October 11, 2023
4 min read
Samuele Chiocca
Kong Champion

This post is part of our Kong Champions series, where real Kong users walk you through technical challenges, use cases, and new technology they're using in their day-to-day. Sign up here to become a Kong Champion.

As a Kong user, I've had the opportunity to dive deep into Kong's offerings. I've been actively testing all the new Kong Konnect features they rolled out in April, and I'm thoroughly impressed. These enhancements have taken functionality to a whole new level and have significantly elevated the user experience. It's exciting to see how Kong continues to innovate in the API management space.

This blog post will explore one of the latest innovations in Kong plugins: the SAML Plugin .

What is SAML?

SAML stands for Security Assertion Markup Language. It is an XML-based markup language for security assertions (statements that service providers use to make access-control decisions).

SAML vs OpenID

​​SAML and OpenID are authentication protocols with distinct purposes. 

SAML is used for enterprise Single Sign-On (SSO) scenarios, enabling centralized identity providers to authenticate users across multiple applications using XML-based assertions. 

On the other hand, OpenID focuses on decentralized authentication, allowing users to log in to various websites using existing accounts from providers like Google or Facebook through lightweight JSON Web Tokens. 

While SAML is prevalent in enterprise environments, OpenID has gained popularity in consumer-facing applications. The choice between them depends on whether centralized federation or decentralized authentication is required.

How does SAML work with Kong Gateway?

There are three actors required for a SAML authentication flow: a User, an Identity provider (IdP) and a Service Provider (SP).

In the Kong plugin, Kong itself is the Service Provider, and right now the only Identity provider supported is Microsoft Azure Active Directory with SAML 2.0.

The user initiates the connection via browser to the SP, the SP redirects to the login page of the IdP. 

In our case, Kong intercepts the user request and if no SAML session is found, it will redirect the user to the IdP. 

The plugin triggers the redirection to the Identity Provider's (IdP) login page by generating an HTML form. This form includes the authentication request details as hidden parameters and incorporates JavaScript code to automatically submit the form. This approach is necessary because the authentication parameters must be sent to Azure's SAML implementation using a POST request, which is not possible with a simple HTTP redirect response.

When the authentication process has finished, the plugin creates and maintains a session inside of Kong Gateway and a cookie in the browser is used to track the session.

How to configure Azure AD and SAML Plugin in Kong

First and foremost, let's begin by accessing Azure console and creating a SAML Enterprise Application.

Navigate to the Active Directory section and choose "Enterprise Applications."

Next, select "Azure AD SAML Toolkit" , give it a name, and click on the "Create" button.

Now, proceed to the Single Sign-On configuration and enable SAML.

Click on "EDIT" to modify the parameters and input values similar to the following:

Once done, take note of the configurations at point 4, as they will be needed for the plugin setup in Kong.

NOTE: You need some users added to your Azure AD SAML Toolkit application, under “Users and groups”.

Now let’s configure the plugin in Kong Konnect.

Start from an example service.

Create a route.

Create an anonymous consumer.

Create and configure the plugin on the service created before.

The Assertion Consumer Path will be appended to the original route that is accessed by the user, and it should be the same as the Reply URL configured on Azure.

Next, there is the Idp SSO Url that must contain the Login URL taken from step 4 on the Azure SAML configuration.

Then on the Issuer, you need to put the same Identifier (Entity ID) you put on the SAML configuration on Azure.

The last two parameters are Session Secret, which is a 32 alphanumeric character used to encrypt the session and the checkbox on Validate Assertion Signature, which in this example is disabled for demo purposes.

Test it!

You should now be able to access the route on your kong instance https://kong-proxy:8443/saml and the SAML login process should start!


In this short article, we saw how to configure SAML plugin using Kong and Azure AD. 

Get a free trial of Kong Konnect and experiment with SAML — as well as other API management capabilities!

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