Authentication refers to the process by which a service ascertains the identity of the current user. Authorisation refers to the process by which a service determines if that user is able to perform an action.

This page describes the Technical Design Authority (TDA) standards for authentication of "natural" users. It does not apply to service-to-service authentication, sometimes known as "service account" authentication.

We use technical terminology below and this advice is intended for those delivering or developing services.

Acceptable protocols

The Technical Design Authority (TDA) requires that new or updated services use the following authentication protocols:

  1. For interactive services, e.g. web applications, authenticate users by means of one of OpenID Connect, OAuth2, SAML2 or mechanisms offered by ADFS which do not involve the service directly handling passwords.
  2. For non-interactive (e.g. shell console) services shall use one of Kerberos or LDAPS. For these use cases, prefer a "token" based system where tokens are obtained using one of the web authentication protocols above.

Only the protocols above may be used and this applies equally to services based on a third-party product and services developed "in-house".

Interactive services must not "cheat" by simply front-ending on a non-interactive service. For example, a website must not ask for a username and password and then check in the backend with an LDAPS server if the credentials are correct. Instead, the website should use the SAML2 protocol and redirect the user to the SAML2 Authentication portal.

Existing services should transition to an approved authentication mechanism as soon as practical.

Proliferation of sign in boxes

The TDA and UIS as a whole discourage users within the University from entering their credentials as a "default option" when presented with a sign in box. This is clear advice can be confused by services which provide their own sign in box UI.

Services must not provide their own sign in box UI as the recommended method of signing in. They must instead use the Raven service for sign in. A sign in box UI may be provided as a secondary means of sign in.


The install of GitLab in the University Developers' Hub encourages the use of Raven as a primary sign in. Once an account is created, users may associate their account with multiple other "social" identities or make use of a custom password. This is an example of supporting "secondary" means of authentication.

The Raven service is a member of the UK Access Management Federation (UKAMF) meaning that services which enable sign in of UKAMF via SAML 2.0 will also support Raven.

Raven currently offers two authentication protocols: SAML2 and OpenID Connect (OIDC). OAuth2 is a subset of OIDC.

If your service only supports Active Directory authentication or you have a system that requires directly handling user passwords, you should use Blue AD.