Advice from my Experience with OAuth

I recently finished coding the OAuth authentication method for accessing Picasa photos from within Darkroom. Since it was written client side using JavaScript I was trying to be as minimalist as possible, so I wrote my own minimal implementation rather than using a library. I’m sure most developers using OAuth use a library, which is probably why it’s hard to find advice on writing your own implementation, so I thought I’d share some tips, FAQ style.

Use the right documentation.
There’s a lot of outdated docs out there. I frequently find myself at OAuth Core 1.0 Revision A, and it’s such a pretty page and easy on the eyes, but way at the top where you’re likely to miss it is a notice saying it’s obsolete. The notice says to use RFC 5849: The OAuth 1.0 Protocol and, although hideous, it’s up to date and more complete.

How’s the signature algorithm written?
Here’s some pseudo-code:

If you’re writing in JavaScript as well I recommend Crypto-JS.

What’s the format for the timestamp?
It’s just a UNIX timestamp (in seconds).

How do I generate a nonce value?
The OAuth spec just says it’s a random string. I think the Google documentation says something about using a string representation of a 64 bit integer. I had no idea what they were talking about, but somewhere I read you just need to md5 hash a random integer, and it worked for me.

If developing for a Google service, use their OAuth playground.
Their OAuth Playground is a great way to see the process you have to go through and what the requests look like. If trying to authenticate with another provider see if they also have an API test app.

Don’t expect detailed errors.
You’ll be lucky if the response tells you “signature invalid”, but you won’t be told what’s wrong with it. My strategy was to compare my signatures and parameters to those used by the Google Playground; taking values from there that you know are valid and using them to test your code is a good way to debug.

The scope parameter has to EXACTLY match the URLs used in your API calls
In the Google OAuth Playground, selecting “Picasa Web” will input “” for the scope. Note the use of https:// for the protocol. If you make API calls using that URL, it will fail since none of the Picasa services are served over https. If you try to make calls using regular http you will get an OAuth error saying invalid scope. In order for it all to work, you have to use “” for the scope.


Setting up SSL on Apache

While locally testing Darkroom over HTTPS, Firefox gave me the following error: “Error code: ssl_error_rx_record_too_long”. Turns out I’d never configured the Apache instance on my laptop to use SSL.

Once you’ve got the right information it’s really quick to fix. Here’s 2 links that I found helpful:

Generating an SSL Certificate with Apache+mod_ssl
Has the commands you need for generating a self signed certificate.

If while generating the certificate you get the error “unable to write ‘random state'”, you’ll need to chown the .rnd file (sudo chown user:group ~/.rnd) and try again.
I put all the generated files in /etc/apache2/ssl/.

How to get Apache to do both HTTP and HTTPS on one IP address?
Shows the basic Apache configuration needed for HTTPS. To get HTTPS working, I just copied my existing virtual host definition, modified it to use the port 443, and added the SSLEngine, SSLCertificateFile, and SSLCertificateKeyFile directives.

Here’s a copy of my file: