» Google Cloud Auth Method

The gcp auth method allows Google Cloud Platform (GCP) entities to authenticate to Vault. Vault treats GCP as a Trusted Third Party and verifies authenticating entities against GCP APIs. This backend allows for authentication of:

  • IAM service accounts
  • Google Compute Engine (GCE) instances

NOTE: This backend focuses on identities specific to Google Cloud and does not support authenticating Google users (i.e. type: "authorized_user") or OAuth against Google

This plugin is developed in a separate GitHub repository at hashicorp/vault-plugin-auth-gcp, but is automatically bundled in Vault releases. Please file all feature requests, bugs, and pull requests specific to the GCP plugin under that repository.

» Quick Start

To authenticate, you will need two things:

  1. Proof-of-identity:
    • Service Account: A signed JSON Web Token (JWT), or GCP credentials with permissions to sign a JWT (see signJwt IAM API method) for this service account
    • Access to a metadata server for a GCE instance
  2. Name of a role, a binding of Vault policies and authZ restrictions preconfigured for the GCP auth backend that an entity authenticates under. Roles are either type iam, which supports either type of entity, or gce, which support only GCE instances.

» Via CLI

The default path is /gcp. If this auth method was enabled at a different path, specify -path=/my-path in the CLI. The backend takes a signed JSON Web Token (JWT) as proof-of-identity.

» Generate iam JWT and Login

Because the process to sign a service account JWT can be tedious, Vault includes a CLI helper that handles obtaining a properly-formatted and signed JWT on your client before sending an actual request to the Vault server. This process only applies to iam-type roles! For GCE instances, the JWT is automatically generated by Google and exposed as metadata.

$ vault login -method=gcp \
    role="my-role" \
    project="my-project" \
    jwt_exp="15m" \
    credentials=@path/to/signer/credentials.json \

Note that credentials must have signJwt permissions on service_account.

Optional Fields: * credentials can be omitted to default to Application Default Credentials. * service_account or project can be omitted and Vault will attempt to default to values in credentials. However, Vault will return an error if the credentials are not a valid service account key file.

For more details on each field, please run vault auth help gcp.

» Login With Existing JWT

If you already have an existing service account JWT that you generated from the API or by yourself, you can run the following command to login.

$ vault write -field=token auth/gcp/login role="my-role" jwt="eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9..."

» Obtaining gce JWT (Metadata)

GCE tokens are obtained from a GCE instance's own metadata server endpoint, service-accounts/default/identity.

You must run these example commands from the GCE instance..


curl \
  --header "Metadata-Flavor: Google" \
  --get \
  --data-urlencode "audience=http://vault/${ROLE}" \
  --data-urlencode "format=full" \

Since instances currently only support one service account, you can use default as we do to refer to the associated service account. You can also use the actual service account email or ID.

» Via the API

$ curl \
    --request POST \
    --data '{"role":"my-role", "jwt":"eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9..."}' \

See API docs for expected response.

» Configuration

Auth methods must be configured in advance before users or machines can authenticate. These steps are usually completed by an operator or configuration management tool.

  1. Enable the Google Cloud auth method:

    $ vault auth enable gcp
  2. Configure the auth method credentials:

    $ vault write auth/gcp/config \

    If you are using instance credentials or want to specify credentials via an environment variable, you can skip this step. To learn more, see the Google Cloud Authentication section below.

  3. Create a named role:

    For an iam-type role:

    $ vault write auth/gcp/role/my-iam-role \
        type="iam" \
        policies="dev,prod" \

    For a gce-type role:

    $ vault write auth/gcp/role/my-gce-role \
        type="gce" \
        policies="dev,prod" \
        bound_projects="my-project1,my-project2" \
        bound_zones="us-east1-b" \

    For the complete list of configuration options for each type, please see the API documentation.

» Google Cloud Authentication

The Google Cloud Vault auth method uses the official Google Cloud Golang SDK. This means it supports the common ways of providing credentials to Google Cloud.

  1. The environment variable GOOGLE_APPLICATION_CREDENTIALS. This is specified as the path to a Google Cloud credentials file, typically for a service account. If this environment variable is present, the resulting credentials are used. If the credentials are invalid, an error is returned.

