Basics of OpenID Connect (OIDC) explained

TL;DR An overview of Open ID connect: what it is, how it works, authentication flow examples.


Have you heard of OAuth 2.0? Not yet? Aouch! This article assumes that you are already familiar with the basics of OAuth 2.0. To get more information about OAuth 2.0, you can check out OAuth 2 Simplified article by Aaron Parecki.

OpenID Connect 1.0 (OIDC) is a simple identity layer on top of the OAuth 2.0 RFC6749 protocol.

OIDC specification consists of several parts, some of them are optional. In this article we will focus only of the mandatory parts:

Participants and typical workflow

OIDC introduces new terms for the client and the authorization server participants of the authentication workflow. Here are the participants:

  • End-User - a human, the owner of the protected resources.
  • Relying Party (RP) - this is a OAuth Client requesting End-User Authentication from an OpenID Provider, it relies on the information returned by the server in a secure manner.
  • OpenID Provider (OP) - this is an OAuth 2.0 Authorization Server with the capability to Authenticate the End-User and to provide information (Claims) to a Relying Party about the Authentication event and the End-User.

The simplified workflow of the authentication process is the following:

  1. The first step is exactly the same as for Authorization workflow using OAuth2 - the client application (RP) makes a request to the Authorization end point of the Authorization server (OP).
  2. The OP server first authenticates the user (redirection to login) and then obtains an authorization grant from the user (redirection to authorization page).
  3. The OP server issues an ID token(🗎) and, if requested by the client application, an access token(🔑) at the same time.
  4. The RP uses access token to retrieve additional information about the authenticated user through UserInfo endpoint.
OIDC User Authentication simplified flow
OIDC User Authentication simplified flow

As you can see, the difference between OAuth authorization flow and the OIDC authentication flow is that the Authorization server returns a new type of a token - ID Token (🗎) - along with the Access token(🔑).

To distinguish between the two types of tokens: Access token is the user’s authorization to use protected resources, ID Token is a certificate of the End-User Authentication event authenticity.

ID token

ID token allows Clients to Authenticate the End-User. The ID Token is a data structure that contains data (Claims) about the Authentication of an End-User and the End-User herself.

Here is a list of mandatory claims which are present in the ID token:

  • iss - response issuer identifier, basically the URL of the OP. For example
  • sub - subject identifier, a unique identifier of the End-User within OP. For example 56355235245 or 797766d4-4475-460f-a14d-da3e8fa6229e.
  • aud - audience(s), the list of client_id of the RP (OAuth2 Client) to whom this ID Token is intended for.
  • exp - expiration time, the expiration date (in a form of epoch timestamp) of the ID token. For example 1554241195.
  • iat - issue time, the moment(in a form of epoch timestamp) at which this token was issued. For example 1554241255.

So the minimalist ID token consists of the End-User identifier, the OP identifier, the list of RP ids this token is intended for and the token issue and expiration dates:

   "iss": "",
   "sub": "797766d4-4475-460f-a14d-da3e8fa6229e",
   "aud": "13716fb0-3873-419c-972c-9cb333907b76",
   "nonce": "n-0S6_WzA2Mj",
   "exp": 1554241195,
   "iat": 1554241255

ID token can contain some standard optional claims, any claims related to the user profile as well as any custom claims recognized by the Client.

ID token is encoded as JSON Web Token (JWT) [RFC7519] and signed using JSON Web Signature (JWS) [RFC7515]. ID token can be optionally encrypted using JSON Web Encryption (JWE) [RFC7516].

New response type

OAuth 2.0 Multiple Response Type Encoding Practices specification registers a new response type of the OAuth Authorization end point - id_token which is used to get the ID token from the Authorization serer:

When supplied as the response_type parameter in an OAuth 2.0 Authorization Request, a successful response MUST include the parameter id_token.

Getting authenticated End-User information

OIDC proposes two ways to get information about the Authenticated End-User:

  • directly in the ID token within optional claims
  • via UserInfo endpoint

Authentication process

The user can be authenticated using one of the exchange flows based on OAuth2 protocol’s flows:

  1. Authorization Code Flow (response_type=code)
  2. Implicit Flow (response_type=id_token token or response_type=id_token)
  3. Hybrid Flow ( response_type=code id_token token, response_type=code id_token , response_type=code token)

OIDC specification introduces a new type of flow - Hybrid Flow, which is, no surprise, the hybrid between Authorization and Implicit flows. The flow to use is determined by the value(s) of response_type parameter sent to authorization endpoint (/authorize in this article).

Here is a comparison table for flows.

Property Authorization Code Implicit Flow Hybrid Flow
Communication in one round trip NO (2 endpoints are involved) YES (/authorize) NO (2 endpoints are involved)
All tokens returned from Authorization Endpoint(/authorize) NO YES NO
All tokens returned from Token Endpoint (/token in this article) YES NO NO
Client can be authenticated (using client_id and client_secret) YES NO (client_secret is never sent) YES
Tokens not revealed to User Agent      
Refresh Token can be issued YES NO (client_secret is never sent) YES

The use of TLS is mandatory for all communications with the Authorization server.

Authorization Code Flow

Authorization Code Flow is mostly used for server-to-server communication. In this case a OAuth client application is a WEB server application (confidential client), where OAuth client credentials can be kept securely. In this flow a temporary code issued to the used is exchanged for tokens by the RP. This way issued tokens are not revealed to User Agent (a browser), i.e. tokens are never stored/accessed by the User Agent. When performing a request to the token end point of the OP, the client (RP) must authenticate with its credentials.

It is recommended to use Authorization Code flow whenever possible.

Here is an example of Authorization Code flow for a confidential client with the JS front-end running a browser.

Authorization Code Flow sequence
Authorization Code Flow sequence

Authorization Code Flow can be used for public clients also with additional security mesures (PKCE) to prevent the authorization code interception attack.

Implicit Flow

Implicit flow is for communication between the user application (native application or an application running in a browser) and the server. In this case we are dealing with the public client where client_secret can not be stored within the user application securely. Consequently, the client(RP) can not be authenticated by the Authorization server (OP) using OAuth client credentials. Moreover token values are stored in a browser memory and thus are more vulnerable to security threats.

This flow is less secure and should be used when Authorization Code flow is impossible. However it is faster and much simpler since tokens are obtained in a single round.

The example of the Implicit flow for the public client (JS application) running in a browser.

Implicit Flow sequence
Implicit Flow sequence


  1. Diagrams of All The OpenID Connect Flows by Takahiko Kawasaki
  2. OAuth 2.0 for Native Apps - RFC8252
  3. Proof Key for Code Exchange by OAuth Public Clients - RFC7636
  4. The OAuth 2.0 Authorization Framework - RFC6749
  5. JSON Web Token (JWT) - RFC7519
  6. JSON Web Encryption (JWE) - RFC7516
  7. JSON Web Signature (JWS) - RFC7515