This document provides an overview of gRPC authentication, including our built-in supported auth mechanisms, how to plug in your own authentication systems, and examples of how to use gRPC auth in our supported languages.

Overview

gRPC is designed to work with a variety of authentication mechanisms, making it easy to safely use gRPC to talk to other systems. You can use our supported mechanisms - SSL/TLS with or without Google token-based authentication - or you can plug in your own authentication system by extending our provided code.

gRPC also provides a simple authentication API that lets you provide all the necessary authentication information as Credentials when creating a channel or making a call.

Supported auth mechanisms

The following authentication mechanisms are built-in to gRPC:

  • SSL/TLS: gRPC has SSL/TLS integration and promotes the use of SSL/TLS to authenticate the server, and to encrypt all the data exchanged between the client and the server. Optional mechanisms are available for clients to provide certificates for mutual authentication.
  • Token-based authentication with Google: gRPC provides a generic mechanism (described below) to attach metadata based credentials to requests and responses. Additional support for acquiring access tokens (typically OAuth2 tokens) while accessing Google APIs through gRPC is provided for certain auth flows: you can see how this works in our code examples below. In general this mechanism must be used as well as SSL/TLS on the channel - Google will not allow connections without SSL/TLS, and most gRPC language implementations will not let you send credentials on an unencrypted channel.

WARNING: Google credentials should only be used to connect to Google services. Sending a Google issued OAuth2 token to a non-Google service could result in this token being stolen and used to impersonate the client to Google services.

Authentication API

gRPC provides a simple authentication API based around the unified concept of Credentials objects, which can be used when creating an entire gRPC channel or an individual call.

Credential types

Credentials can be of two types:

  • Channel credentials, which are attached to a Channel, such as SSL credentials.
  • Call credentials, which are attached to a call (or ClientContext in C++).

You can also combine these in aCompositeChannelCredentials, allowing you to specify, for example, SSL details for the channel along with call credentials for each call made on the channel. A CompositeChannelCredentials associates a ChannelCredentials and a CallCredentials to create a new ChannelCredentials. The result will send the authentication data associated with the composed CallCredentialswith every call made on the channel.

For example, you could create a ChannelCredentials from an SslCredentials and an AccessTokenCredentials. The result when applied to a Channel would send the appropriate access token for each call on this channel.

Individual CallCredentials can also be composed using CompositeCallCredentials. The resulting CallCredentials when used in a call will trigger the sending of the authentication data associated with the two CallCredentials.

Using client-side SSL/TLS

Now let’s look at how Credentials work with one of our supported auth mechanisms. This is the simplest authentication scenario, where a client just wants to authenticate the server and encrypt all data. The example is in C++, but the API is similar for all languages: you can see how to enable SSL/TLS in more languages in our Examples section below.

// Create a default SSL ChannelCredentials object.
auto creds = grpc::SslCredentials(grpc::SslCredentialsOptions());
// Create a channel using the credentials created in the previous step.
auto channel = grpc::CreateChannel(server_name, channel_creds);
// Create a stub on the channel.
std::unique_ptr<Greeter::Stub> stub(Greeter::NewStub(channel));
// Make actual RPC calls on the stub.
grpc::Status s = stub->sayHello(&context, *request, response);

For advanced use cases such as modifying the root CA or using client certs, the corresponding options can be set in the SslCredentialsOptions parameter passed to the factory method.

Using Google token-based authentication

gRPC applications can use a simple API to create a credential that works for authentication with Google in various deployment scenarios. Again, our example is in C++ but you can find examples in other languages in our Examples section.

auto creds = grpc::GoogleDefaultCredentials();
// Create a channel, stub and make RPC calls (same as in the previous example)
auto channel = grpc::CreateChannel(server_name, creds);
std::unique_ptr<Greeter::Stub> stub(Greeter::NewStub(channel));
grpc::Status s = stub->sayHello(&context, *request, response);

This channel credentials object works for applications using Service Accounts as well as for applications running in Google Compute Engine (GCE). In the former case, the service account’s private keys are loaded from the file named in the environment variable GOOGLE_APPLICATION_CREDENTIALS. The keys are used to generate bearer tokens that are attached to each outgoing RPC on the corresponding channel.

For applications running in GCE, a default service account and corresponding OAuth2 scopes can be configured during VM setup. At run-time, this credential handles communication with the authentication systems to obtain OAuth2 access tokens and attaches them to each outgoing RPC on the corresponding channel.

Extending gRPC to support other authentication mechanisms

The Credentials plugin API allows developers to plug in their own type of credentials. This consists of:

  • The MetadataCredentialsPlugin abstract class, which contains the pure virtual GetMetadata method that needs to be implemented by a sub-class created by the developer.
  • The MetadataCredentialsFromPlugin function, which creates a CallCredentials from the MetadataCredentialsPlugin.

