Download Attachments in Single Page App and Asp.Net Core

Introduction

If you have a SPA built with any JavaScript framework and it has an attachment feature, you must hit the part where you need to allow the user to download an attachment and the App is authenticating users using Tokens.

The problem

With normal forms authentication based on cookies the browser will simply send the authentication cookie with each request to your web server without you doing anything. If you have a link that will allow the user to download a file from your server, the browse will automatically send the authentication cookie when the user clicks the link. This makes it so easy for you. But if you are using token based authentication, it is your responsibility to send a token for each request sent to the server via Ajax by using the Authorization header.

Unfortunately, you cannot control the headers sent to the server if the user is opening a link in a new browser window and the user will end up with unauthorized request.

The solution

Download the file using Ajax Request

In this solution, you have to request the endpoint that downloads the file using Ajax Request which will include the authorization header and then get all the file content in a variable and push the content to the user. This works fine if the file size is very small. But imagine the case when you are downloading a 500MB file. This is not going to work since the file is stored in a JavaScript variable before the download takes place.

Make the API that download the attachment anonymous

If the endpoint that downloads the file doesn’t require authentication then we are good. But now the file will be available for every one to download. So, we have to find a way to secure the file even when the endpoint is anonymous.

If you have some experience with Azure Storage, you may have heard of Azure Storage Shared Access Signature. The idea is simple. When the user requests a file, generate a token, save it to a temporary storage  and append it to the URL of the download file endpoint. When the user clicks the link, the endpoint will be called and the token will be validated against the temporary storage and if it matches then send the file contents. This way we will be sure that the link was generated by the application to that user. Still, if the link was shared to another user, he will be able to download the file. But this is another issue that we can worry about later.

Implementation

We will create a new asp.net core site with an endpoint to download files but I will not create a SPA in this article. That will be left for the reader. I will test the idea though using Postman.

Open Visual Studio, Create a new project of type “Asp.NET Core Web Application” then Choose “API” in the next dialog. You can still choose “Web Application (Model-View-Controller)”. I will leave authentication to the default “No Authentication”.

Right Click on the Controllers folder and choose “New Controller”, choose “API Controlller – Empty” and name it AttachmentsController. You should end up with the following

[Produces("application/json")]
[Route("api/Attachments")]
 //[Authorize]
public class AttachmentsController : Controller
{
}

Notice that I have commented the [Authorize] attribute since I didn’t setup authentication in this demo. In real life scenario, you will setup authentication and authorization using Token based Authentication.

Create a folder named Services and then create a new interface called ISecureUrlGenerator. The content should look like the following:

   public interface ISecureUrlGenerator
    {
        string GenerateSecureAttachmentUrl(string id, string url);
        bool ValidateUrl(string url, string id);
        bool ValidateToken(string id, string token);
    }

Now, add class to implement the previous interface

using Microsoft.Extensions.Caching.Memory;
using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;

namespace SecureAttachmentsDownload.Services
{
    public class SecureUrlGenerator : ISecureUrlGenerator
    {
        private readonly IMemoryCache memoryCache;

        public SecureUrlGenerator(IMemoryCache memoryCache)
        {
            this.memoryCache = memoryCache ?? throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(memoryCache));
        }

        public string GenerateSecureAttachmentUrl(string id, string url)
        {
            var token = Guid.NewGuid().ToString().ToLower();
            StoreToken(id, token);
            var separator = url.Contains("?") ? "&" : "?";
            return $"{url}{separator}token={token}";
        }

        public bool ValidateToken(string id, string token)
        {
            var tokens = memoryCache.Get(id);
            if (tokens != null && tokens.Contains(token))
                return true;

            return false;
        }

        public bool ValidateUrl(string url, string id)
        {
            var uri = new Uri(url);
            var queryStringParams = uri.Query.Split("&");
            foreach (var param in queryStringParams)
            {
                var values = param.Split("=");
                if (values[0].ToLower() == "token")
                {
                    return ValidateToken(id, values[1]);
                }
            }

            return false;
        }

        private bool IsTokenValid(string id, string token)
        {
            var tokens = memoryCache.Get(id);
            if (tokens != null && tokens.Contains(token))
                return true;

            return false;
        }

        private void StoreToken(string id, string token)
        {
            var tokens = memoryCache.Get(id);
            if (tokens == null)
                tokens = new List();
            tokens.Add(token);

            memoryCache.Set(id, tokens);
        }
    }
}

In this implementation, I am storing the tokens in asp.net core memory cache. To enable this feature, you have to add the caching service in Starup.cs file

public void ConfigureServices(IServiceCollection services)
        {
            services.AddMemoryCache();
            services.AddMvc();
        }

You can replace the memory cache with a database if you want the tokens to be permanent and in this case you have to add an expiration date.

