August 23, 2023
Learning Centre
min read

What are Authorization Headers?

Arnab Chatterjee
Content Writer
On this page

Authorization headers play a crucial role in securing and authenticating requests made to web servers and APIs. These headers contain information that verifies the identity and permissions of the requester. Authorization headers are HTTP headers that carry authentication credentials or tokens to authorize and validate requests. They provide a way to prove that the requester has the necessary permissions to access protected resources. By including authorization headers in requests, servers can ensure the security and integrity of their data.

The Syntax for Auth Headers looks like this :

Authorization: <auth-scheme> <authorization-parameters>

Also, authorization headers play a crucial role in securing requests and protecting sensitive data. The level of security provided by authorization headers depends on various factors, including the type of header and the implementation of the authentication mechanism.

Types of Authorization Headers

There are several types of authorization headers commonly used in web development. Let's look at three prominent ones:

Bearer Token:

Bearer tokens are widely used in modern authentication protocols like OAuth 2.0. They consist of a string that represents the authorization granted to the requester. This token is typically sent in the "Authorization" header prefixed with the word "Bearer," indicating its type. It looks like this :

Authorization: Bearer AbCdEf123456

In terms of security, Bearer tokens, when used properly, can provide strong security. They are often encrypted, making them difficult to tamper with or decipher. However, the security of bearer tokens relies on proper token management, such as secure storage and transmission. It's crucial to protect bearer tokens from unauthorized access or interception to maintain their security.

Bearer tokens are widely used in OAuth 2.0 for securing APIs. They allow third-party applications to access protected resources on behalf of the user, enabling integrations and secure data sharing.

Digest Access Authentication:

Digest Access Authentication is an authentication mechanism used in HTTP. It provides a secure way to authenticate requests without sending the actual password over the network. The "Authorization" header in this case includes a digest, which is a hashed representation of the user's credentials.

The "Authorization" header for Digest Access Authentication follows this syntax:

Authorization: Digest username="USERNAME", realm="REALM", nonce="NONCE", uri="URI", response="RESPONSE", opaque="OPAQUE", qop="QOP", nc="NC", cnonce="CNONCE"

In summary, The use case of Digest Access Authentication is that it provides a secure way to authenticate users in HTTP, reducing the risk of sending plain-text passwords over the network. It ensures secure access to resources protected by HTTP authentication.

Digest Access Authentication enhances security by not sending passwords over the network in plain text. Instead, it uses a hashed representation of the user's credentials. This prevents attackers from intercepting and directly using the user's password. However, it's important to ensure that strong hashing algorithms and secure storage methods are implemented to maintain the security of the digest.

AWS Authentication:

AWS Authentication is specific to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and is used to authorize requests to AWS services like the API Gateway. The "Authorization" header contains a signature generated using AWS access keys, providing secure access to AWS resources.

Let’s look at the  syntax for the "Authorization" header for AWS auth:

Authorization: <The algorithm that was used to calculate the signature>
Signature=<256-bit signature expressed as 64 lowercase hexadecimal characters>

AWS Authentication enables authorized access to AWS API Gateway, allowing developers to protect their APIs and control access to AWS resources. The "Authorization" header, in this case, carries the required authentication signature for accessing the protected resources.

In terms of security, AWS Authentication employs cryptographic signatures to ensure the integrity and authenticity of requests. The signature is generated using AWS access keys, providing a secure way to access AWS resources. AWS provides robust security mechanisms for handling access keys and enforcing secure authentication practices.

While authorization headers contribute to the overall security of a system, it's important to consider additional security measures, such as:

  • Transport Layer Security (TLS): Using HTTPS with TLS encryption ensures secure communication between the client and server, protecting authorization headers from eavesdropping or tampering during transmission.
  • Access Control: Implementing proper access controls, such as role-based access control (RBAC) or fine-grained permissions, adds an extra layer of security. It ensures that only authorized users or applications can access protected resources.
  • Token Expiration and Revocation: Setting an expiration time for bearer tokens and implementing token revocation mechanisms help mitigate the risk of unauthorized access. Revoking compromised or no longer-needed tokens ensures that they cannot be used maliciously.

In summary, while authorization headers provide a level of security, their overall effectiveness depends on proper implementation, secure management of tokens or credentials, and the use of additional security measures. It's crucial to follow best practices and stay updated with the latest security recommendations to ensure the secure handling of authorization headers in your applications. Understanding authorization headers and their types provides a foundation for implementing secure authentication mechanisms in your applications. In our next article, we will explore how to add authorization headers using Requestly, a handy tool that simplifies the configuration process.

Requestly is an Open-Source frontend development platform with essential tooling & integrations that helps frontend developers write, test & debug their code 10x faster. Using Requestly, you can create mock API endpoints, test, validate & override API responses, modify request & response headers, setup redirects (Map local, Map remote) and use Requestly sessions for faster debugging.


Ready to get started?

Empowering frontend developers to achieve more in development, testing & debugging workflows.