Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Google Sign-In 2.0 - Server-side

There have been a couple of questions lately about server-side access when using the new Google Sign-In functionalities, so I've put together this article to cover some possible use-cases.

User verification

Probably the simplest case is when you only want to verify on the server-side who the currently signed-in user is, e.g. to load user-specific data/settings for them. For this you can use the most basic sign-in implementation, securely send the ID token to the server and use one of the Google API Client Libraries to verify the token and get user information from it.


On the client side you wait for the sign-in success event to trigger, get the id_token from the authenticated user and send it to your server. You should always send the id_token via HTTPS for security reasons. On the server side (in this case using Python with Flask) you use the Google API Client library to verify the id_token and then use the information you get in what ever way you need. Please note that in this case you won't be able to make calls to Google APIs on behalf of the user. Here's the information you can get about the user from the id_token: I would highly recommend to read this article about ID-Tokens.

Optional server-side offline access

If you offer a web-service that will do something on behalf of the user while they are not online, I would recommend to make this an opt-in service after the user has signed-in.

E.g. if your service offers sending news to a user via the Google Glass Mirror API, they could sign-in to your website first, pick the news categories they are interested in and then "flip a switch" to enable "offline access".

For this you would have the normal basic sign-in flow on the client-side. You can then use the ID token as before to check if the user already has offline access authorized (i.e. you have credentials stored for their user ID already). If there is no offline access yet you can display an extra button to go through the grantOfflineAccess flow to get a one-time code which can be exchanged for access and refresh tokens on the server side. On the server-side you can then use the client-library to exchange the code for credentials that can be stored to act on behalf of the user at any point. grantOfflineAccess will always cause a pop-up to show for the user requesting offline access. This is the only way to get a refresh token, also in case you lost a previous one.

Necessary server-side offline access

If your service won't work without offline access (would be curious to hear your use-cases here) and you don't want your users to go through two sign-in steps, things get a little bit more difficult on the client-side (while you can still use the same server.py as above). You can't use the default sign-in button for this, since this flow always runs without granting offline access. Instead you have to use your own custom button (make sure to create it following the branding guidlines) which calls grantOfflineAccess.

For "old" users that come to your website again calls gapi.auth2.init will initalize an immediate sign-in flow which you can catch with the isSignedIn listener to check for existing credentials as before (just in case you lost them). For "new" users the grantOfflineAccess flow will return a code which you can exchange as above, and at the same time authenticate the user on the client side as well (calling your isSignedIn listener).

I hope this answers some of the questions you have, feel free to comment if you have more :)

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