Introduction to Keycloak and the Need for Containerization

WalkingTree Technologies
7 min readOct 13, 2022

Identity and access management is key to any successful application and web based services. Keycloak has emerged as a leading open source Identity and Access Management software for modern applications.

Many state of the art features of Keycloak such as Single-Sign-On (SSO), Identity Brokering, Social Login, automatic syncing of identity across platforms, User Federation, Client Adapters, etc help streamlining identity and access management for applications.

Here throughout this blog post we are going to explain the key features of Keycloak, its potential benefits for applications and how the software works. To begin with we would like to spare a few words on Identity and Access Management and how Keycloak helps with that.

Understanding Identity Access Management and its infrastructure

Identity Access Management (IAM) refers to the user authentication and user-specific privilege and exception handling protocol. You use this protocol to check whether deserving users have access to the right resources. The protocol is used for identifying specific users and their needs to access the required information as well as modify certain information as per their needs within the permissible criteria.

As ensuring streamlined access to data without compromising security has already become a key criterion for all modern software applications, Identity Access Management (IAM) has now become a key requirement for all modern software applications. Thanks to this standardized protocol app developers and stakeholders no longer need to come up with their user management infrastructure for every single application. By applying this protocol in a more well-articulated manner Keycloak has further made things easier for applications in regard to identity and access management.

IAM Protocol Infrastructure

With a comprehensive understanding of these key attributes of Identity Access Management (IAM) protocol, we can now try to understand how Keycloak software implements this protocol and underlying practices and benefits the applications in terms of user management, security and accessibility management.

What is Keycloak?

Keycloak is an open-source Identity Access Management (IAM) solution that helps its users secure applications without having to write complex code. This helps save time spent on developing infrastructure for access management.

Features

Why use Keycloak?

Uses Of Keycloak

In more than one way Keycloak benefits the modern software applications in handling different user identities, their access to information and certain privileges. Let’s explain these advantages of Keycloak one by one.

Reliable

One reason Keycloak is so reliable is that it follows the standard security protocols for its single sign-on solution. In fact, Red Hat trusts Keycloak (upstream product) for their Red Hat SSO (downstream product) — which handles all of Red Hat’s authentication and authorization system.

Keycloak is reliable also due to its licensing — which comes under Apache License Version 2.0. Although you don’t have to take our word for it, Keycloak has an active open source community further proving its reliability.

Supports Standard Protocols

By supporting several standard authentication protocols Keycloak can easily fit into a variety of applications and use cases. Some of the well-known standard protocols supported by Keycloak include the following:

OAuth 2.0

OpenID Connect

SAML 2.0

Thanks to this built-in support for standard protocols any application using them can easily integrate Keycloak and avail its advantages. It is needless to say that over and above these standard protocols Keycloak further widens the scope of identity management and authentication.

Security

Thanks to its 360-degree authentication measures Keycloak takes care of safe storage of passwords and a variety of authentication requirements. This comprehensive and multi-layered authentication ultimately strengthens the security as direct access to user credentials is prevented. To allow applications access user credentials they are given security tokens.

Open Source Software (OSS)

Keycloak as an open source software needing no licensing fee not only reduces the software management cost but with the freely accessible source code it also allows customization. Applications can flexibly make adjustments tuned to their specific identity management and authentication needs.

Easy to Get Started

Since Keycloak comes with its own user database, it makes it easy to get started with. Additionally, it is also easy to integrate it with your existing identity management infrastructure.

This is possible through its identity brokering capabilities that allow you to plug in your existing user database from other enterprise identity management solution providers. You can integrate Keycloak with directories like Active Directory or LDAP servers as well.

Customizable and Extendable

Keycloak is highly customizable and extendable. It has a large number of extension points that allow you to deploy custom code. You can use this feature to modify certain behaviors or even add new capabilities. These include unique authentication mechanisms, custom manipulation tokens, custom user stories, and even custom login protocols.

Social Identity Providers

On top of its identity management and standard authentication protocols, Keycloak also allows applications to sync Social Identity Providers. It comes with built-in support for social platforms such as Google, Twitter, Facebook, Stack Overflow. By configuring them through the admin panel, you can sync their authentication protocols easily. For helping you with configuration Keycloak offers pretty extensive documentation.

How Keycloak works?

Working

Once a user secures his system with Keycloak, here’s how it works:

When the user tries to navigate to a protected application, he is first redirected to the Keycloak authentication page. Once he enters his login credentials, Keycloak will redirect the user to the application with a code.

The application exchanges this authorization code with an ID and access token. The application can then use this ID or access token to authenticate the identity of the user.

Getting Started With Keycloak

To start using Keycloak, you’ll first need to set it up. Here are a few steps:

● Install and boot your Keycloak server by downloading the server zip file, unzipping it, and booting it using standalone.bat in windows and standalone.sh, in Linux

● Once the server boots, you can open the server in your browser using http://localhost:8080/auth and see the welcome page which shows that the server is running.

● First create the admin account, using which you can log in to the master realm’s administration console, from which you can create other realms and users and also register your applications to be secured by Keycloak.

While modern applications have brought forth amazing solutions, their complexity can bring many challenges. Working to deploy new features, or updating code can get tricky as the size and complexity of applications increase.

The benefits of Containerization

A great solution for these challenges is brought by the containerization approach such as the one we experience with Keycloak. Some of the key benefits of this approach include the following.

Portable

You can use containers to bundle all dependencies. This allows you to take your application anywhere without the need to rebuild it for each new environment.

Additionally, containers provide abstraction which ensures that regardless of where you deploy your application — the cloud, run it on a VM, or wherever — it will work the way it’s supposed to. (As long as the OS on which you’re running your container supports your containerization tools.)

Agile

Often, organizations are seen using containerization tools to streamline their DevOps workflows. They can do this because containerization makes orchestration possible.

What this means is that when the need arises, you can instantly develop containers to handle the need. Once the need is met, you can shut the container down and reuse it when you need it next.

Secure

Containers are generally isolated from each other. This isolation provides extra security because you can be sure that your applications are contained in their own environment.

The reason this is beneficial is that even if the security of one container is compromised, the other containers on the same host are safe. Furthermore, containers are even isolated from the host OS only interacting with it minimally.

Over to you

In your effort to streamline user identity management and authentication processes, Keycloak comes as a robust solution. Since managing user identity across diverse applications is key to supple user experience, Keycloak is likely to remain at the thick of things in the years to come.

Do you want to get expert advice on using cutting-edge Identity & Access Management (IAM) tools like Keycloak? Do you want to connect to industry-acclaimed security solution experts on implementing Keycloak and containerization protocols?

Just click below & access a lot of resources on this.

https://walkingtree.tech/keycloak/

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WalkingTree Technologies

WalkingTree is an IT software and service provider recognized for its passion for technology.