»Identity Secrets Engine

Name: identity

The Identity secrets engine is the identity management solution for Vault. It internally maintains the clients who are recognized by Vault. Each client is internally termed as an Entity. An entity can have multiple Aliases. For example, a single user who has accounts in both GitHub and LDAP, can be mapped to a single entity in Vault that has 2 aliases, one of type GitHub and one of type LDAP. When a client authenticates via any of the credential backend (except the Token backend), Vault creates a new entity and attaches a new alias to it, if a corresponding entity doesn't already exist. The entity identifier will be tied to the authenticated token. When such tokens are put to use, their entity identifiers are audit logged, marking a trail of actions performed by specific users.

Identity store allows operators to manage the entities in Vault. Entities can be created and aliases can be tied to entities, via the ACL'd API. There can be policies set on the entities which adds capabilities to the tokens that are tied to entity identifiers. The capabilities granted to tokens via the entities are an addition to the existing capabilities of the token and not a replacement. The capabilities of the token that get inherited from entities are computed dynamically at request time. This provides flexibility in controlling the access of tokens that are already issued.

This secrets engine will be mounted by default. This secrets engine cannot be disabled or moved.


»Entities and Aliases

Each user will have multiple accounts with various identity providers. Users can now be mapped as Entities and their corresponding accounts with authentication providers can be mapped as Aliases. In essence, each entity is made up of zero or more aliases.

»Entity Management

Entities in Vault do not automatically pull identity information from anywhere. It needs to be explicitly managed by operators. This way, it is flexible in terms of administratively controlling the number of entities to be synced against Vault. In some sense, Vault will serve as a cache of identities and not as a source of identities.

»Entity Policies

Vault policies can be assigned to entities which will grant additional permissions to the token on top of the existing policies on the token. If the token presented on the API request contains an identifier for the entity and if that entity has a set of policies on it, then the token will be capable of performing actions allowed by the policies on the entity as well.

This is a paradigm shift in terms of when the policies of the token get evaluated. Before identity, the policy names on the token were immutable (not the contents of those policies though). But with entity policies, along with the immutable set of policy names on the token, the evaluation of policies applicable to the token through its identity will happen at request time. This also adds enormous flexibility to control the behavior of already issued tokens.

Its important to note that the policies on the entity are only a means to grant additional capabilities and not a replacement for the policies on the token. To know the full set of capabilities of the token with an associated entity identifier, the policies on the token should be taken into account.

»Mount Bound Aliases

Vault supports multiple authentication backends and also allows enabling the same type of authentication backend on different mount paths. The alias name of the user will be unique within the backend's mount. But identity store needs to uniquely distinguish between conflicting alias names across different mounts of these identity providers. Hence, the alias name in combination with the authentication backend mount's accessor, serve as the unique identifier of an alias.

The table below shows what information each of the supported auth methods uses to form the alias name. This is the identifying information that is used to match or create an entity. If no entities are explicitly created or merged, then one entity will be implicitly created for each object on the right-hand side of the table, when it is used to authenticate on a particular auth mount point.

Auth methodName reported by auth method
AliCloudPrincipal ID
AppRoleRole ID
AWS IAMConfigurable via iam_alias to one of: Role ID (default), IAM unique ID, Full ARN
AWS EC2Configurable via ec2_alias to one of: Role ID (default), EC2 instance ID, AMI ID
AzureSubject (from JWT claim)
Cloud FoundryApp ID
GitHubUser login name associated with token
Google CloudConfigurable via iam_alias to one of: Role ID (default), Service account unique ID
JWT/OIDCConfigurable via user_claim to one of the presented claims (no default value)
KubernetesService account UID
OCIRole name
TLS CertificateSubject CommonName
Tokenentity_alias, if provided
Username (userpass)Username

»Local Auth Methods

If a login is performed using an auth method that was mounted locally (using local=true), no entities or groups will be associated with the resulting token.

»Implicit Entities

Operators can create entities for all the users of an auth mount beforehand and assign policies to them, so that when users login, the desired capabilities to the tokens via entities are already assigned. But if that's not done, upon a successful user login from any of the authentication backends, Vault will create a new entity and assign an alias against the login that was successful.