Here is example of a simple credentials plugin which sets an authentication ticket in a custom header.

class MyCustomAuthenticator : public grpc::MetadataCredentialsPlugin {
 public:
  MyCustomAuthenticator(const grpc::string& ticket) : ticket_(ticket) {}

  grpc::Status GetMetadata(
      grpc::string_ref service_url, grpc::string_ref method_name,
      const grpc::AuthContext& channel_auth_context,
      std::multimap<grpc::string, grpc::string>* metadata) override {
    metadata->insert(std::make_pair("x-custom-auth-ticket", ticket_));
    return grpc::Status::OK;
  }

 private:
  grpc::string ticket_;
};

auto call_creds = grpc::MetadataCredentialsFromPlugin(
    std::unique_ptr<grpc::MetadataCredentialsPlugin>(
        new MyCustomAuthenticator("super-secret-ticket")));

A deeper integration can be achieved by plugging in a gRPC credentials implementation at the core level. gRPC internals also allow switching out SSL/TLS with other encryption mechanisms.

Examples

These authentication mechanisms will be available in all gRPC’s supported languages. The following sections demonstrate how authentication and authorization features described above appear in each language: more languages are coming soon.

Ruby

Base case - no encryption or authentication


stub = Helloworld::Greeter::Stub.new('localhost:50051', :this_channel_is_insecure)
...

With server authentication SSL/TLS

creds = GRPC::Core::Credentials.new(load_certs)  # load_certs typically loads a CA roots file
stub = Helloworld::Greeter::Stub.new('myservice.example.com', creds)

Authenticate with Google

require 'googleauth'  # from http://www.rubydoc.info/gems/googleauth/0.1.0
...
ssl_creds = GRPC::Core::ChannelCredentials.new(load_certs)  # load_certs typically loads a CA roots file
authentication = Google::Auth.get_application_default()
call_creds = GRPC::Core::CallCredentials.new(authentication.updater_proc)
combined_creds = ssl_creds.compose(call_creds)
stub = Helloworld::Greeter::Stub.new('greeter.googleapis.com', combined_creds)

C++

Base case - no encryption or authentication

auto channel = grpc::CreateChannel("localhost:50051", InsecureChannelCredentials());
std::unique_ptr<Greeter::Stub> stub(Greeter::NewStub(channel));
...

With server authentication SSL/TLS

auto channel_creds = grpc::SslCredentials(grpc::SslCredentialsOptions());
auto channel = grpc::CreateChannel("myservice.example.com", creds);
std::unique_ptr<Greeter::Stub> stub(Greeter::NewStub(channel));
...

Authenticate with Google

auto creds = grpc::GoogleDefaultCredentials();
auto channel = grpc::CreateChannel("greeter.googleapis.com", creds);
std::unique_ptr<Greeter::Stub> stub(Greeter::NewStub(channel));
...

C#

Base case - no encryption or authentication

var channel = new Channel("localhost:50051", ChannelCredentials.Insecure);
var client = new Greeter.GreeterClient(channel);
...

With server authentication SSL/TLS

var channelCredentials = new SslCredentials(File.ReadAllText("roots.pem"));  // Load a custom roots file.
var channel = new Channel("myservice.example.com", channelCredentials);
var client = new Greeter.GreeterClient(channel);

Authenticate with Google

using Grpc.Auth;  // from Grpc.Auth NuGet package
...
// Loads Google Application Default Credentials with publicly trusted roots.
var channelCredentials = await GoogleGrpcCredentials.GetApplicationDefaultAsync();

var channel = new Channel("greeter.googleapis.com", channelCredentials);
var client = new Greeter.GreeterClient(channel);
...

Authenticate a single RPC call

var channel = new Channel("greeter.googleapis.com", new SslCredentials());  // Use publicly trusted roots.
var client = new Greeter.GreeterClient(channel);
...
var googleCredential = await GoogleCredential.GetApplicationDefaultAsync();
var result = client.SayHello(request, new CallOptions(credentials: googleCredential.ToCallCredentials()));
...

Python

Base case - No encryption or authentication

import grpc
import helloworld_pb2

channel = grpc.insecure_channel('localhost:50051')
stub = helloworld_pb2.GreeterStub(channel)

With server authentication SSL/TLS

import grpc
import helloworld_pb2

creds = grpc.ssl_channel_credentials(open('roots.pem').read())
channel = grpc.secure_channel('myservice.example.com:443', creds)
stub = helloworld_pb2.GreeterStub(channel)

Authenticate with Google

import grpc
import helloworld_pb2
from oauth2client import client

transport_creds = grpc.ssl_channel_credentials(open('roots.pem').read())
credentials = client.GoogleCredentials.get_application_default()
scoped_credentials = credentials.create_scoped([scope])
def oauth2token_credentials(context, callback):
  callback([('authorization', 'Bearer %s' % scoped_credentials.get_access_token().access_token)], None)

auth_creds = grpc.metadata_call_credentials(oauth2token_credentials)
channel_creds = grpc.composite_channel_credentials(transport_creds, auth_creds)
channel = grpc.secure_channel('greeter.googleapis.com:443', channel_creds)
stub = helloworld_pb2.GreeterStub(channel)

Java

Base case - no encryption or authentication

ManagedChannel channel = ManagedChannelBuilder.forAddress("localhost", 50051)
    .usePlaintext(true)
    .build();
GreeterGrpc.GreeterStub stub = GreeterGrpc.newStub(channel);

With server authentication SSL/TLS

In Java we recommend that you use OpenSSL when using gRPC over TLS. You can find details about installing and using OpenSSL and other required libraries for both Android and non-Android Java in the gRPC Java Security documentation.

