Sun OpenSSO Enterprise 8.0 Technical Overview

The Common Domain for Identity Provider Discovery

Service providers need a way to determine which identity provider in a circle of trust is used by a principal requesting authentication. Because circles of trust are configured without regard to their location, this function must work across DNS-defined domains. A common domain is configured, and a common domain cookie written, for this purpose.

Let's suppose a circle of trust contains more than one identity provider. In this case, a service provider trusts more than one identity provider so, when a principal needs authentication, the service provider with which the principal is communicating must have the means to determine the correct identity provider. To ascertain a principal’s identity provider, the service provider invokes a protocol exchange to retrieve the common domain cookie, a cookie written for the purpose of introducing the identity provider to the service provider. If no common domain cookie is found, the service provider will present a list of trusted identity providers from which the principal can choose. After successful authentication, the identity provider writes (using the configured Writer Service URL) a common domain cookie and, the next time the principal attempts to access a service, the service provider finds and reads the common domain cookie (using the configured Reader Service URL), to determine the identity provider. More information on the Common Domain for Identity Provider Discovery is available in the following sections, and in Finding an Identity Provider for Authentication in Sun OpenSSO Enterprise 8.0 Administration Guide.

The Common Domain

The common domain is established for use only within the scope of identity provider discovery in a defined circle of trust. In OpenSSO Enterprise deployments, the identity provider discovery WAR is deployed in a web container installed in a predetermined and preconfigured common domain so that the common domain cookie is accessible to all providers in the circle of trust. For example, if an identity provider is available at, a service provider is available at, and the defined common domain is, the addresses will be and, respectively. If the HTTP server in the common domain is operated by the service provider, the service provider will redirect the user agent to the appropriate identity provider.

The Common Domain Cookie

After an identity provider authenticates a principal, the identity provider sets a URL-encoded cookie defined in a predetermined domain common to all identity providers and service providers in the circle of trust. The common domain cookie is named _liberty_idp for Liberty ID-FF and _saml_idp for SAML v2. After successful authentication, a principal’s identity provider appends their particular encoded identifier to a list in the cookie. If their identifier is already present in the list, the identity provider may remove the initial appearance and append it again. The intent is that the service provider reads the last identifier on the cookie’s list to find the principal’s most recently established identity provider.

Note –

The identifiers in the common domain cookie are a list of SuccinctID elements encoded in the Base64 format. One element maps to each identity provider in the circle of trust. Service providers then use this SuccinctID element to find the user's preferred identity provider.

The Writer Service and the Reader Service

After a principal authenticates with a particular identity provider, the identity provider redirects the principal's browser to the configured Writer Service URL using a parameter that indicates they are the identity provider for this principal. The Writer Service then writes a cookie using the parameter. Thereafter, all providers configured in this common domain will be able to tell which identity provider is used by this principal. Thus, the next time the principal attempts to access a service hosted by a service provider in the same common domain, the service provider retrieves and reads the common domain cookie, using the configured Reader Service URL, to determine the identity provider.

The Writer Service URL and the Reader Service URL can be defined for use with the Liberty ID-FF or the SAML v2 federation protocol. The URLs are defined when you create a circle of trust for federation. The Common Domain for Identity Provider Discovery for Liberty ID-FF is based on the Identity Provider Introduction Profile detailed in the Liberty ID-FF Bindings and Profiles Specifications. The Common Domain for Identity Provider Discovery for SAML v2 is an implementation of the Identity Provider Discovery Profile as described in the Profiles for the OASIS Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) V2.0 specification.