Supporting Single Sign-On in a Web Browser App

Extend your web browser app to handle web authentication requests from other apps.


Apps can authenticate users through a web service using an instance of ASWebAuthenticationSession. When an app calls the authentication session’s start() method, the system asks the user’s default web browser to initiate the authentication attempt at a given URL. If the default browser doesn’t handle authentication requests, the system falls back on Safari. Either way, the designated browser loads the URL, waits for the user to authenticate, and returns a callback URL that indicates the outcome of the attempt.

If you distribute a web browser app on macOS, you can make it eligible to participate in this flow. You register the browser as a session handler, and then listen for and handle authentication requests.

Declare the Session Handling Capability

Using the Xcode property list editor, add the ASWebAuthenticationSessionWebBrowserSupportCapabilities key to your web browser’s Information Property List. For the key’s value, create a dictionary that contains the IsSupported key, with a corresponding value of YES.

Screenshot of Xcode showing the web browser support capabilities property list key.

By declaring this capability, you tell the system that your web browser app handles single sign-on requests. If the user has set your browser as the default, the system routes authentication requests to it.

Optionally, add the EphemeralBrowserSessionIsSupported key with a value that indicates whether your browser supports ephemeral browsing.

Screenshot of Xcode showing the ephemeral browser session support key.

If you don’t provide the key, or if you set its value to NO and an app tries to conduct an ephemeral authentication session, the system warns the user. If do you declare support by setting the value to YES, be sure to respect the shouldUseEphemeralSession property on any incoming authentication requests, as described below in Perform Authentication.

Listen for Authentication Requests

Adopt the ASWebAuthenticationSessionWebBrowserSessionHandling protocol in your web browser app to receive authentication requests. Choose a class that can act as the handler, and declare conformance to the protocol:

class MyAuthenticationHandler: ASWebAuthenticationSessionWebBrowserSessionHandling {
    var request: ASWebAuthenticationSessionRequest?

From within the conforming class, implement the protocol’s begin(_:) method to receive new ASWebAuthenticationSessionRequest instances. Handle the request using the data it encapsulates as described in Perform Authentication below.

func begin(_ request: ASWebAuthenticationSessionRequest!) {
    self.request = request   // Store for later.

    if request.shouldUseEphemeralSession == true {
        // Load request.url in an isolated session and wait for the callback.
    } else {
        // Load request.url and wait for the callback.

Implement the cancel(_:) method to listen for cancellations, which might happen if the calling app terminates or cancels the operation. If you have multiple requests in progress, you can use the cancellation request’s uuid property to identify the in-progress request to cancel:

func cancel(_ request: ASWebAuthenticationSessionRequest!) {
    // Abandon the request and clean up.
    self.request = nil

After implementing the interface, tell the system how to find your session handler by setting the sessionHandler property of the shared session manager. You typically do this once at startup. For example, you might set the property in your app delegate’s applicationDidFinishLaunching(_:) method:

func applicationDidFinishLaunching(_ aNotification: Notification) {
    let manager = ASWebAuthenticationSessionWebBrowserSessionManager.shared
    manager.sessionHandler = MyAuthenticationHandler()
    // The manager keeps a strong reference to your handler.

Perform Authentication

When your handler receives a new authentication request, load the URL given in the request’s url property and display the content to the user. The user interacts with the content to authenticate—for example, by entering credentials and clicking a button. The service performing the authentication indicates the outcome by redirecting the browser to a URL that uses a known callback scheme.

The request’s callbackURLScheme property tells your browser what callback scheme the service uses. When your browser detects a redirect involving this scheme, pass the entire URL back to the session manager by calling the request’s complete(withCallbackURL:) method. For example, when using the WebKit API, you can do this from the navigation delegate’s webView(_:decidePolicyFor:decisionHandler:) method:

func webView(_ webView: WKWebView,
             decidePolicyFor navigationAction: WKNavigationAction,
             decisionHandler: @escaping (WKNavigationActionPolicy) -> Void) {

    guard let url = navigationAction.request.url else { return }

    if url.scheme == request?.callbackURLScheme {
        request?.complete(withCallbackURL: url)
    } else {
        // Handle normally.

Alternatively, if the browser can’t complete the operation for any reason—for example, because the user has closed the authentication window—call the request’s cancelWithError(_:) method instead.

If you declare that your browser supports ephemeral browsing, as described above in Declare the Session Handling Capability, be sure to respect the request’s shouldUseEphemeralSession property. When this value is true, avoid using any existing browsing data, like cookies, during the authentication process. Also, avoid retaining any data collected during the authentication attempt beyond the lifetime of the attempt, or sharing it with any other session.

Handle Launch for Authentication

When your browser supports the authentication flow, the system might launch the browser specifically for the purpose of authentication. You can detect this condition by checking the wasLaunchedByAuthenticationServices property of the shared session manager.

func applicationDidFinishLaunching(_ aNotification: Notification) {
    let manager = ASWebAuthenticationSessionWebBrowserSessionManager.shared
    manager.sessionHandler = MyAuthenticationHandler()

    if manager.wasLaunchedByAuthenticationServices == true {
        // Adjust startup behavior accordingly.

Use this indicator to adjust the behavior of your browser at startup. For example, you might avoid restoring previously open windows or tabs.

See Also

Web Browser Authentication Session Support

class ASWebAuthenticationSessionWebBrowserSessionManager

A session manager that mediates sharing data between an app and a web browser.

property list key ASWebAuthenticationSessionWebBrowserSupportCapabilities

A collection of keys that a browser app uses to declare its ability to handle authentication requests from other apps.