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Overview of Authorization and Authentication with GraphQL

Dgraph’s GraphQL implementation comes with built-in authorization. This lets you annotate your schema with rules that determine who can query and mutate your data.

First, let’s get some concepts defined. There are two important concepts included in what’s often called auth:

  • Authorization: access permissions (what are you allowed to do)
  • Authentication: establishment of identity (who you are)

Dgraph lets you use your GraphQL schema to manage both authorization and authentication:

  • You set authorization rules by annotating your schema with the @auth directive
  • You configure authentication methods by providing those settings to Dgraph in the last line of your schema, in a commented-out Dgraph.Authorization object.

Establishing identity and managing identity-based permissions are closely related, so this page covers both Dgraph’s authorization capabilities, and how Dgraph works with various authentication methods.


You can add authorization rules to your schema using the @auth directive. But, you also need to configure the Dgraph.Authorization object (which handles authentication) on the last line of your schema for the @auth directive to work (as described below).

When authentication and authorization are complete, your schema should look similar to the following:

type A @auth(...) {

type B @auth(...) {

# Dgraph.Authorization {"VerificationKey":"","Header":"","Namespace":"","Algo":"","Audience":[]}


You can authenticate your users using the following methods:

  • A cloud service like OneGraph, Firebase, or Auth0
  • Social sign-in options (such as Google authentication)
  • Your own custom authentication code

Dgraph’s GraphQL implementation is completely flexible about how your app does authentication; instead, Dgraph focuses on authorization.

Dgraph’s GraphQL endpoint supports both symmetric (secret-based) and asymmetric (public key) encryption. The connection between Dgraph and your authentication mechanism can be a JSON Web Key (JWK) URL or a signed JSON Web Token (JWT). So, you can provide Dgraph with the public key of the JWT signer (such as Firebase or Auth0) and Dgraph trusts JWTs signed by the corresponding private key.

Tip To learn more about adding JWTs from a third-party JWT signer to your app, see Auth0 Authentication or Firebase Authentication.

Dgraph.Authorization parameters

To define the authentication connection method, Dgraph uses a commented-out Dgraph.Authorization object that you should add as the last line of your schema. You can only use one authentication connection method, either JWT, a single JWK URL, or multiple JWK URLs.

The Dgraph.Authorization object uses the following syntax:

{"Header":"", "Namespace":"", "Algo":"", "VerificationKey":"", "JWKURL":"", "Audience":[], "ClosedByDefault": false}

This object contains the following values:

  • Header is the header that requests use to store the signed JWT.
  • Namespace is the key inside the JWT that contains the claims relevant to Dgraph authorization.
  • Algo is the JWT verification algorithm which can be either HS256 or RS256.
  • VerificationKey is the string value of the key, with newlines replaced with \n and the key string wrapped in "":
    • For asymmetric encryption: VerificationKey contains the public key string
    • For symmetric (secret-based) encryption: VerificationKey is the secret key; this can be any secret string you choose, such as one that you generate using a tool like OpenSSL
  • JWKURL/JWKURLs is the URL for the JSON Web Key sets. If you want to pass multiple URLs, use JWKURLs as an array of multiple JWK URLs for the JSON Web Key sets.
  • Audience is used to verify the aud field of a JWT, which is used by certain providers to indicate the intended audience for the JWT. When doing authentication with JWKURL, this field is mandatory as identity providers share JWKs among multiple tenants.
  • ClosedByDefault, if set to true, requires authorization for all requests even if the type does not specify the @auth directive. If omitted, the default setting is false.
Tip To pass multiple URLs, use JWKURLs as an array of multiple JWK URLs for the JSON Web Key sets.

To set the authentication connection method, do the following:

  • To use a JWT: On the last line of your schema, specify a verification key (VerificationKey) and encryption algorithm (Algo) in the Dgraph.Authorization object. Dgraph verifies the JWT against the provided VerificationKey. So, your schema should end with a line like the following:
# Dgraph.Authorization {"VerificationKey":"<verification-key-here>","Header":"X-My-App-Auth","Namespace":"","Algo":"HS256","Audience":["aud1","aud5"]}
  • To use a single JWK URL: Specify the JWKURL and Audience arguments in the Dgraph.Authorization object. Dgraph fetches the JWK and verifies the token against it. So, your schema should end with a line like the following:
# Dgraph.Authorization {"VerificationKey":"","Header":"X-My-App-Auth", "jwkurl":"[email protected]", "Namespace":"","Algo":"","Audience":["fir-project1-259e7", "HhaXkQVRBn5e0K3DmMp2zbjI8i1wcv2e"]}
  • To use multiple JWK URLs: Specify the JWKURLs and Audience arguments in the Dgraph.Authorization object. Dgraph fetches all of the JWKs and verifies the token against one of the JWKs, based on the JWK’s kind. So, your schema should end with a line like the following:
# Dgraph.Authorization {"VerificationKey":"","Header":"X-My-App-Auth","jwkurls":["[email protected]",""], "Namespace":"","Algo":"","Audience":["fir-project1-259e7", "HhaXkQVRBn5e0K3DmMp2zbjI8i1wcv2e"]}

Using JWTs and authorization claims

In addition to the examples shown above, you can configure Dgraph.Authorization as follows to use the X-My-App-Auth header and use namespace-based authorization claims:

  • HMAC-SHA256 JWT with symmetric cryptography (the signing key and verification key are the same):
# Dgraph.Authorization {"VerificationKey":"secretkey","Header":"X-My-App-Auth","Namespace":"","Algo":"HS256"}
  • RSA Signature with SHA-256 asymmetric cryptography (the JWT is signed with the private key and Dgraph checks with the public key):
# Dgraph.Authorization {"VerificationKey":"-----BEGIN PUBLIC KEY-----\n...\n-----END PUBLIC KEY-----","Header":"X-My-App-Auth","Namespace":"","Algo":"RS256"}

Authorization with custom claims

In both of the examples above, the header X-My-App-Auth is required and the JWT is expected to contain a custom claims object (in this case, "": { ... }) with the claims used in authorization rules.

The value of the X-My-App-Auth header is expected to be in one of the following forms:

  • Just the JWT token. For example:

  • A Bearer token, e.g., a JWT prepended with Bearer prefix (including space). For example:

    Bearer eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJzdWIiOiIxMjM0NTY3ODkwIiwibmFtZSI6IkpvaG4gRG9lIiwiaWF0IjoxNTE2MjM5MDIyLCJodHRwczovL215LmFwcC5pby9qd3QvY2xhaW1zIjp7fX0.Pjlxpf-3FhH61EtHBRo2g1amQPRi0pNwoLUooGbxIho

Authorization with standard claims

Apart from the custom claims belonging to a given namespace, you can use standard claims in the authorization rules, as shown in the following example:

   "": [
  "ROLE": "ADMIN",
  "USERROLE": "user1",
  "email": "[email protected]",
  "email_verified": true,
  "sub": "1234567890",
  "aud": "63do0q16n6ebjgkumu05kkeian",
  "iat": 1611694692,
  "exp": 2611730692

The authorization variables include the rest of the given claims along with the claims provided under namespace

Note In cases where the same variable is present in both custom claims and standard claims, the variable value in the custom claim takes precedence.