RFC 8959 "secret-token" URI Scheme January 2021
Nottingham Informational [Page]
Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
M. Nottingham

RFC 8959

The "secret-token" URI Scheme


This document registers the "secret-token" URI scheme to aid in the identification of authentication tokens.

Status of This Memo

This document is not an Internet Standards Track specification; it is published for informational purposes.

This document is a product of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). It represents the consensus of the IETF community. It has received public review and has been approved for publication by the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG). Not all documents approved by the IESG are candidates for any level of Internet Standard; see Section 2 of RFC 7841.

Information about the current status of this document, any errata, and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8959.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

It has become increasingly common to use bearer tokens as an authentication mechanism in various protocols.

A bearer token is a security token with the property that any party in possession of the token (a "bearer") can use the token in any way that any other party in possession of it can. Using a bearer token does not require a bearer to prove possession of cryptographic key material (proof-of-possession).

Unfortunately, the number of security incidents involving accidental disclosure of these tokens has also increased. For example, we now regularly hear about a developer committing an access token to a public source code repository, either because they didn't realize it was included in the committed code or because they didn't realize the implications of its disclosure.

This specification registers the "secret-token" URI scheme to aid prevention of such accidental disclosures. When tokens are easier to unambiguously identify, they can trigger warnings in continuous integration systems or be used in source code repositories themselves. They can also be scanned for separately.

For example, if cloud.example.net issues access tokens to its clients for later use, and it does so by formatting them as "secret-token" URIs, tokens that "leak" into places that they don't belong are easier to identify. This could be through a variety of mechanisms; for example, if repo.example.com can be configured to refuse commits containing "secret-token" URIs, it helps its customers avoid accidental disclosures.

"secret-token" URIs are intended to aid in identification of generated secrets, like API keys and similar tokens. They are not intended for use in controlled situations where ephemeral tokens are used, such as things like Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) tokens.

1.1. Notational Conventions

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "NOT RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in BCP 14 [RFC2119] [RFC8174] when, and only when, they appear in all capitals, as shown here.

This document uses ABNF [RFC5234]. It also uses the pchar rule from [RFC3986].

2. The "secret-token" URI Scheme

The "secret-token" URI scheme identifies a token that is intended to be a secret.

secret-token-URI    = secret-token-scheme ":" token
secret-token-scheme = "secret-token"
token               = 1*pchar

See [RFC3986], Section 3.3 for a definition of pchar. Disallowed characters -- including non-ASCII characters -- MUST be encoded into UTF-8 [RFC3629] and then percent-encoded ([RFC3986], Section 2.1).

When a token is both generated and presented for authentication, the entire URI MUST be used, without changes.

For example, given the URI:


This (character-for-character, case-sensitive) string will both be issued by the token authority and required for later access. Therefore, if the example above were used as a bearer token in [RFC6750], a client might send:

GET /authenticated/stuff HTTP/1.1
Host: www.example.com
Authorization: Bearer

3. IANA Considerations

This document registers the following value in the "Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) Schemes" registry:

Scheme name:
Applications/protocols that use this scheme:
none yet
Change Controller:
RFC 8959

4. Security Considerations

The token ABNF rule allows tokens as small as one character. This is not recommended practice; applications should evaluate their requirements for entropy and issue tokens correspondingly. See [RFC4086] for more information.

This URI scheme is intended to reduce the incidence of accidental disclosure; it cannot prevent intentional disclosure.

If it is difficult to correctly handle secret material, or unclear as to what the appropriate handling is, users might choose to obfuscate their secret tokens in order to evade detection (for example, removing the URI scheme for storage). Mitigating this risk is often beyond the reach of the system using the "secret-token" URI; users can be cautioned against such practices and be provided tools to help.

5. References

5.1. Normative References

Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc2119>.
Yergeau, F., "UTF-8, a transformation format of ISO 10646", STD 63, RFC 3629, DOI 10.17487/RFC3629, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc3629>.
Berners-Lee, T., Fielding, R., and L. Masinter, "Uniform Resource Identifier (URI): Generic Syntax", STD 66, RFC 3986, DOI 10.17487/RFC3986, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc3986>.
Crocker, D., Ed. and P. Overell, "Augmented BNF for Syntax Specifications: ABNF", STD 68, RFC 5234, DOI 10.17487/RFC5234, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc5234>.
Leiba, B., "Ambiguity of Uppercase vs Lowercase in RFC 2119 Key Words", BCP 14, RFC 8174, DOI 10.17487/RFC8174, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8174>.

5.2. Informative References

Eastlake 3rd, D., Schiller, J., and S. Crocker, "Randomness Requirements for Security", BCP 106, RFC 4086, DOI 10.17487/RFC4086, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc4086>.
Jones, M. and D. Hardt, "The OAuth 2.0 Authorization Framework: Bearer Token Usage", RFC 6750, DOI 10.17487/RFC6750, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc6750>.


The definition of bearer tokens is from [RFC6750].

Author's Address

Mark Nottingham
Prahran VIC