Refresh Tokens

ColdBox Security supports the concept of refresh tokens alongside the normal JWT access tokens. Let's start exploring this feature in detail.

What Is a Refresh Token?

A refresh token is a credential artifact that lets a client application get new access tokens without having to ask the user to log in again. Access tokens may be valid for a short amount of time. Once they expire, client applications can use a refresh token to "refresh" the access token.

The client application can get a new access token as long as the refresh token is valid and unexpired. Consequently, a refresh token that has a very long lifespan could theoretically give infinite power to the token bearer to get a new access token to access protected resources anytime. The bearer of the refresh token could be a legitimate user or a malicious user.

Refresh Token Configuration

In the jwt section of the cbsecurity configuration you will have the following settings dealing with refresh tokens (Please note that the other jwt configurations are also mandatory)

jwt : {
...
// If true, enables refresh tokens, token creation methods will return a struct instead of just an access token string
// e.g. { access_token: "", refresh_token : "" }
"enableRefreshTokens" : false,
// The default expiration for refresh tokens in minutes, defaults to 7 days
"refreshExpiration" : 10080,
// The custom header to inspect for refresh tokens
"customRefreshHeader" : "x-refresh-token",
// If enabled, the JWT validator will inspect the request for refresh tokens and expired access tokens
// It will then automatically refresh them for you and return them back as
// response headers in the same request according to the `customRefreshHeader` and `customAuthHeader`
"enableAutoRefreshValidator" : false,
// Enable the POST > /cbsecurity/refreshtoken API endpoint
"enableRefreshEndpoint" : false
}

EnableRefreshTokens

This setting is used to turn on the refresh capabilities of the JWT Service. If this remains false, then exceptions will be thrown when trying to use refresh capabilities.

RefreshExpiration

The default time refresh tokens expire in. The default is 7 days or 10080 minutes

CustomRefreshHeader

The header to inspect for refresh tokens for automatic refreshment or our refresh endpoints. The default is x-refresh-token

EnableAutoRefreshValidator

If you enable the auto refresh validator setting, then cbsecurity will try to auto-refresh expired access tokens via the Validator security events. These events fire when a rule is detected or a secured annotation is detected.

EnableRefreshEndpoint

If enabled, the REST cbsecurity/refreshToken endpoint will be available for the application, so users can refresh their tokens.

Token Creation

You must enable the setting (enableRefreshTokens) in order for the following methods to return a struct of tokens. If not, only the access token will be returned as a string.

  • attempt( username, password ):struct

  • fromUser( user, customClaims ):struct

The returned struct will contain the access and refresh tokens:

{
"access_token" : "AYjcyMzY3ZDhiNmJk",
"refresh_token" : "RjY2NjM5NzA2OWJj"
}

This is the same procedure for creating access tokens, but now you get a struct of tokens instead of a single access token.

Refreshing Tokens Manually

You can refresh tokens manually by using the refreshToken( token ) method on the JwtService object. You can pass a valid refresh token to be used for refreshement or pass none and the token will be inspected from the headers or incoming rc using the x-refresh-token value or whatever you setup as your customRefreshHeader setting.

var newTokens = jwtService.refreshToken();
var newTokens = jwtService.refreshToken( storedRefreshToken );

Important:

Please note that the currently used refresh token will be invalidated and rotated for you automatically. This is a security feature called refresh token rotation, where the refreshed token is automatically rotated for you upon refresh usage.

Refresh Token Endpoint

If you have enabled the refresh token setting (enableRefreshEndpoint) then you will also have access to the POST > /cbsecurity/refreshtoken API endpoint.

This endpoint is used for applications to refresh their access tokens using the refresh token received when authenticating in the application.

This endpoint must be executed with a POST and you will need to pass in your refresh token via the following header: x-refresh-token or rc form variable of the same name. If valid, the response data will contain two new tokens for you:

{
"access_token" : "AYjcyMzY3ZDhiNmJk",
"refresh_token" : "RjY2NjM5NzA2OWJj"
}

Important:

Please note that the currently used refresh token will be invalidated and rotated for you automatically. This is a security feature called refresh token rotation, where the refreshed token is automatically rotated for you upon refresh usage.

Refresh Token Rotation

CBSecurity by default provides you with refresh token rotation every time you want to refresh your access token. This guarantees that every time an application exchanges a refresh token for an access token, a NEW refresh token is returned as well. The old refresh token is invalidated and can no longer be used.

Therefore, you no longer have a long-lived refresh token that could provide illegitimate access to resources if it ever becomes compromised or leaked. The threat of unauthorized access is reduced as refresh tokens are continually exchanged and invalidated.

Refresh Token Header Auto Refreshment

CBSecurity has the ability to refresh access tokens automatically for you when calling any secure resource that is protected by the JWT Validator. All you have to do is send in both tokens via the appropriate headers and enable the autoRefreshValidator setting:

  • access token

    • bearer token or

    • x-auth-token

  • refresh token

    • x-refresh-token

If the access token has expired and the x-refresh-token was passed and is valid, then the access token will be re-generated, the refresh token will be rotated, the request will continue as normal and two new response headers will be sent back to the calling application.

  • x-auth-token : refreshed access token

  • x-refresh-token : new refresh token

The calling application can monitor if those two response headers are sent and save them appropriately.