Simple Authentication In Razor Pages Without A Database

Sometimes, using the full ASP.NET Core Identity framework is overkill for small, one-user applications that require some form of authentication. I'm thinking about blog applications, or web-based utilities that have admin areas that only you should be allowed to reach. All you really want to do is authenticate against a user name and password stored in a config file or similar. You really don't need the ceremony of a database, EF Core, ApplicationDbContexts, SignInManagers, UserManagers etc. This article provides a step-by-step guide to implementing simple authentication using just cookies, while storing credentials securely without a database.

Overview of the tasks

The process involves a number of steps:

  • Configure and enable cookie-based authentication
  • Configure Protected resources
  • Secure your credentials
  • Store the credentials
  • Create a login form

Configure Cookie-based Authentication

The next step is to enable the correct middleware in the request pipeline

  1. Create a new Razor Pages application named AuthenticationSample (dotnet new webapp from the command line). If you are using Visual Studio to create the application, ensure that Authentication is left at "No Authentication".
    No Authentication
  2. Add a new folder to the Pages directory, named Admin.
  3. Add a new Razor Page to the Admin folder named Index. If you are using VS Code, you can do this by executing dotnet new page -o Pages/Admin -n Index -na AuthenticationSample.Pages.Admin from the terminal.
  4. Change the code in Index.cshtml to read as follows:
  5. Run the application and navigate to https://localhost:xxxx/Admin (where xxxx represents the port number the application is running on). You should be able to reach the page you just created without any issues.
  6. In Startup.cs, add using Microsoft.AspNetCore.Authentication.Cookies; to the top of the file.
  7. Change the ConfigureServices method so that it looks like this:

    In this step, you configured Cookie-based authentication, setting the login page to the home page. Then you configured the Admin folder to prevent unauthorised users being able to access anything in it.

  8. Add app.UseAuthentication(); to the Configure method, just before app.UseMvc();. This step adds authentication middleware to the pipeline so that it is made available to the application. Without this, log in attempts will fail.

Now if you re-run the application and try to navigate to /admin, you should be redirected to the home page, with an extra query string value in the URL:

Authentication

You have successfully enabled cookie-based authentication and protected a folder with it.

Securing Credentials

Instead of storing credentials in a database, you will store them in the standard appSetting.json file. However, just as you wouldn't store your password in a database in plain text, you don't want to store it in a text file in plain sight either. So you will use hashing to protect the password. That way, if anyone can access your appSettings file, your password will be safe. You want the hash to be cryptographically robust. Rather than concocting your own hashing algorithm, you should use one that is written by experts who know what they are doing. There is a PasswordHasher class in ASP.NET Identity that does the job perfectly. So you will create a console application that leverages it to hash the password that will be stored in appSettings .

  1. Create a new .NET Core console application using VS, VS Code or the command line. It doesn't matter what you call it. This is a disposable utility.
  2. Add the Microsoft.AspNetCore.Identity package to it - dotnet add package Microsoft.AspNetCore.Identity from the command line, or install-package Microsoft.AspNetCore.Identity from the Package Manager Console in VS.
  3. Change the code in Program.cs to look like this, supplying your own password where applicable. Note that subsequent attempt to match it will be case-sensitive:
  4. Run the application to check that a hashed value was generated. Keep the application for later use.
    Hashed Password

You may notice if you run the application multiple times that it generates a different value each time for the same password. This is because the algorithm appends a "salt" to the password for hashing, ensuring that the hash will differ each time for the same password. This makes it infeasible for hackers to crack the actual password.

The PasswordHasher constructor and the HashPassword methods both take a generic parameter, representing the current user. The type parameter is not used by the default implementation. It has been made available for custom implementations. I have instantiated the PasswordHasher with a string type, and then passed null into the HashPassword method.

Storing Credentials

In this section, you will store your user credentials in a custom section in the appSettings.json file. You will also create a class representing the user so that you can work with the configuration values in a strongly typed manner.

  1. Create a folder named Models in the root of the application.
  2. Add a new C# class file to the Models folder and name it SiteUser.cs.
  3. Replace the existing content with the following:
  4. Add the SiteUser section to the appSettings.json file with the user name that you want to use, and the hashed password that you generated earlier:

Creating The Login Form

  1. Change the Index.cshtml.cs file in the Pages folder (not the one you created in the Admin folder) so that the content looks like this:
    You have added bound properties for the user name and password, which you have decorated with the DataType data annotation attribute, setting its value to Password. This is so that the input tag helper generates to correct type of input.

    You have injected IConfiguration into the PageModel so that you can use it to resolve the user credentials from appSettings. Having checked that the user name matches whatever was posted, you then instantiate an instance of the PasswordHasher that you used in the console application, and passed the submitted password along with the hashed version obtained from the configuration file to its VerifyHashedPassword method.

    Internally, this method unwraps the hashed value, extracting the salt, which is used to hash the submitted password. If the resulting hash matches the stored hash, the method returns a PasswordVerificationResult enumeration set to Success.
  2. Change the Index.cshtml file in the Pages folder to include the following log in form:

    This is a standard form that makes use of Bootstrap 4. It has its method set to post so that credentials are not passed in the query string.

Now when you run the application and log in with the correct credentials, you should automatically be redirected to the admin page.

Summary

This walkthrough showed how to secure a simple application robustly without needing to store credentials in a database or use the data access side of the Identity framework. You have still used some extremely useful APIs provided by Identity to secure your credentials using code written by experts. You have used the same API to match submitted values to what has been stored. You have also seen how easy it is to include and configure cookie-based authentication, and to secure areas of the application from non-authenticated users.

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