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Authentication Session Persistence

This topic is regarding sessions in the WSO2 Identity Server (IS) and the process of enabling session persistence for these sessions. This is particularly useful when the remember me option is selected when logging into either the service provider or the WSO2 Identity Server.

Understanding sessions in the WSO2 Identity Server

When you log in to the Web application using WSO2 Identity Server, a single sign-on (SSO) session is created by the Identity Server for the user of the application. Also, as the user logs in to the Web application, there is a session created in the Web application itself for the user. These are two separate sessions and they are not synchronized with each other.

For an example, if the Web application has a session timeout of 20 minutes and the WSO2 IS SSO session timeout is 5 minutes, the application users will not see the login page up to 20 minutes. That is because WSO2 IS is not invalidating the session by force on the Web application.

If the Web application session timeout is 5 minutes and the WSO2 IS SSO session timeout is 20 minutes, the users will not see the login page up to 20 minutes. This is because even when the Web application container session times out after 5 minutes, the session is kept alive since WSO2 IS SSO session is still alive. The user will not be redirected to the login screen of the SP until the WSO2 IS SSO session is invalidated.

WSO2 Identity Server creates a separate SSO session for SSO login and it is different from the session that is created when you log in to the Identity Server management console.

When end user logs in through the WSO2 Identity Server for the service provider application (using SAML2 SSO, OpenID Connect, Passive STS, etc.), the Identity Server creates a SSO session for end users and a cookie that is related to the created SSO session is set to the user’s browser.

This cookie can be seen as commonauthId. It is set to the user’s browser with the hostname of WSO2 Identity Server instance and the value of the commonauthId cookie is the SSO session identifier. When SSO session is created in the WSO2 Identity Server, the session is put into the session cache and persisted to the database. To persist it in to the database, you must enable the session persistence.

Click here to read about the importance of persisting the session

SSO sessions are stored in an in-memory cache. It is recommended to persist the SSO session due to following reasons.

  • If you are running a single WSO2 Identity Server instance and the server is restarted, all SSO session would be removed. If you have multiple nodes of WSO2 instances, it is not guaranteed that you can recover all the sessions. Although the cache is distributed, it is not 100% split to each node.
  • Cache has a limit. If there are large number of SSO sessions, memory can be high and server performance may reduce. So usually the cache is evicted after a given number of entries (by default 10000 entries). Therefore, some SSO session can be evicted from caches when there are large number of user logins.
  • When there is a clustered development, if you have no persistence, you need to rely completely on the distributed cache. However, if you have persistence, you can rely on it as well. This increases the reliability of the overall system.

WSO2 Identity Server has multiple local caching usage in different layers to improve the product performance. But most of the caches are ready to persist in the database if it is required.

There are three type of data objects that are persisted in the database.

1. Session Data

Once the user is authenticated, WSO2 Identity Server creates a session data object that stores the authenticated user and the other authentication flow details. This will be stored in the database to be shared across the cluster nodes.

2. Operational Data

Once user gets authenticated, there will be a record for login status to that session id. Then again when that user is logged out from the system, we are not removing the above record from the table and instead of that we add a new record to the same session id with status called logout. So the valid record is the last one and all the other records under that session id will be outdated. Those outdated records belong to the Operational Data.

3. Temporary Data

In authentication flow, there are many temporary data objects that are kept for few seconds only. These are kept in the cache. But to make consistent the cluster environment without having the local cache, we store that also in the same database table that we stored the session data as in above.

Upon considering the persistence of data relevant to the critical path and high concurrency situations, we had to further improve the following key aspects as well.

Data Clean-Up

Since above data are collected over the authentication flow, the database will grow with that data very frequently. So we had to manage few tasks to clean the data in the database for some given conditions.

Task Pool

On some older releases, the task pool was employed when storing above data within a critical path which controls the authentication. Here pooling mechanism is introduced to put the data persistence tasks into that pool and continue the critical path without blocking it. However, this did not prove to provide the expected results. It further caused a few side effects. Hence, it was later reverted and it is not recommended to use this feature anymore.

Data clean-up in a clustered environment

Even in a clustered environment, it is not recommend to enable Hazelcast distributed caching for identity data. Therefore, it is recommended to rely on the local cache in this case as well. In a clustered environment, it is recommended to disable the pool by setting the PoolSize property to 0. Else, data inconsistencies can occur where one node gets delayed and does not update the database before the other node accesses the same data from the database.


Note that even when using the local cache, it triggers the cache invalidation notification system to ensure that data is consistent among the nodes in the cluster when data is deleted or updated, but this is not triggered when adding new data.

The following table describes the elements of the session cleanup configurations.

The [session_data.persistence] section is related to the persistence of session data.