To enable TLS on a server, a certificate chain and private key need to be specified in PEM format. The standard TLS port is 443, but we use 8443 below to avoid needing extra permissions from the OS.

Server server = ServerBuilder.forPort(8443)
    // Enable TLS
    .useTransportSecurity(certChainFile, privateKeyFile)
    .addService(TestServiceGrpc.bindService(serviceImplementation))
    .build();
server.start();

If the issuing certificate authority is not known to the client then a properly configured SslContext or SSLSocketFactory should be provided to the NettyChannelBuilder or OkHttpChannelBuilder, respectively.

On the client side, server authentication with SSL/TLS looks like this:

// With server authentication SSL/TLS
ManagedChannel channel = ManagedChannelBuilder.forAddress("myservice.example.com", 443)
    .build();
GreeterGrpc.GreeterStub stub = GreeterGrpc.newStub(channel);

// With server authentication SSL/TLS; custom CA root certificates; not on Android
ManagedChannel channel = NettyChannelBuilder.forAddress("myservice.example.com", 443)
    .sslContext(GrpcSslContexts.forClient().trustManager(new File("roots.pem")).build())
    .build();
GreeterGrpc.GreeterStub stub = GreeterGrpc.newStub(channel);

Authenticate with Google

The following code snippet shows how you can call the Google Cloud PubSub API using gRPC with a service account. The credentials are loaded from a key stored in a well-known location or by detecting that the application is running in an environment that can provide one automatically, e.g. Google Compute Engine. While this example is specific to Google and its services, similar patterns can be followed for other service providers.

GoogleCredentials creds = GoogleCredentials.getApplicationDefault();
ManagedChannel channel = ManagedChannelBuilder.forTarget("greeter.googleapis.com")
    .build();
GreeterGrpc.GreeterStub stub = GreeterGrpc.newStub(channel)
    .withCallCredentials(MoreCallCredentials.from(creds));

Node.js

Base case - No encryption/authentication

var stub = new helloworld.Greeter('localhost:50051', grpc.credentials.createInsecure());

With server authentication SSL/TLS

var ssl_creds = grpc.credentials.createSsl(root_certs);
var stub = new helloworld.Greeter('myservice.example.com', ssl_creds);

Authenticate with Google

// Authenticating with Google
var GoogleAuth = require('google-auth-library'); // from https://www.npmjs.com/package/google-auth-library
...
var ssl_creds = grpc.credentials.createSsl(root_certs);
(new GoogleAuth()).getApplicationDefault(function(err, auth) {
  var call_creds = grpc.credentials.createFromGoogleCredential(auth);
  var combined_creds = grpc.credentials.combineChannelCredentials(ssl_creds, call_creds);
  var stub = new helloworld.Greeter('greeter.googleapis.com', combined_credentials);
});

Authenticate with Google using Oauth2 token (legacy approach)

var GoogleAuth = require('google-auth-library'); // from https://www.npmjs.com/package/google-auth-library
...
var ssl_creds = grpc.Credentials.createSsl(root_certs); // load_certs typically loads a CA roots file
var scope = 'https://www.googleapis.com/auth/grpc-testing';
(new GoogleAuth()).getApplicationDefault(function(err, auth) {
  if (auth.createScopeRequired()) {
    auth = auth.createScoped(scope);
  }
  var call_creds = grpc.credentials.createFromGoogleCredential(auth);
  var combined_creds = grpc.credentials.combineChannelCredentials(ssl_creds, call_creds);
  var stub = new helloworld.Greeter('greeter.googleapis.com', combined_credentials);
});

PHP

Base case - No encryption/authorization

$client = new helloworld\GreeterClient('localhost:50051', [
    'credentials' => Grpc\ChannelCredentials::createInsecure(),
]);
...

Authenticate with Google

function updateAuthMetadataCallback($context)
{
    $auth_credentials = ApplicationDefaultCredentials::getCredentials();
    return $auth_credentials->updateMetadata($metadata = [], $context->service_url);
}
$channel_credentials = Grpc\ChannelCredentials::createComposite(
    Grpc\ChannelCredentials::createSsl(file_get_contents('roots.pem')),
    Grpc\CallCredentials::createFromPlugin('updateAuthMetadataCallback')
);
$opts = [
  'credentials' => $channel_credentials
];
$client = new helloworld\GreeterClient('greeter.googleapis.com', $opts);

Authenticate with Google using Oauth2 token (legacy approach)

// the environment variable "GOOGLE_APPLICATION_CREDENTIALS" needs to be set
$scope = "https://www.googleapis.com/auth/grpc-testing";
$auth = Google\Auth\ApplicationDefaultCredentials::getCredentials($scope);
$opts = [
  'credentials' => Grpc\Credentials::createSsl(file_get_contents('roots.pem'));
  'update_metadata' => $auth->getUpdateMetadataFunc(),
];
$client = new helloworld\GreeterClient('greeter.googleapis.com', $opts);