How does cookie based authentication work

authenticationbrowsercookies

Can someone give me a step by step description of how cookie based authentication works? I've never done anything involving either authentication or cookies. What does the browser need to do? What does the server need to do? In what order? How do we keep things secure?

I've been reading about different types of authentication and about cookies but I would like a basic description of how to use the two together- I've only read that they are often used together but could not find a description of how.

Best Solution

I realize this is years late, but I thought I could expand on Conor's answer and add a little bit more to the discussion.

Can someone give me a step by step description of how cookie based authentication works? I've never done anything involving either authentication or cookies. What does the browser need to do? What does the server need to do? In what order? How do we keep things secure?

Step 1: Client > Signing up

Before anything else, the user has to sign up. The client posts a HTTP request to the server containing his/her username and password.

Step 2: Server > Handling sign up

The server receives this request and hashes the password before storing the username and password in your database. This way, if someone gains access to your database they won't see your users' actual passwords.

Step 3: Client > User login

Now your user logs in. He/she provides their username/password and again, this is posted as a HTTP request to the server.

Step 4: Server > Validating login

The server looks up the username in the database, hashes the supplied login password, and compares it to the previously hashed password in the database. If it doesn't check out, we may deny them access by sending a 401 status code and ending the request.

Step 5: Server > Generating access token

If everything checks out, we're going to create an access token, which uniquely identifies the user's session. Still in the server, we do two things with the access token:

  1. Store it in the database associated with that user
  2. Attach it to a response cookie to be returned to the client. Be sure to set an expiration date/time to limit the user's session

Henceforth, the cookies will be attached to every request (and response) made between the client and server.

Step 6: Client > Making page requests

Back on the client side, we are now logged in. Every time the client makes a request for a page that requires authorization (i.e. they need to be logged in), the server obtains the access token from the cookie and checks it against the one in the database associated with that user. If it checks out, access is granted.

This should get you started. Be sure to clear the cookies upon logout!