Configuration element Description
enable_persistence This enables the persistence of session data. Therefore, this must be configured to true if you wish to enable session persistence.
persist_temporary_data Setting this to true enables persistence of temporary caches that are created within an authentication request.
persistence_pool_size Keep this value as 0. ‘persistence_pool_size’ equals to 0 means that it is disabled and then the authentication flow is blocked until this particular data persistence task is complete. To execute the persistence task asynchronously, set the value to >0 value. Based on the pool size, the system creates the task parallel to execute the persistence task that was in the queue. Any value greater than 0 does not provide expected results, and sometimes causes unwanted side effects.

The [session_data.cleanup] section is related to the cleaning up of session data.

Configuration element Description
enable_expired_data_cleanup Setting this to true enables the expired session data cleanup task and ensures that it starts running.
expire_session_data_after This is the timeout value of the session data that is removed by the cleanup task. The default value is 14 days.
clean_expired_session_data_every This is the time period that the cleanup task would run. The default value is 1 day. This is used for both session data cleanup and operation data cleanup through the same task.
clean_expired_session_data_in_chunks_of This value determines (limits) the number of rows that will be deleted in a single delete query statement. The default value is 8192. If the number of rows to delete is larger than this limit, the DELETE statement is repeated until the number of affected rows is less than the LIMIT value.
clean_logged_out_sessions_at_immediate_cycle Setting this to true enables the operational data cleanup task and ensures that it starts running.
Configuration element Description
enable_pre_session_data_cleanup Setting this to true enables separated cleanup for temporary authentication context data.
expire_pre_session_data_after All temporary authentication context data older than the expire_pre_session_data_after value is considered as expired and is deleted during the cleanup task.
pre_session_data_cleanup_thread_pool_size Defines the maximum number of threads to be allocated for temp data deletion. When pre_session_data_cleanup_thread_pool_size => 0, temporary data that has no usage after the authentication flow is completed, is deleted immediately. When pre_session_data_cleanup_thread_pool_size = 0, data is deleted only by the scheduled cleanup task.

About size of Delete Chunks

The value of delete chunk size depends on various factors such as:
- The size of a row of the table. You can calculate this by adding bytes needed for each column, and some control information per record.
- The underlying physical storage. e.g Normal SATA spinning Disk, SSD, SCSI, Amazon S3/EBS etc.
- The type of the database engine (e.g. MySql, MSSql, Oracle). Each one has different data organization mechanism in physical storage.
- OS where the DB server runs.

The best way to calculate the chunk size it is to run a sample program that calculates the size. To do this, you may need to insert a large number of artificial records on the table and run a deletion query with incremental chunk sizes. Then you can plot the result in a table to see which is the optimal chunk size for a specific configuration.

Also, this chunk size configuration may change later if you decide to upgrade the DB cluster, their storage etc. Hence it is not a static value. The optimal value needs to be measured each time you do a change in your database infrastructure.

Note: Usually, the optimum chunk size is power of 2 and typically multiple of 512. This can be used for incremental values.

Why we need to have a proper delete chunk size ?

In the world of World Wide Web, Sessions are the simplest way to store data for individual users against a unique session ID. These can be used to persist state information between page requests. When all the requests ad responses that comes to a page per day are considered, that is really a large amount. Due to this reason, the session data storing in the “ IDN_AUTH_SESSION_STORE ” table in the WSO2CARBON_DB of WSO2 IS is really high. This table fills up quickly if your system receive too much loads of requests.

After a certain period of time these session data is not really necessary. In order to stop the exponential table growth, a Session Clean Up Task in predefined time intervals is run via a script. If this storing session data is huge, the data that need to be deleted also will comes in bulk.

The session clean up task also takes a certain amount of time and consumes certain amount of resources. Therefore,the performance of session clean up tasks should always be improved. For this DeleteChunkSize property has introduced in WSO2 Identity Server. This will also help to reduce dead-locks happening during session clean up task. With the use of DeleteChunkSize value, the deletion happens batch wisely. “DeleteChunkSize” of data is deleted at one time.

But if you didn’t select a correct number for the DeleteChunkSize, you will end up with less performance. Therefore selecting suitable chunk size for you database is a must.

This chuck size may differ due to various factors of your environment

  • The size of a row of the table. Calculate this by adding bytes needed for each column, and some control information per record.
  • The underlying physical storage. e.g Normal SATA spinning Disk, SSD, SCSI, Amazon S3/EBS etc.
  • The type of the database engine (e.g. MySql, MSSql, Oracle). Each one has different data organization mechanism in physical storage.
  • OS where the DB server runs.

Therefore, it is hard to select a DeleteChunkSize without considering all the above factors.