Session Authentication Example For Phoenix 1.3 Using Guardian 1.0-beta

If you are in a hurry you can just copy all of the code and paste it into the file that is indicated. There are also a few mix commands to run.

UPDATE: This article was written about the beta version and things have changed slightly. This article is still mostly accurate, but there is a more up-to-date version of this tutorial in the Guardian Repo.

Recently I have been programming in Elixir for work, and wanted to play around with Phoenix for a personal project. My project needed to have different “zones” of authentication:

  • logged in
  • maybe logged in

I created a small example project to test authentication (github link), which we will re-produce in this post.

Demo of the example app

0) Create a Phoenix Application

For this exercise I created a new Phoenix application called auth_ex (authentication_example) by running:

## On the command line
mix auth_ex

If you already have an application you don’t need this step, just note that file paths will be different, and to replace occurences of :auth_ex with the atom for your project.

1) Specify Dependencies

We are going to be using Guardian (currently version 1.0-beta) for authentication, and Comeonin (with bcrypt) for our password hashing. Add the dependencies to your mix.exs file:

## mix.exs
defp deps do
{:guardian, "~> 1.0-beta"},
{:comeonin, "~> 4.0"},
{:bcrypt_elixir, "~> 0.12"}

2) Create a User Model

Guardian uses Json Web Tokens (JWT) to keep track of sessions by storing claims in an encoded JSON object. For our project, we will be doing a simple claim based on a user model. Generate your user model like this, unless you already have one in your project:

## On the command line
mix phx.gen.context Auth User users username:string password:string

3) Implement Guardian Callbacks

Now that we have a user model, we need to implement a few callback functions that Guardian relies on for using our model:

## lib/auth_ex/auth/guardian.ex
defmodule AuthEx.Auth.Guardian do
use Guardian, otp_app: :auth_ex
  alias AuthEx.Auth
  def subject_for_token(user, _claims) do
{:ok, to_string(}
  def resource_from_claims(claims) do
user = claims["sub"]
|> Auth.get_user!
{:ok, user}
    # If something goes wrong here return {:error, reason}

The subject_for_token needs to return something that can identify our user, so we will return the id field. The resource_from_claims is just the opposite, where we extract an id from the claims of JWT, then return the matching user.

4) Password Hashing

We added :comeonin and :bcrypt_elixir to our dependencies for having the passwords we are storing. This happens in two places.

First is when a new user is created, the incoming request gives us a plain-text password, and we will need to hash it before storing it in our database. Alter the user model’s changeset like so:

## lib/auth_ex/auth/user.ex
alias Comeonin.Bcrypt
def changeset(%User{} = user, attrs) do    
|> cast(attrs, [:username, :password])
|> validate_required([:username, :password])
|> put_pass_hash()
defp put_pass_hash(%Ecto.Changeset{valid?: true, changes: %{password: password}} = changeset) do
change(changeset, password: Bcrypt.hashpwsalt(password))
defp put_pass_hash(changeset), do: changeset

Now we will also need a way to check the username and password we receive on a login request are valid. For that we will add a new function in the auth context, where will look for the user based on the username, and then check that the hash of the password matches what was in the database:

## lib/auth_ex/auth/auth.ex
alias Comeonin.Bcrypt
def authenticate_user(username, plain_text_password) do
query = from u in User, where: u.username == ^username
|> check_password(plain_text_password)
defp check_password(nil, _), do: {:error, "Incorrect username or password"}
defp check_password(user, plain_text_password) do
case Bcrypt.checkpw(plain_text_password, user.password) do
true -> {:ok, user}
false -> {:error, "Incorrect username or password"}

5) Config

Next we need to add a bit of configuration. First generate yourself a secret, which will be used by Guardian to secure the JWTs that your application generates:

## On the command line
mix guardian.gen.secret

Then add this to your config.exs file:

## config.exs
config :auth_ex, AuthEx.Auth.Guardian,
issuer: "auth_ex", # Name of your app/company/product
secret_key: "" # Replace this with the output of the mix command

Note that in a production environment the secret_key is a secret and should not be hard-coded into your configuration file or checked into Github; you should replace it with an environment variable, but that is outside the scope of this post.

