The nginx-ldap-auth software is a reference implementation of a method for authenticating users who request protected resources from servers proxied by NGINX Plus. It includes a daemon (ldap-auth) that communicates with an authentication server, and a sample daemon that stands in for an actual back-end server during testing, by generating an authentication cookie based on the user’s credentials. The daemons are written in Python for use with a Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) authentication server (OpenLDAP or Microsoft Windows Active Directory 2003 and 2012).
The ldap-auth daemon, which mediates between NGINX Plus and the LDAP server, is intended to serve as a model for “connector” daemons written in other languages, for different authentication systems, or both. NGINX, Inc. Professional Services is available to assist with such adaptations.
Reference implementation of method for authenticating users on behalf of servers proxied by NGINX or NGINX Plus.
Note: For ease of reading, this document refers to NGINX Plus, but it also applies to open source NGINX. The prerequisite ngx_http_auth_request_module module is included both in NGINX Plus packages and prebuilt open source NGINX binaries.
Customers frequently ask us how they can use NGINX Plus and NGINX to secure protected resources or applications by authenticating the users who request them. Today we’re announcing a reference implementation of such an authentication system, and making it available in the NGINX, Inc. repository on GitHub. In this post we describe how the implementation works, how to install it, and how to use it as a model for your own authentication system.
The solution takes advantage of the ngx_http_auth_request_module module in NGINX Plus and NGINX, which forwards authentication requests to an external service. In the reference implementation, that service is a daemon we call ldap‑auth. It’s written in Python and communicates with a Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) authentication server – OpenLDAP by default, but we have tested the ldap‑auth daemon against default configurations of Microsoft® Windows® Server Active Directory as well (both the 2003 and 2012 versions).
The ldap‑auth daemon serves as a model for your own “connector” app, which you might write in other languages, deploy with different authentication systems, or both. The NGINX Professional Services team is available to assist with such adaptations.
Note: For ease of reading, the rest of this article refers to NGINX Plus, but the reference implementation also works with the open source NGINX software. The prerequisite http_auth_request module is included in both NGINX Plus packages and prebuilt NGINX binaries.
To perform authentication, the http_auth_request module makes an HTTP subrequest to the ldap‑auth daemon, which acts as intermediary and interprets the subrequest for the LDAP server – it uses HTTP for communication with NGINX Plus and the appropriate API for communication with the LDAP server.
We assume that if you’re interested in the reference implementation, you already have an application or other resources you want to protect by requiring authentication. To make it easier to test the reference implementation, however, we’re providing a sample backend daemon, also written in Python, which listens on port 9000. It can stand in for an actual HTTP application during testing, by prompting for user credentials and creating a cookie based on them.
Here’s a step‑by‑step description of the authentication process in the reference implementation. The details are determined by settings in the nginx-ldap-auth.conf configuration file; see Configuring the Reference Implementation below. The flowchart below the steps summarizes the process.
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