  2. Default instance credentials. When no environment variable is present, the default service account credentials are used.

For more information on service accounts, please see the Google Cloud Service Accounts documentation.

To use this storage backend, the service account must have the following minimum scope(s):


» Vault Identity Features

This section describes features related to Vault's Identity system. Since the Identity system was released after the initial GCP auth backend plugin was released, this will generally cover features we have added in newer releases of the plugin.

» Group Aliases

Roles now have a add_group_aliases boolean parameter that adds Group Aliases to the auth response. For example, for a project $PROJECT_ID, in subfolder $SUBFOLDER_ID, in folder $FOLDER_ID, in organization $ORG_ID, the following group aliases will be added:


Note this is opt-in as it requires a project-level or organizational-level Google IAM permission resourcemanager.projects.get.

» Appendixes

» Implementation Details and Workflow

This section describes the implementation details for how Vault communicates with Google Cloud to authenticate and authorize JWT tokens. This information is provided for those who are curious, but these details are not required knowledge for using the auth method.

» IAM Login

IAM login applies only to roles of type iam. The Vault authentication workflow for IAM service accounts looks like this:

Vault Google Cloud IAM Login Workflow

  1. The client generates a signed JWT using the IAM projects.serviceAccounts.signJwt method. For examples of how to do this, see the Obtaining JWT Tokens section.

  2. The client sends this signed JWT to Vault along with a role name.

  3. Vault extracts the kid header value, which contains the ID of the key-pair used to generate the JWT, and the sub ID/email to find the service account key. If the service account does not exist or the key is not linked to the service account, Vault denies authentication.

  4. Vault authorizes the confirmed service account against the given role. If that is successful, a Vault token with the proper policies is returned.

» GCE Login

GCE login only applies to roles of type gce and must be completed on an instance running in GCE. These steps will not work from your local laptop or another cloud provider.

Vault Google Cloud GCE Login Workflow

  1. The client obtains an instance identity metadata token on a GCE instance.

  2. The client sends this JWT to Vault along with a role name.

  3. Vault extracts the kid header value, which contains the ID of the key-pair used to generate the JWT, to find the OAuth2 public cert to verify this JWT.

  4. Vault authorizes the confirmed instance against the given role, ensuring the instance matches the bound zones, regions, or instance groups. If that is successful, a Vault token with the proper policies is returned.

» Generating IAM JWT

This describes how to use the GCP IAM API method directly to generate the signed JWT with the claims that Vault expects. Note the CLI does this process for you and is much easier, and that there is very little reason to do this yourself.

» curl

Vault requires the following minimum claim set:

  "aud": "vault/$ROLE",
  "exp": "$EXPIRATION"

For the API method, expiration is optional and will default to an hour. If specified, expiration must be a NumericDate value (seconds from Epoch). This value must be before the max JWT expiration allowed for a role. This defaults to 15 minutes and cannot be more than 1 hour.

One you have all this information, the JWT token can be signed using curl and oauth2l:

OAUTH_TOKEN="$(oauth2l header cloud-platform)"

curl \
  --header "${OAUTH_TOKEN}" \
  --header "Content-Type: application/json" \
  --request POST \
  --data "{\"aud\":\"vault/${ROLE}\", \"sub\": \"${SERVICE_ACCOUNT}\"}" \

» gcloud Example

You can also do this through the (currently beta) gcloud command.

$ gcloud beta iam service-accounts sign-jwt $INPUT_JWT_CLAIMS $OUTPUT_JWT_FILE \
    --iam-account=service-account@my-project.iam.gserviceaccount.com \

» Golang Example

Read more on the Google Open Source blog.

» Generating GCE Tokens

GCE tokens can only be generated from a GCE instance. You must run these commands from the GCE instance. The JWT token can be obtained from the service-accounts/default/identity endpoint for a instance's metadata server.


curl \
  --header "Metadata-Flavor: Google" \
  --get \
  --data-urlencode "audience=http://vault/${ROLE}" \
  --data-urlencode "format=full" \


The GCP Auth Plugin has a full HTTP API. Please see the API docs for more details.