Boris Smus

interaction engineering

OAuth 2.0 from chrome extensions

Applications that access online services often need to access a user's private data. Chrome Extensions are no different. OAuth has emerged as the standard way of letting users share their private resources across sites without having to hand out their usernames and passwords. There is already a very nice OAuth library for Chrome Extensions that aims to simplify some of the pains that developers face when authorizing against OAuth endpoints.

Since this library was written, the OAuth standard enjoyed a version bump (OAuth 2.0) which greatly simplifies the flow by no longer requiring cryptography in the client. Also, some adventurous companies (notably Google, Facebook and others) have actually implemented OAuth 2.0 endpoints. At the time of writing, OAuth 2.0 is still a draft spec, but is nearing completion, and Chrome Extensions need some love.

You may be wondering why you even need an OAuth 2.0 library in the first place. As Aaron Parecki pointed out in his Current State of OAuth 2 presentation at Open Source Bridge in Portland, OAuth 2 is very much a moving target. The spec is not yet finalized, and there are 16 versions of it (although the most popular seems to be v10). Also, today's OAuth 2 implementations diverge from the spec in varying degrees, adding to the developer pain. The reason this library needs to be chrome extension-specific is that unfortunately Chrome extensions can't directly use the OAuth 2.0 server-side or client-side flows because they live at chrome-extension:// URLs.

When writing the OAuth 2.0 library for Chrome extensions, I had some goals in mind:

  1. Support a variety of OAuth 2.0 providers that implement the spec
  2. Allow one app/extension to use multiple different OAuth 2.0 endpoints
  3. Avoid background pages for performance reasons

The OAuth 2.0 Library

There's a bit of setup involved if you'd like to create a Chrome extension that connects to an OAuth 2 endpoint. This brief tutorial will guide you through connecting to Google's APIs.

Register your application with an OAuth 2.0 endpoint that you'd like to use. If it's a Google API you're calling, go to the Google APIs page, create your application and note your client ID and client secret. For more info on this, check out the Google OAuth 2.0 docs. When you setup your application, you will be asked to provide redirect URI(s). Please provide the URI that corresponds to the service you're using.

Here's a table that will come in handy:

Adapter Redirect URI Access Token URI

Step 1: Copy library

You will need to copy the oauth2 library into your chrome extension root into a directory called oauth2.

Step 2: Inject content script

Then you need to modify your manifest.json file to include a content script at the redirect URL used by the Google adapter. The "matches" redirect URI can be looked up in the table above:

"content_scripts": [
    "matches": ["*"],
    "js": ["oauth2/oauth2_inject.js"],
    "run_at": "document_start"

Step 3: Allow access token URL

Also, you will need to add a permission to Google's access token granting URL, since the library will do an XHR against it. The access token URI can be looked up in the table above as well.

"permissions": [

Step 4: Include the OAuth 2.0 library

Next, in your extension's code, you should include the OAuth 2.0 library:

<script src="/oauth2/oauth2.js"></script>

Step 5: Configure the OAuth 2.0 endpoint

And configure your OAuth 2 connection by providing clientId, clientSecret and apiScopes from the registration page. The authorize() method may create a new popup window for the user to grant your extension access to the OAuth2 endpoint.

var googleAuth = new OAuth2('google', {
  client_id: '17755888930840',
  client_secret: 'b4a5741bd3d6de6ac591c7b0e279c9f',
  api_scope: ''

googleAuth.authorize(function() {
  // Ready for action

Step 6: Use the access token

Now that your user has an access token via auth.getAccessToken(), you can request protected data by adding the accessToken as a request header

xhr.setRequestHeader('Authorization', 'OAuth ' + myAuth.getAccessToken())

or by passing it as part of the URL (depending on the server implementation):

myUrl + '?oauth_token=' + myAuth.getAccessToken();

Note: if you have multiple OAuth 2.0 endpoints that you would like to authorize with, you can do that too! Just inject content scripts and add permissions for all of the providers you would like to authorize with.

I've provided some sample extensions that use this library to help you get started.

Varying OAuth implementations

Writing this library for one OAuth 2.0 endpoint was pretty straightforward. The issues came when branching out to support multiple OAuth 2.0 server implementations which comply to various degrees with differing versions of the spec.

Facebook was the worst offender here. They claim to be an OAuth 2.0 implementation in line with v10, but are actually quite far from it. Here are some of the issues:

  • Token request method is GET instead of POST.

  • Token response is some strange form encoded format instead of JSON.

  • List of scopes (aka "extended permissions") was really hard to find.

  • Apparently to get a user's favorite music, you need the user_likes permission. Facebook, please fix your docs.

  • No refresh tokens but they have an offline_access permission which makes your access token expire later. This is ridiculous!

Twitter doesn't even have an OAuth 2.0 API. @Anywhere does not count. Some good questions on quora about this.

Still there are a lot of services that DO implement OAuth 2.0, such as Foursquare, Gowalla, Windows Live, Salesforce, Soundcloud and many others.

Extending the Library

To mitigate differences between OAuth 2.0 implementations, I implemented the Adapter pattern. Doing this encapsulates protocol differences in a separate adapter module for each server implementation.

The library comes with adapters for Google, Facebook and Github. These adapters are located in the adapters directory here. If you would like to contribute your own adapter, please take a look at the sample adapter and then fork the project, submit a pull request, and I'll try to add it to the project.

Also, please let me know if you experience problems using this library and we'll sort them out! The best way to do this is via github or twitter.