The authn/External login flow supports the use of an arbitrary external (to the IdP) authentication mechanism. Its basic function is to provide a non-WebFlow-based integration strategy for new authentication mechanisms. As a rule, using WebFlow is better and safer, but it does require writing Java code in most cases. This is usually true for external mechanisms also, but they can in some cases be implemented with JSP alone.
By default, the External flow is defined to lack support for advanced controls such as passive or forced authentication, but this can be changed if your integration supports these features.
This login handler usually requires additional code be written in order to trigger the external authentication system. If you're simply looking to authenticate based on the presence of REMOTE_USER, refer to the RemoteUser flow.
Once control is transferred to the external path, the IdP has no control over what happens, and it will implicitly trust any information passed back through the defined interface. If that information can be manipulated, security holes may result. The deployer takes full responsibility for the security of the overall exchange.
Enabling Module (V4.1+)
For V4.1+, configuring and using this feature requires that you first enable the "idp.authn.External" module if it isn't already enabled. Systems upgraded from older releases generally come pre-enabled due to the prior state of the configuration tree.
Use conf/authn/external-authn-config.xml to configure this flow.
The shibboleth.authn.External.externalAuthnPath bean defines the flow redirection path to the resource that's used to perform the external login, by default a context-relative location. It can be modified if needed, but must be a resource with access to the container session. Modify as needed to match the location of your external interface (see the documentation on flow redirects).
Most of the usual options are available via authn/authn.properties, and some more advanced cases will require defining/adjusting bean definitions in authn/external-authn-config.xml.
The idp.authn.External.externalAuthnPath property defines the flow redirection path to the resource that's used to perform the external login, by default a context-relative location. It can be modified if needed, but must be a resource with access to the container session. Modify as needed to match the location of your external interface (see the documentation on flow redirects).
You may also dynamically derive the path to use, typically so that it can vary based on aspects of the request, by defining a bean named shibboleth.authn.External.externalAuthnPathStrategy of type Function<ProfileRequestContext,String>.
The shibboleth.authn.External.ClassifiedMessageMap is a map of exception/error messages to classified error conditions. You can make use of this map either by modifying it to understand the error or exception messages returned by your external code, or by using the map as is and passing back the literal tokens in the map from your external code via the exception or error message interface.
The ExternalAuthentication class makes up the interface between the external code and the IdP. The general flow is:
Call ExternalAuthentication.startExternalAuthentication(HttpServletRequest), saving off the result as a key.
Do work as necessary (reading request details from the attributes below). Any redirects must preserve the key value returned in step 1 because it must be used to complete the login later.
Set request attributes to communicate the result of the login back.
Call ExternalAuthentication.finishExternalAuthentication(String, HttpServletRequest, HttpServletResponse). The first parameter is the key returned in step 1.
Collection of IdPAttribute objects to associate with the authenticated subject
If true, prevents the result from being saved for future use for SSO
If true, the "new" AuthenticationResult is created with the "previousResult" flag set to true (mainly impacts auditing)
Only one "result" or error attribute should be set by the external code. Setting more than one has unspecified behavior. In most cases, the simple principalName should be returned on success, but you can return the more complex objects to pass back additional information such as public or private credentials or custom principal data.
Any IdPAttribute objects supplied will be processed by the AttributeFilter service as "inbound" data. If at least one value in the "authnAuthorities" attribute is supplied, it is set as the "issuer" of the attributes for the purposes of the filter evaluation.
Note that returning a Subject is often paired with setting the shibboleth.authn.External.addDefaultPrincipals bean (V4.0) or idp.authn.External.addDefaultPrincipals property (V4.1+) to false, to dynamically establish Principal(s) representing the authentication method used without having them overwritten. For example, your External flow's supportedPrincipals property might be defined to include both password and multi-factor authentication Principals (meaning it supports both methods), but you can return the specific method used at runtime in the Subject.
The beans defined, or expected to be defined, in authn/external-authn-config.xml follow:
In older versions and upgraded systems, this list is defined in conf/authn/general-authn.xml. In V4.1+, no default version of the list is provided and it may simply be placed in conf/global.xml if needed.