Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) is an XML-based standard used for enabling Single Sign-On (SSO) between different applications and organizations. SAML allows secure authentication and authorization of users, facilitating seamless access to multiple resources with a single set of credentials.

what is saml

How Does SAML Work?

SAML operates through a process of exchanging user information between the identity provider and the service provider to facilitate simplified and secure authentication. This exchange includes login credentials, authentication status, identifiers, and other relevant attributes. The core principle of SAML is to enable users to log in just once with a single set of authentication credentials, streamlining the authentication process for multiple services.

The workflow of SAML can be summarized through the following steps:

  • User initiates access to a service or application.
  • The service provider (SP) sends a request to the identity provider (IdP) for authentication.
  • The identity provider authenticates the user by verifying login credentials and relevant attributes.
  • Upon successful authentication, the identity provider generates a SAML assertion, which contains the necessary user information and credentials.
  • The identity provider sends the SAML assertion back to the service provider.
  • The service provider trusts the SAML assertion and grants the user access to the requested service or application without requiring a separate login.

The process is analogous to voting in an election. The government acts as the identity provider (IdP) and verifies citizens' identities, while the polling station represents the service provider (SP) responsible for conducting the election. As a citizen (user), you must first register with the government (IdP) to be eligible to vote. Once your identity is verified, the government issues a voter registration card (SAML assertion) confirming your eligibility. Armed with the voter registration card (SAML assertion), you visit the polling station (SP) where election officials trust the card and grant you access to cast your vote. 

Benefits of SAML

  • Single Sign-On (SSO): SAML enables SSO, allowing users to access multiple applications with a single login, streamlining the authentication process.
  • Centralized Identity Management: SAML enables centralized identity management, allowing organizations to manage user identities, access privileges, and authentication in a unified manner.
  • Federated Identity: SAML facilitates federated identity, allowing users from one organization to access resources from another organization securely.
  • Interoperability: SAML is widely adopted and supported by various platforms and applications, ensuring interoperability across diverse IT environments.

Implementing SAML

  • Identity Provider (IdP) Configuration: Set up an Identity Provider to manage and authenticate user identities. The IdP generates SAML tokens containing user information and assertions.
  • Service Provider (SP) Configuration: Configure the Service Provider to trust the Identity Provider and accept SAML tokens for authentication.
  • Metadata Exchange: Exchange metadata between the IdP and SP, containing information about their capabilities, endpoints, and public keys.
  • SAML Assertions: Define the attributes and claims to be included in the SAML assertions, providing necessary user information for authentication and authorization.
  • Single Sign-On (SSO) Implementation: Implement the SSO flow, where users log in once at the IdP and gain access to multiple SPs without the need to re-enter credentials.
  • Signature and Encryption: Use digital signatures and encryption to ensure the authenticity and confidentiality of SAML assertions during transmission.
  • Attribute Mapping and Transformation: Map and transform user attributes between the IdP and SP to ensure consistent and accurate user information.
  • SAML Profiles: Choose appropriate SAML profiles, such as Web Browser SSO or Single Logout, based on the use case and requirements.

Related Terms

Suggested Articles