Using federated authentication with Sitecore

Current version: 10.0

Historically, Sitecore has used ASP.NET membership to validate and store user credentials. With ASP.NET 5, Microsoft started providing a different, more flexible validation mechanism called ASP.NET Identity.

ASP.NET Identity uses Owin middleware components to support external authentication providers. These external providers allow federated authentication within the Sitecore Experience Platform.


  • Uses Owin middleware to delegate authentication to third-party providers.

  • Gets claims back from a third-party provider.

Federated authentication is enabled by default. To disable federated authentication:

  • In the \App_Config\Include\Examples\ folder, rename the Sitecore.Owin.Authentication.Disabler.config.example to Sitecore.Owin.Authentication.Disabler.config.

You can use Sitecore federated authentication with the providers that Owin supports. Most of the examples in our documentation assume that you use Azure AD, Microsoft’s multi-tenant, cloud-based directory and identity management service.

Owin.Authentication supports a large array of other providers, including Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

Federated authentication works in a scaled environment.

You can use Federated Authentication for front-end login (on a content delivery server), and we recommend you always use Sitecore Identity for all Sitecore (back-end) authentication.

Sitecore 9.1.0 or later does not support the Active Directory module, you should use federated authentication instead.

Cookies and federated authentication

If you do not use Sitecore.Owin.Authentication, the default authentication cookie name is .ASPXAUTH. You can change this in the Web.config file:

<authentication mode="Forms">
    <forms name=".ASPXAUTH" cookieless="UseCookies" />

If you use Sitecore.Owin.Authentication, however, the .ASPXAUTH cookie is not used. Therefore, you must not use this cookie directly from code.

Because Sitecore.Owin.Authentication overrides the BaseAuthenticationManager class and does not use the FormsAuthenticationProvider class underneath, it is not a problem that the .ASPXAUTH authentication cookie is missing for any code that uses the AuthenticationManager class.

When using Owin authentication mode, Sitecore works with two authentication cookies by default:

  • .AspNet.Cookies – authentication cookie for logged in users

  • .AspNet.Cookies.Preview – authentication cookie for preview mode users

These cookies let users log in and log out as different users in the Experience Editor Preview mode, and view Sitecore pages as different users with different access rights.

Sitecore constructs names are constructed like this:

  • ".AspNet." + AuthenticationType + AuthenticationSource.

    • The AuthenticationType is Cookies by default and you can change it in the Owin.Authentication.DefaultAuthenticationType setting.

    • The AuthenticationSource is Default by default. It is not included in the cookie name when it is Default. The AuthenticationSource allows you to have multiple authentication cookies for the same site.

You configure Owin cookie authentication middleware in the owin.initialize pipeline.

Virtual and persistent users

Federated authentication supports two types of users:

  • Persistent users – Sitecore stores information about persistent users (login name, email address, and so on) in the database, and uses the Membership provider by default.

  • Virtual users – information about these users is stored in the session and disappears after the session is over.

There are a number of limitations when Sitecore creates persistent users to represent external users. Sitecore does not support the following features for such users:

  1. Reading and deleting roles of external users in the User Manager because these roles are not stored in Sitecore. The roles are stored in the authentication cookie, but not in the aspnet_UsersInRoles table of the core database. You cannot see the role in the User Manager at all.

  2. You cannot see permissions that are assigned to the user via role transformations  in the Access Viewer.

  3. Changing a user password. You have to change passwords in the corresponding identity provider.

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