ACLs may be judiciously used to limit read access to these attributes to the web service only and allow only the authorised administrator to edit them.

For the actual configuration variables, the LDAP protocol provides fair flexibility and allows storage of virtually arbitrary key/value pairs. As with the basic details example above, you can create your own schema for storing the configuration parameters of your particular web services.

Below is one such example for the TransactionCenter payment web service configuration. The directory entry contains attributes for configuring the back-end database connection as well as various variables pertaining to the web service itself.

Storing the web service configuration in its directory entry

In a future article I’ll share a few useful ideas how SaaS providers can utilise a central LDAP directory for managing subscriber accounts and multi-tenant app configurations.