Before we utilize the secure URL genrator, we need a class to hold the attachments metadata since the user will request the list of attachments first and then download it.
Create a folder called Models and put the following class in it.

namespace SecureAttachmentsDownload.Models
{
    public class AttachmentMetadata
    {
        public int Id { get; set; }

        public string DownloadUrl { get; set; }

        public string Name { get; set; }

        public int FileSize { get; set; }
    }
}

Now, lets get to the part where we utilise our secure URL generator.
The flow will be as below:

  1. The user requests endpoint to return a list of attachments to be displayed to the user. Here, the DownloadUrl will have the token already. This will be secured by tokens
  2. The SPA will display this list to the user as links or buttons that the user can click to download the file. The href for the anchor tag will be the DownloadURl property
  3. The user will click the link to download the attachment
  4. The AttachmentController will be called and the endpoint will validate the token and return the file or else a 401

Open the AttachmentsController file and add the following 2 action methods

  using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.IO;
using System.Linq;
using Microsoft.AspNetCore.Authorization;
using Microsoft.AspNetCore.Hosting;
using Microsoft.AspNetCore.Mvc;
using SecureAttachmentsDownload.Models;
using SecureAttachmentsDownload.Services;

namespace SecureAttachmentsDownload.Controllers
{
    [Produces("application/json")]
    [Route("api/Attachments")]
    //[Authorize]
    public class AttachmentsController : Controller
    {
        private readonly ISecureUrlGenerator _secureUrlGenerator;
        private readonly IHostingEnvironment _hostingEnvironment;

        private readonly List Attachments = new List()
            {
                new AttachmentMetadata
                {
                    Id = 1,
                    Name = "bitcoin.pdf",
                    ContentType = "application/pdf",
                    FileSize = 1024
                },
                  new AttachmentMetadata
                {
                    Id = 2,
                    Name = "report 1.pdf",
                    FileSize = 3024
                },
                  new AttachmentMetadata
                {
                    Id = 3,
                    Name = "report 2.pdf",
                    FileSize = 2024
                }
            };

        public AttachmentsController(ISecureUrlGenerator secureUrlGenerator, IHostingEnvironment hostingEnvironment)
        {
            _secureUrlGenerator = secureUrlGenerator;
            _hostingEnvironment = hostingEnvironment;
        }

        [HttpGet]
        [Route("")]
        public IActionResult Get()
        {
            foreach (var attachment in Attachments)
            {
                var url = Url.Action(nameof(AttachmentsController.Get), "Attachments", new { attachment.Id }, Url.ActionContext.HttpContext.Request.Scheme);
                attachment.DownloadUrl = _secureUrlGenerator.GenerateSecureAttachmentUrl(attachment.Id.ToString(), url);
            }

            return Ok(Attachments);
        }

        [HttpGet]
        [Route("{id}")]
        [AllowAnonymous]
        public IActionResult Get(int id, string token)
        {
            if (!_secureUrlGenerator.ValidateToken(id.ToString(), token))
                return Forbid();

            var attachment = Attachments.FirstOrDefault(a => a.Id == id);
            if (attachment == null)
                return NotFound();

            var stream = new FileStream($"{_hostingEnvironment.WebRootPath}\\Files\\{attachment.Name}", FileMode.Open);

            return File(stream, attachment.ContentType);
        }
    }
}

Now run the application and open the URL /api/Attachments. You will get the following excepttion:

InvalidOperationException: Unable to resolve service for type ‘SecureAttachmentsDownload.Services.ISecureUrlGenerator’ while attempting to activate ‘SecureAttachmentsDownload.Controllers.AttachmentsController’.

To fix it, open the startup.cs file and add the following line to the ConfigureServices method

  public void ConfigureServices(IServiceCollection services)
        {
            services.AddMemoryCache();
            services.AddScoped ();
            services.AddMvc();
        }

Now open the URL api/attachments again and you should see the following JSON response

[
{
"id": 1,
"downloadUrl": "http://localhost:53098/api/Attachments/1?token=b78763c2-0109-4c12-b771-5f5cc5d19017",
"name": "bitcoin.pdf",
"fileSize": 1024,
"contentType": "application/pdf"
},
{
"id": 2,
"downloadUrl": "http://localhost:53098/api/Attachments/2?token=12497a4a-8f08-44ba-b9f6-914c4b484cc5",
"name": "report 1.pdf",
"fileSize": 3024,
"contentType": null
},
{
"id": 3,
"downloadUrl": "http://localhost:53098/api/Attachments/3?token=8647bb52-e47f-4580-8149-0b1d238ab0e2",
"name": "report 2.pdf",
"fileSize": 2024,
"contentType": null
}
]

As you can see, the downloadUrl property has the absolute URL for the file and the `token` query string parameter is appended. If you open the first link in a new browser window, the Action Get(id) will be called and the token will be bound to the parameter token.
In my implementation, I have put some files in a folder called Files under the wwwroot folder. But in actual projects, you may retrieve the files from a Database, FTP or any Document Management System.

