Home What is the purpose of the implicit grant authorization type in OAuth 2?
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What is the purpose of the implicit grant authorization type in OAuth 2?

user2297 Published in May 25, 2018, 7:13 am

I don't know if I just have some kind of blind spot or what, but I've read the OAuth 2 spec many times over and perused the mailing list archives, and I have yet to find a good explanation of why the Implicit Grant flow for obtaining access tokens has been developed. Compared to the Authorization Code Grant, it seems to just give up on client authentication for no very compelling reason. How is this "optimized for clients implemented in a browser using a scripting language" (to quote the specification)?

Both flows start out the same (source: http://tools.ietf.org/html/draft-ietf-oauth-v2-22):

  1. The client initiates the flow by directing the resource owner's user-agent to the authorization endpoint.
  2. The authorization server authenticates the resource owner (via the user-agent) and establishes whether the resource owner grants or denies the client's access request.
  3. Assuming the resource owner grants access, the authorization server redirects the user-agent back to the client using the redirection URI provided earlier (in the request or during client registration).
    • The redirection URI includes an authorization code (Authorization code flow)
    • The redirection URI includes the access token in the URI fragment (Implicit flow)

Here's where the flows split. In both cases the redirection URI at this point is to some endpoint hosted by the client:

  • In the Authorization code flow, when the user agent hits that endpoint with the Authorization code in the URI, code at that endpoint exchanges the authorization code along with its client credentials for an access token which it can then use as needed. It could, for example, write it into a web page that a script on the page could access.
  • The Implicit flow skips this client authentication step altogether and just loads up a web page with client script. There's a cute trick here with the URL fragment that keeps the access token from being passed around too much, but the end result is essentially the same: the client-hosted site serves up a page with some script in it that can grab the access token.

Hence my question: what has been gained here by skipping the client authentication step?

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