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Authentication

Choosing an authentication strategy with Fauna

Rob Sutter|May 5th, 2021|

Categories:

Authentication

Nearly every app you create requires some level of authentication to identify valid users. The most basic form of authentication requires users to provide credentials such as a username and password to access your application. However, authentication and identity requirements can quickly expand beyond username and password verification. Fauna provides constructs to support basic, Fauna-native authentication. Fauna also offers integration with third-party Identity as a Service (IDaaS) providers like Okta that satisfy a broader range of identity requirements for your applications. How you address your identity-related requirements depends on the complexity of those requirements and the resources you have to implement your chosen strategy.

This post explores the pros and cons of each strategy for authenticating with Fauna and guides you in selecting an overall identity strategy for your Fauna applications. You learn how to implement basic Fauna authentication using blueprints, Fauna Query Language (FQL) code that you can import and use in your applications. Finally, you review a sample application skeleton for building applications with an IDaaS provider.

Authentication with Fauna

Using Fauna’s built-in authentication allows you to build your application quickly without signing up for additional services, especially if your application has simpler authentication requirements. Start with the FQL Login function, then add customized functionality with FQL user-defined functions (UDFs). Fauna’s built-in authentication allows you to place metadata on the tokens that you create, providing you with full control over the authentication information you store. Tokens are documents, so you can update them with the same ACID transaction benefits that Fauna provides the rest of your data.

Implementing authentication with Fauna can reduce ongoing subscription expenses by avoiding the cost of an additional service, but does not offer a broader set of identity capabilities if your requirements are more complex. Fauna authentication is also available on all plans, which can save you money on Fauna as well. Finally, authentication using Fauna can be more performant. There are no round-trips to the IdP to verify claims, and requests do not have to include the JWTs used by third-party providers.

Authentication with identity providers

IDaaS providers offer advanced functionality like sophisticated account recovery flows, multi-factor authentication, complex authentication policies, and OAuth2 support. They also provide user-friendly dashboards that enable you to manage roles and users without writing additional code. Building and maintaining this functionality yourself can be expensive and requires specialized domain knowledge. Using an IDaaS provider can be a good choice when you have complex identity requirements beyond basic username and password authentication and you don’t want to build these capabilities on your own.

If you already use Auth0 or Okta as your IDaaS provider, you can authenticate your existing users to Fauna by creating an AccessProvider. This allows you to add functionality to your existing applications without requiring your users to create new accounts or change their passwords. IdPs also simplify single sign-on (SSO) or social login workflows, reducing signup friction for new users.

Total cost of ownership (TCO), including development and maintenance costs, can be lower over time with IDaaS providers. Writing your own code for authentication can be complicated and consume a lot of development time. This time is spent on functionality that is not differentiated and could be used to create customer value.

Choosing between Fauna and identity providers

Each authentication strategy has its strengths, but how should you choose a strategy that is best for your application?

Complexity of your authentication requirements

If you are implementing a system and require the advanced features that an IDaaS platform provides, including a robust user interface, choose an IDaaS provider. If your authentication requirements are simpler or you intend to build your own functionality to satisfy the more advanced identity requirements, you can start by implementing authentication with Fauna using authentication blueprints and expand as your requirements grow.

Existing relationship with an identity provider

If you already use Auth0 or Okta as an IdP for your applications, you should continue to use them with Fauna. You benefit from a familiar experience, and any customization you have done with the provider becomes available to you in Fauna.

Speed to first delivery

If your authentication requirements are basic, you want to ship the first version of your product as quickly as possible, and you are not already using an IDaaS provider, you should implement authentication in Fauna. Minimizing the amount of new information you need to learn helps you deliver your first version quickly and begin iterating on customer feedback.

Total cost of ownership versus additional subscriptions

If you have development expertise around identity and want to minimize your number of service subscriptions then you should choose Fauna for authentication. You can implement Fauna authentication on any plan, including the free tier, and you do not need to provide any additional information to a third-party IDaaS provider. Note that if you have a small number of users, you may fall within your IDaaS provider’s free tier. See their pricing for more information.

If TCO concerns are more important, the choice is more nuanced. In this case, you should perform an analysis of the cost to develop and maintain the features you require and compare that cost to the subscription cost of a third-party IDaaS provider.

Implementing authentication with Fauna blueprints

Blueprints are opinionated FQL implementations of common tasks. You can include blueprints in your application and create resources like UDFs in your database with minimal effort. To learn more about blueprints, including how to include them in your database, see the GitHub repo.

Fauna provides blueprints for implementing the following authentication tasks in FQL:

Implementing third-party authentication

This blog post walks you through the process of setting up SSO authentication with Auth0 and Fauna. You implement authentication using Auth0’s React SDK, providing integration with social login out of the box.

You can also browse and implement a login flow with Auth0 and React using this skeleton application. The application retrieves the user and access token from Auth0 and directly accesses Fauna with the JWT. For additional details, including setup instructions, see the GitHub repo.

Conclusion

Regardless of which approach you choose, authentication is a critical component of any application, and identity needs regularly expand beyond basic authentication. In this post, you compared authenticating with Fauna and a third-party IDaaS provider. You learned how to select an authentication strategy for your Fauna applications and how to implement your chosen strategy with sample code.

Sign up for a free Fauna account and start building your next application today!

If you enjoyed our blog, and want to work on systems and challenges related to globally distributed systems, serverless databases, GraphQL, and Jamstack, Fauna is hiring!

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