If you want to make sure that it is really working, just try to change any character in the token query string and you should get a forbid response from the server. In this example you will get an exception: InvalidOperationException: No authenticationScheme was specified, and there was no DefaultForbidScheme found.
This is because I didn’t configure the authentication middleware.

You can find the source code for this article on GitHub.

This implementation has as flaw. The list of attachments are returned with the download URL and the tokens are saved in memory. If the user didn’t click the link but after sometime, the tokens may have been already expired. So, either you save the tokens in a DB or you before clicking the link, fire an Ajax request to an endpoint that gets the metadata for a single attachment. This way, the downloadUrl will be always fresh and working.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment below.

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Web API with windows authentication on asp.net Core 2

Most REST services that are being built using asp.net core now are using token based authentication either using asp.net core authentication middleware or third party products such as Identity Server. But, sometimes you only need to build your APIs for intrenal use within your organization who happens to be using Windows Authentication.

In this point, I will explain how to build a web API that utilizes AD for authentication and AD groups for authorization and how to integrate it with authorization policies.

Creating the project

Open Visual Studio 2017, Create new asp.net core Web Application and name it AspnetCoreWindowsAuth, then press Ok. Choose Web API as a project Template and Change the authentication method to Windows then press Ok to create the project.

If you select the project in the solution explorer and press F4, you will find nothing to set the authentication mode to Windows and enable/disable anonmous access just like you used to do in normal MVC web application. This is because it is moved to the launchsettings.json file under the properties folder. If you want to change it, you have to open the file and edit the value of the json property iisSettings which looks like below:

IIS SettingsYou can also modify the URL and SSL settings.

Now, if you run the project, it will run just fine and you can call the default Values controller and see the output and even windows authentication will be working as well and you can get the name of the logged in user using the User.Identity.Name property and it will return the Domain\\username although we didn’t add any authentication code yet in the pipeline

Add windows authentication middleware

Now, lets add the authentication middleware into the request processing pipeline. Add the line  app.UseAuthentication(); in the Configure method just before the  app.UseMvc(); . Remeber that the middlewares run in the same order they were added in the Configure method.

Add the following code in the ConfigureServices method before the services.AddMvc();

services.Configure(options =>
{
options.AutomaticAuthentication = true;
});

services.AddAuthentication(IISDefaults.AuthenticationScheme);

To make sure this is working fine, you can edit the Authorize attribute on the ValuesController and add the role name which should be an AD group name, ex: Employees

[Authorize(Roles ="Employees")]

Now you have asp.net core working fine with Active Directory and you can can authenticate the users according to the AD groups they belong to.

Using Authorization Policies

If you need more fine grained control over your controllers and you need to add more authorizastion logc, then you can go for authorization policies and it is really easy to configure as you can see below. Just add the following lines in the ConfigureServices method before the AddMvc statement

services.AddAuthorization(options =>
{
options.AddPolicy("OnlyEmployees", policy =>
{
policy.AddAuthenticationSchemes(IISDefaults.AuthenticationScheme);
policy.RequireRole(""S-1-5-4");
});
});

Here we defined a policy called OnlyEmployees and it requires the users to be windows authenticated and in the Role named Employees which is eventually mapped to AD group named employees. Notice that I didn’t write the name Employees in the RequireRole method. Instead, the value “S-15-4” was used, which is the SID for the AD Group named Employees. I found that this is how the group names are mapped to Roles in asp.net core and even if you tried to retrive the list of claims that the user have, it will translate to all SIDs of the groups that the user belongs to in AD.

To utilize this policy you have to annotate the controller or method with it as below

[Authorize(Policy = "OnlyEmployees")]
[Route("api/[controller]")]
public class ValuesController : Controller
{

}

By now you should have a working solution that depends on windows authentication and AD groups. Notice that this will only work with windows and most probably IIS.

You can find the code on GitHub if you want to use it or add to it.

https://github.com/haitham-shaddad/aspnetcore-windows-auth