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SAML, which stands for Security Assertion Markup Language, is an XML-based open standard for exchanging authentication and authorization data between different parties, typically a service provider (SP) and an identity provider (IdP). SAML enables single sign-on (SSO), allowing users to log in once and gain access to multiple applications and services without needing to provide credentials for each application separately.
Key concepts and components of SAML include:
Service Provider (SP): The service provider is the application or service that the user wants to access. It relies on the identity provider to authenticate users and receive assertions about their identities.
Identity Provider (IdP): The identity provider is responsible for authenticating users and generating security assertions that vouch for the user's identity. The IdP sends these assertions to the service provider, enabling the user to access the requested service.
Assertions: Assertions are XML-based documents that contain information about the user's identity and attributes. These assertions are digitally signed by the identity provider to ensure their authenticity.
Single Sign-On (SSO): SAML enables SSO by allowing users to authenticate once with the identity provider and then access multiple service providers without having to re-enter credentials for each application.
SAML Request and Response: When a user attempts to access a service, the service provider sends a SAML request to the identity provider. The identity provider authenticates the user and generates a SAML response containing the user's identity information and attributes. This response is sent back to the service provider, allowing the user to access the service.
Metadata: SAML metadata is XML-based information that describes the endpoints, certificates, and capabilities of the identity provider and service provider. Metadata enables the parties to establish trust and configure their systems correctly.
Bindings: SAML supports different protocols for sending requests and responses, known as bindings. Common SAML bindings include the HTTP Redirect binding and the HTTP POST binding.
Authentication Context: SAML supports different levels of authentication assurance through the use of authentication context. This helps service providers make access decisions based on the strength of the authentication.
SAML is widely used for enabling secure SSO in various scenarios, such as web applications, cloud services, enterprise applications, and more. It allows organizations to centralize user authentication and access control while providing a seamless experience for users accessing multiple resources. SAML is particularly important in scenarios where identity federation is crucial, such as in collaborations between different organizations or between an organization and its partners.