ACS Now Supports Federated Signout

For all of us who gave identity federation a try, federated signout has probably been a theme of some controversy. If your application supports it, you might have had to explain to users why logging out of your application also means that they are logged out to all other applications that happen to use the same Identity Provider. But if your application does not support it, you might have had a discussion or two about why the logoff functionality “does not work” – meaning that a user that is logged off can log back in to your application with re-authenticating to the Identity Provider.

This is a conceptual problem that, to my mind, is not quite solved yet. And it may prove impossible to solve as long as we don’t rethink the concepts of logging in and out of web applications. For example, if I use my Microsoft Account (formerly known as LiveID) to logon to some random web application and then log off again, I might be surprised that I am also logged out of the Windows Azure Management Portal, my Office365 environment, and my MDSN Subscriber pages. That’s not what I want if I click ‘Logoff’ at randombobswebshop.com. On the other hand, if I click logoff and browse away, and then return after a while, I am probably surprised to see that I am logged back in again without re-submitting my credentials. Now I’m a technical guy, and I will probably have noticed my browser flickering due to the redirects to the Microsoft Logon Page and back, but my manager – or my girlfriend for that matter – may not be as perceptive as me.

As said, this problem may very well turn out not to have a technical solution. It is, however, an interesting topic for more philosophically inspired moments. But no matter where you stand on this matter, if you used Azure Access Control Service you did not really have a choice whether to implement federated signout or not, simply because ACS did not support it. Attempting to send the correct messages to ACS simply resulted in a static page that made the omission clear.

Recently, however, I discovered that ACS has been updated to support federated signout. The update apparently happened back in December 2012, so it took me quite a while to stumble upon this new feature, but here is how to use it from an ASP.NET application that acts as a Relying Party and uses WIF:

var config = FederatedAuthentication.FederationConfiguration.WsFederationConfiguration;
WSFederationAuthenticationModule.FederatedSignOut(new Uri(config.Issuer), new Uri(config.Reply));

Simple, right? So now we cannot hide behind the limited signout functionality in ACS anymore when we have to choose whether or not to support federated signout. So I guess that leaves no alternative than to really start thinking about the experience we want our users to get used to.

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