Allow retrieving an expired token

bp allow-expired

Since the services split, OpenStack has had a problem with long running operations that reuse the user token timing out. An example of this is nova initially validating a user token successfully, then it requests an image from glance, but in the mean time the token expires and so glance rejects the token. This makes debugging timeouts harder and has resulted in services doing operations as the service user instead of the user in order to refresh the token.

Problem Description

OpenStack services only communicate with each other over the public REST APIs that regular users have access to. A side effect of this is when one does service to service communication, as it goes through the same token authentication process regardless of whether the user has previously been validated by another service.

Because keystone tokens are bearer tokens the easiest way to accomplish this continuous user authentication was to have the service reuse the same token when communicating with others. This works most of the time, however there is an edge case that if the token expiry period is crossed between when the user submits a token and the service passes the token on, then token validation will fail. At scale, this edge case becomes a serious problem and is a negative experience for users because the operation may have been running for a significant time before failure occurs. It also presents a difficult rollback operation for services because initial service to service requests may succeed which then cannot be rolled back with the expired token.

We essentially need a way to have auth_token middleware give information of expired tokens to the services in situations where the token has already been validated by an existing trusted service.

As inter-service communication happens over public APIs, a problem arises because there is no way to know when a user’s request entered a deployment. For example, consider glance, which is unaware of whether a user wanted to list images or if nova is performing the operation on behalf of a user.

Proposed Change

One way to determine if a token is being reused on behalf of a service is to allow the service to submit its token along with the request. This is something which is already done in some scenarios for joint ownership of resources.

Keystone/auth_token middleware should support that if a token is submitted to it along with an “X-Service-Token” with a service role (to distinguish it from any old user trying to use an expired token) we should take that to mean the token has been previously validated by a service we trust and accept the token and fill the data expect by a service.

The keystone side of this is fairly simple. We add a flag ?allow_expired=1 to the existing GET /auth/tokens validation route that allows fetching an expired token. The length of how long an expired token should be fetchable for should be configurable on the server to prevent infinite reuse.

In auth_token middleware when a valid (must not be expired) service token is presented with a request, the auth_token will make a validation request that may return an expired token and fill this data for use by the service.

Then services who are making service to service requests using a user token must also provide their current service token with a request to skip user token expiry checking.


Keystone vs auth_token middleware

There have been a few opinions on whether auth_token middleware should be responsible for setting the allow_expired flag or whether both tokens should be submitted to keystone and the server be responsible for assessing the validity of the service token.

On one hand the addition of the allow_expired flag is not a security risk so long as it is explicit opt-in behaviour. Thus so long as auth_token middleware is only setting the flag at the appropriate place there is no additional need to have keystone make this determination.

A downside to having this determination in auth_token middleware is that there is no oslo.policy enforcement in auth_token middleware. It is therefore more difficult to set rules on the service token that allow this behaviour (in keystone it would simply be “validate_token: service_role:service” for allow expired). Therefore, we either need to add oslo.policy to auth_token middleware or provide a simple service_token_roles config option for validating the service token in middleware.


Fixup trusts or OAuth to make them more generally usable.

Security Impact

This changes the security profile of OpenStack, it is actually to make it more secure. A token validator needs to opt into this scheme, and thus it cannot be used to unrevoke tokens etc. The exception is when one service calls another, that call will be made using a service token in conjunction with the users token. Thus, it is the services identity that is the link in the chain for authorization. This is already the case.

The most important benefit will be from the shortening of the expiry times of tokens. Tokens used as a proxy for authentication should be used within a few minutes of issuance. This change will allow that to happen.

Notifications Impact

When a token is validated, it will need to annotate the use of this flag, both presence and absence.

Other End User Impact

Directly the change will be only in the validation API called by middleware. Indirectly, token expiration times can drop, and other services will need to react accordingly. Horizon especially will have to re-authenticate far more often than it does now.

Performance Impact

Interservice communication will now include a service token which is validated separately. At this time keystone does not support doing multiple token validations at once so this is another validation request for each request. This is a cacheable operation.

A positive outcome of this change would be for deployers to move to shorter token expiry and there are performance implications of this. Two are:

  • Shorter term tokens will mean more tokens are issued. However token reuse is not particularly good within OpenStack anyway and so at least for the immediate future, usage patterns would probably not change.
  • WebUI should be made aware of the shorter token timeouts and provide a mean to refresh. Since WebUIs do not cache the users credentials, there will likely be a push to explicitly extend the lifespan of unscoped tokens when fetched from Horizon or other specific web UIs, but that is beyond the scope of this spec. Alternatively, Horizon could be provided a Service Token.

For completeness these are added, however moving to a shorter default token period is not the goal of this spec. For now we are primarily worried about the long running operation case.

Other Deployer Impact

In the long term, each service policy file should indicate the roles that a service token needs to have in order to make use of this feature. Ideally, the roles will be more granular than just “service.”

UUID tokens stored in the database will require holding on to expired tokens in order to honor this change, which means providing a larger window for token flush. PKI tokens that are not stored in the database (or have been flushed) will require the full token body to honor this change.

Developer Impact

When writing service to service communication developers will have to know to pass an X-Service-Token.



Primary assignee:
Jamie Lennox <>
Other contributors:
Adam Young <>

Work Items

  • Add flag to Keystone server API
  • Add flag to keystoneclient which performs the token validation step.
  • Add step to keystonemiddleware that uses the above flags when a service token is present.
  • Modify service to service communication to start passing a service token.



Documentation Impact

Beyond the standard API documentation, this could be considered a surprising behaviour and significant change. It should be well advertised and documented.


None yet.