Note that the tokens created using the token authentication backend will not normally have any associated identity information. An existing or new implicit entity can be assigned by using the entity_alias parameter, when creating a token using a token role with a configured list of allowed_entity_aliases.

»Identity Auditing

If the token used to make API calls have an associated entity identifier, it will be audit logged as well. This leaves a trail of actions performed by specific users.

»Identity Groups

In version 0.9, Vault identity has support for groups. A group can contain multiple entities as its members. A group can also have subgroups. Policies set on the group is granted to all members of the group. During request time, when the token's entity ID is being evaluated for the policies that it has access to; along with the policies on the entity itself, policies that are inherited due to group memberships are also granted.

»Group Hierarchical Permissions

Entities can be direct members of groups, in which case they inherit the policies of the groups they belong to. Entities can also be indirect members of groups. For example, if a GroupA has GroupB as subgroup, then members of GroupB are indirect members of GroupA. Hence, the members of GroupB will have access to policies on both GroupA and GroupB.

»External vs Internal Groups

By default, the groups created in identity store are called the internal groups. The membership management of these groups should be carried out manually. A group can also be created as an external group. In this case, the entity membership in the group is managed semi-automatically. External group serves as a mapping to a group that is outside of the identity store. External groups can have one (and only one) alias. This alias should map to a notion of group that is outside of the identity store. For example, groups in LDAP, and teams in GitHub. A username in LDAP, belonging to a group in LDAP, can get its entity ID added as a member of a group in Vault automatically during logins and token renewals. This works only if the group in Vault is an external group and has an alias that maps to the group in LDAP. If the user is removed from the group in LDAP, that change gets reflected in Vault only upon the subsequent login or renewal operation.

»Identity Tokens

Identity information is used throughout Vault, but it can also be exported for use by other applications. An authorized user/application can request a token that encapsulates identity information for their associated entity. These tokens are signed JWTs following the OIDC ID token structure. The public keys used to authenticate the tokens are published by Vault on an unauthenticated endpoint following OIDC discovery and JWKS conventions, which should be a directly usable by JWT/OIDC libraries. An introspection endpoint is also provided by Vault for token verification.

»Roles and Keys

OIDC-compliant ID tokens are generated against a role which allows configuration of token claims via a templating system, token ttl, and a way to specify which "key" will be used to sign the token. The role template is an optional parameter to customize the token contents and is described in the next section. Token TTL controls the expiration time of the token, after which verification libraries will consider the token invalid. All roles have an associated client_id that will be added to the token's aud parameter. JWT/OIDC libraries will usually require this value. The parameter may be set by the operator to a chosen value, or a Vault-generated value will be used if left unconfigured.

A role's key parameter links a role to an existing named key (multiple roles may refer to the same key). It is not possible to generate an unsigned ID token.

A named key is a public/private key pair generated by Vault. The private key is used to sign the identity tokens, and the public key is used by clients to verify the signature. Key are regularly rotated, whereby a new key pair is generated and the previous public key is retained for a limited time for verification purposes.

A named key's configuration specifies a rotation period, a verification ttl, signing algorithm and allowed client IDs. Rotation period specifies the frequency at which a new signing key is generated and the private portion of the previous signing key is deleted. Verification ttl is the time a public key is retained for verification, after being rotated. By default, keys are rotated every 24 hours, and continue to be available for verification for 24 hours after their rotation.

A key's list of allowed client IDs limits which roles may reference the key. The parameter may be set to * to allow all roles. The validity evaluation is made when a token is requested, not during configuration.

»Token Contents and Templates

Identity tokens will always contain, at a minimum, the claims required by OIDC:

  • iss - Issuer URL
  • sub - Requester's entity ID
  • aud - client_id for the role
  • iss - Time of issue
  • exp - Expiration time for the token

In addition, the operator may configure per-role templates that allow a variety of other entity information to be added to the token. The templates are structured as JSON with replaceable parameters. The parameter syntax is the same as that used for ACL Path Templating.