6) Pipelines

Now its time to create the pipleines for the different “zones” of authentication in the application (maybe-logged-in and definitely-logged-in). We will create the “base” pipeline first, which is our “maybe logged in” pipeline. The other pipeline will leverage this one, and be defiend in our router. This pipeline checks for a resource (a user) but does not reject the request if one is not found:

## lib/auth_ex/auth/pipeline.ex
defmodule AuthEx.Auth.Pipeline do
use Guardian.Plug.Pipeline,
otp_app: :auth_ex,
error_handler: AuthEx.Auth.ErrorHandler,
module: AuthEx.Auth.Guardian
  # If there is a session token, validate it
plug Guardian.Plug.VerifySession, claims: %{"typ" => "access"}
  # If there is an authorization header, validate it
plug Guardian.Plug.VerifyHeader, claims: %{"typ" => "access"}
  # Load the user if either of the verifications worked
plug Guardian.Plug.LoadResource, allow_blank: true

We will also have to create an error handler, which in our case will just return some text with the error:

## lib/auth_ex/auth/error_handler.ex
defmodule AuthEx.Auth.ErrorHandler do
import Plug.Conn
  def auth_error(conn, {type, _reason}, _opts) do
body = to_string(type)
|> put_resp_content_type("text/plain")
|> send_resp(401, body)

7) Controller

Its time to setup our controller so that we can wire together the functionality we need to test our new pipeline. For my example I am just using the exisintg PageController with some login/logout stuff added on:

## lib/auth_ex_web/controllers/page_controller.ex
defmodule AuthExWeb.PageController do
use AuthExWeb, :controller
  alias AuthEx.Auth
alias AuthEx.Auth.User
alias AuthEx.Auth.Guardian
  def index(conn, _params) do
changeset = Auth.change_user(%User{})
maybe_user = Guardian.Plug.current_resource(conn)
message = if maybe_user != nil do
"Someone is logged in"
"No one is logged in"
|> put_flash(:info, message)
|> render("index.html", changeset: changeset, action: page_path(conn, :login), maybe_user: maybe_user)
  def login(conn, %{"user" => %{"username" => username, "password" => password}}) do
Auth.authenticate_user(username, password)
|> login_reply(conn)
  defp login_reply({:error, error}, conn) do
|> put_flash(:error, error)
|> redirect(to: "/")
  defp login_reply({:ok, user}, conn) do
|> put_flash(:success, "Welcome back!")
|> Guardian.Plug.sign_in(user)
|> redirect(to: "/")
  def logout(conn, _) do
|> Guardian.Plug.sign_out()
|> redirect(to: page_path(conn, :login))
  def secret(conn, _params) do
render(conn, "secret.html")

We will also need to update the index.html.eex to provide a place to log in an logout. This page will be visible regardless of if someone is logged in or not, but it will use the maybe_user value from our controller to present different things for each case:

## lib/auth_ex_web/templates/page/index.html.eex
<h2>Login Page</h2>
<%= if @maybe_user == nil do %>
<%= form_for @changeset, @action, fn f -> %>

<div class="form-group">
<%= label f, :username, class: "control-label" %>
<%= text_input f, :username, class: "form-control" %>
<%= error_tag f, :username %>
    <div class="form-group">
<%= label f, :password, class: "control-label" %>
<%= password_input f, :password, class: "form-control" %>
<%= error_tag f, :password %>
    <div class="form-group">
<%= submit "Submit", class: "btn btn-primary" %>
  <% end %>
<% else %>
<h1>Hello <%= @maybe_user.username%>!</h1>
<span><%= link "Logout", to: page_path(@conn, :logout), method: :post%></span>
<% end %>

And define the secret.html.eex file, which will only be visible to users that are logged in:

## lib/auth_ex_web/templates/page/secret.html.eex
<h2>Secret Page</h2>
<p>You can only see this page if you are logged in</p>

8) Router

Now that everything is ready we can tie it all together by adding this in the router.ex file:

## lib/auth_ex_web/router.ex
pipeline :auth do
plug AuthEx.Auth.Pipeline
pipeline :ensure_auth do
plug Guardian.Plug.EnsureAuthenticated
# Maybe logged in scope
scope "/", AuthExWeb do
pipe_through [:browser, :auth]
  get "/", PageController, :index
post "/", PageController, :login
post "/logout", PageController, :logout
# Definitely logged in scope
scope "/", AuthExWeb do
pipe_through [:browser, :auth, :ensure_auth]
  get "/secret", PageController, :secret

A couple things are happening here. We are defining two new pipes, :auth and :ensure_auth. The first one just calls the pipeline we created in step 6, and the second one is just composed of a single Guardian Plug that makes sure that somone is logged in.

Using the pipelines works as you would expect, just note that for the definitely-logged-in scope we construct the pipe_through using :auth and then :ensure_auth together (along with the default browser pipeline).


Since I didn’t create any of the forms for my user model I will just create one my opening up an iex session and creating a user via Repo. Enter into an iex session:

## On the command line
iex -S mix

And then create a user:

## On the command line (in a iex session)
AuthEx.Auth.create_user(%{username: "tyler", password: "elixir"})

Now we are ready to test. As usual startup your phoenix app by running:

## On the command line
mix phx.server

And open up localhost:4000 in your browser, where you will be able to login and logout of our application. Also test localhost:4000/secret in each state to observe that it is protected by the :ensure_auth pipeline from our router.

Github Repo

A completed working example of this code can be found here in a Github repository.