DEV Community

Cover image for Understand OAuth in 3 minutes
Phil the Dev
Phil the Dev

Posted on

Understand OAuth in 3 minutes

The term OAuth is likely a term on every developer's mind. But how do you break down this concept to someone just starting their coding journey, or even to someone who isn't involved in development at all? Here's my attempt to explain it 😄

What is OAuth?

OAuth, which stands for Open Authorization, is a standard protocol that allows third-party applications to access user data without exposing their password. Imagine using your university ID to check out a library book. You're not giving the librarian your login details, just proof that you're a student. The librarian doesn't see your grades or tuition details, just confirms you're allowed to borrow books.

How Does OAuth Work?

Think of when you log into a new app, and it asks if you want to log in using your Google account. Once you click 'yes', you're redirected to a Google sign-in page. Here's where OAuth comes into play.

You input your Google credentials (this is authentication, proving who you are), but instead of giving these credentials back to the original app, Google sends back a token. This token is like a temporary key, giving the app permission to access specific information from your Google account for a set amount of time.

For a visual explanation I've found the following diagram particularly helpful:

OAuth visualization

Why is OAuth Important?

OAuth plays an essential role in enhancing user experience and security. By using OAuth, users don't have to remember another set of credentials, and the application doesn't have to manage secure storage of user passwords. Plus, users can control which information they want to share and can revoke access at any time.

OAuth in a Nutshell

To put it simply, OAuth is like a digital passport. In the realm of web security, it serves as a safe and efficient way to give applications the ability to communicate with each other using tokens, instead of sharing sensitive information, like passwords.

Remember, OAuth isn't about gaining access but about giving limited access to third-party services without exposing user credentials. It's like giving the keys to your car but not your house!

Summing Up

Grasping the concept of OAuth is crucial in the modern landscape of web development and security. It's all about protecting user data while providing the flexibility of interconnected services. By understanding and implementing OAuth, we can offer a secure and streamlined user experience.

As with any security strategy, the way you implement OAuth will depend on your specific application's needs and the level of security it requires.

As always you are welcome to share your thoughts 😄

Top comments (6)

bkpecho profile image
Bryan King Pecho

Great breakdown of OAuth! The analogy with a university ID and library books simplifies the concept effectively 👏

bernardcarn profile image

This is simply a wonderful post. In the age of digital technology, where we are evolving rapidly, it's important to remember and be aware of the basic safety rules to avoid any unpleasant incidents. Considering that a significant portion of user account data and information is now stored in mobile phones, I would recommend reading a good article on protecting student data. It will help you understand what to do in case you lose your device.

ritou profile image
Ryo Ito

This document seems to contain a few explanations that might be a bit confusing to OIDC.

As a student you can borrow library books, this is closer to ABAC or RBAC.

Letting you access a user's information without passing credentials, this is OAuth as an Authentication.

kumarkalyan profile image
Kumar Kalyan • Edited

Excellent article. Wonderfully explained the core components of oauth

zpiston profile image
Sarah Willson

Great article. The question I have is that if the token google sends back is temporary then do you need to go through the auth flow every time you visit the site ?

javinpaul profile image

OAuth also makes your app simpler because you don't have to store user credential in your DB.