For example:

  "color": {{identity.entity.metadata.color}},
  "userinfo": {
     "username": {{identity.entity.aliases.usermap_123.metadata.username}},
     "groups": {{identity.entity.group_names}}

  "nbf": {{time.now}},

When a token is requested, the resulting template might be populated as:

  "color": "green",
  "userinfo": {
     "username": "bob",
     "groups": ["web", "engr", "default"]

  "nbf": 1561411915,

which would be merged with the base OIDC claims into the final token:

  "iss": "",
  "sub": "a2cd63d3-5364-406f-980e-8d71bb0692f5",
  "aud": "SxSouteCYPBoaTFy94hFghmekos",
  "iss": 1561411915,
  "exp": 1561412215,
  "color": "green",
  "userinfo": {
    "username": "bob",
    "groups": ["web", "engr", "default"]
  "nbf": 1561411915

Note how the template is merged, with top level template keys becoming top level token keys. For this reason, templates may not contain top level keys that overwrite the standard OIDC claims.

Template parameters that are not present for an entity, such as a metadata that isn't present, or an alias accessor which doesn't exist, are simply empty strings or objects, depending on the data type.

Templates are configured on the role and may be optionally encoded as base64.

The full list of template parameters is shown below:

identity.entity.idThe entity's ID
identity.entity.nameThe entity's name
identity.entity.groups.idsThe IDs of the groups the entity is a member of
identity.entity.groups.namesThe names of the groups the entity is a member of
identity.entity.metadataMetadata associated with the entity
identity.entity.metadata.<metadata key>Metadata associated with the entity for the given key
identity.entity.aliases.<mount accessor>.idEntity alias ID for the given mount
identity.entity.aliases.<mount accessor>.nameEntity alias name for the given mount
identity.entity.aliases.<mount accessor>.metadataMetadata associated with the alias for the given mount
identity.entity.aliases.<mount accessor>.metadata.<metadata key>Metadata associated with the alias for the given mount and metadata key
time.nowCurrent time as integral seconds since the Epoch
time.now.plus.<duration>Current time plus a Go-parsable duration
time.now.minus.<duration>Current time minus a Go-parsable duration

»Token Generation

An authenticated client may request a token using the token generation endpoint. The token will be generated per the requested role's specifications, for the requester's entity. It is not possible to generate tokens for an arbitrary entity.

»Verifying Authenticity of ID Tokens Generated by Vault

An identity token may be verified by the client party using the public keys published by Vault, or via a Vault-provided introspection endpoint.

Vault will serve standard ".well-known" endpoints that allow easy integration with OIDC verification libraries. Configuring the libraries will typically involve providing an issuer URL and client ID. The library will then handle key requests and can validate the signature and claims requirements on tokens. This approach has the advantage of only requiring access to Vault, not authorization, as the .well-known endpoints are unauthenticated.

Alternatively, the token may be sent to Vault for verification via an introspection endpoint. The response will indicate whether the token is "active" or not, as well as any errors that occurred during validation. Beyond simply allowing the client to delegate verification to Vault, using this endpoint incorporates the additional check of whether the entity is still active or not, which is something that cannot be determined from the token alone. Unlike the .well-known endpoint, accessing the introspection endpoint does require a valid Vault token and sufficient authorization.

»Issuer Considerations

The identity token system has one configurable parameter: issuer. The issuer iss claim is particularly important for proper validation of the token by clients, and special consideration should be given when using Identity Tokens with performance replication. Consumers of the token will request public keys from Vault using the issuer URL, so it must be network reachable. Furthermore, the returned set of keys will include an issuer that must match the request.

By default Vault will set the issuer to the Vault instance's api_addr. This means that tokens issued in a given cluster should be validated within that same cluster. Alternatively, the issuer parameter may be configured explicitly. This address must point to the identity/oidc path for the Vault instance (e.g. https://vault-1.example.com:8200/v1/identity/oidc) and should be reachable by any client trying to validate identity tokens.


The Identity secrets engine has a full HTTP API. Please see the Identity secrets engine API for more details.