Complicated Flows, OpenSocial, OpenID Connect, Discovery and Consent

I’m currently working on some projects involving a bit more complicated “flows”, than I’m used to.

We’re used to work with Identity Providers communicating with Service Providers, and that’s more or less it. What we will see, is service providers communicating with each others, and consumers retrieving information from multiple sources.

OAuth will play a significant role in this new game.

I believe our challenges and headaches are moved from complex protocols and simple flows, to maintaining a simple and intuitive user experience with simple protocols, but much more complex architectures and flows.

Here is an example that I’m currently struggling with;

We will create a Foodle OpenSocial Gadget that runs inside the SurfConext OpenSocial Container, to present an aggregated free/busy information with availability information for when members of the current group context is available for a meeting.

Here is how it will work (by default). Worth mentioning, this is the worth case scenario, much of the consent and choices are remembered for subsequent flows.

Foodle offers a Gadget, installed in a space in the SurfConext portal.

  1. The user heads to the portal.
  2. The user do Identity Provider Discovery at SurfConext.
  3. The user logs in to the IdP.
  4. The user performs consent to accept user data is sent from IdP to SurfConext.
  5. The user can now access the portal, and moves on to a space where the Foodle gadget is installed.
  6. The user will need to consent that the Foodle Gadget is accessing the OpenSocial context.
  7. The Foodle Gadget would need to establish a trusted connection with the Foodle Backend using the Foodle third-party REST API, starting the three-legged OAuth dance. This will involve a popup window.
  8. Part of the three-legged OAuth dance, first goes IdP Discovery.
  9. Next the user logs in, most likely this bullet is skipped due to Single Sign-On.
  10. User needs to consent that attributes are released from the IdP to Foodle.
  11. Then, the user needs to consent that the Foodle Gadget instance is allowed to access Foodle content on behalf of the current user.
  12. Now, the Gadget has established a trusted connection to the Foodle backend, the Foodle Gadget has access to the group context through the OpenSocial javascript API, but yet, the Foodle backend does not have access to the group context. To allow that, the Foodle backend would need to do a three-legged Oauth dance with the SurfConext Container OpenSocial REST API. And to start that the backend would need control of the user, so the Gadget has to somehow do a popup window (again).
  13. Part of the three-legged OAuth dance, the user has to consent that the Foodle Backend can access the OpenSocial conext (including group info) at the SurfConext portal OpenSocial REST API.
  14. Now, the Foodle Gadget performs a protected OAuth call to the Foodle Backend through the OpenSocial Javascript API, for the free/busy data. In the request body, the current group context is included.
  15. The Foodle Backend performs a protected Oauth call to the OpenSocial REST API to get the group members of the current group, and verifies that the current user is member of the group.
  16. The Foodle backend uses a yet to be detirmined protocol to explore the CALdav/iCalendar Free/busy endpoints for each of the group members.
  17. The Foodle backend retrieves free/busy data using CALDav or similar.
  18. The Foodle backend responds with free/busy data to the Foodle Gadget.
  19. The Foodle gadget displays the data to the end user.

This will result in an unacceptable user experience. Involving popups, and no less than 5 consent screens and two IdP discoveries.

There are tons of approaches to optimize this particular use case, but I’m more interested in the more generic solutions to the flow of this and similar integrations. So that’s one of the many things I’m thinking about these days.

Aggregated free busy is already implemented last year as one of the group-aware features on Foodle – read more…

One thought; I’ve earlier thought of the main motivation to replace SAML with OpenID Connect, would be the simpler protocol, but I’m tending to say that a simpler flow of future use cases would be the best selling point of OpenID Connect.

Aggregated FreeBusy Across Domains. Check.

These days we’re working on a cross-domain group protocol. Currently under the nick-name VOOT.

Foodle is one of the showcase applications for cross-domain groups, and we’re adding a few group releated features to Foodle to show how cross-domain groups can be useful.

I’ve also spend some time working on calendaring; and obviously scheduling things are one of the core features of Foodle, so we added a aggregated freebusy view for cross-domain groups.

Here it is:

The screenshot above shows you a group (eduGAIN) that can be accessed in any application supporting VOOT, and the view shows freebusy information from people from 6 different organisations, each with it owns calendar systems.

The default resolution is looking for 1 hour time slots of availability, but this can be set by the user. Here is a view where we look for 5 hours consecutive availability:

In the group management view, we’ve included a freebusy icon showing the current freebusy status of the group participants. Here from the UNINETT group (automatically populated based upon attributes from the federation):

Freebusy feed information has mostly been autoconfigured based on a template system per organisation – the intension is that the user should not really have to deal with that.

That said, the user may very well setup his/her own calendar feeds – people often have private and custom calendars.