How to protect your RESTful APIs in Lift with JWT


You have a RESTful api as a source of data for your mobile applications or a reactjs/angular/vue/whatever frontend, and you, as a security conscious software engineer (or a good student that follows these security guidelines ) want to protect your precious endpoints from unwanted eyes.

my treasure restful apis

What is JWT

As explained in the official JWT page or in the RFC 7519,

JSON Web Token (JWT) is an open standard (RFC 7519) that defines a compact and self-contained way for securely transmitting information between parties as a JSON object. This information can be verified and trusted because it is digitally signed. JWTs can be signed using a secret (with the HMAC algorithm) or a public/private key pair using RSA.

In brief, it’s a string with the following format


where each part is base64url encoded, interactive examples here.

Just rember that the payload is not encrypted and ANYONE that has access to the token can see what’s inside. An attacker can inspect the payload but he can’t tamper with it because it’s signed with a STRONG key that you generated.

My library of choice to encode/decode/verify JWT with Scala is jwt-scala

Building an interceptor with Lift

The api we want to protect is the following

GET /api/secured/treasure

I would like to have a middleware (in Express.js terms, a decorator if you are a Python lover) that intercepts every request that points to a protected resource, decode the JWT inside of the http request’s Authorization header and allow or deny access to the forementioned resource according to the token validity.

How can we do this with Lift?

The LiftRules object is where most of the configuration parameters that handles HTTP request and responses reside. It gets initialized during boot.

As the documentation says, this is the place where we tell Lift what resource needs to be protected and how.

Lift doesn’t support Token based authentication out of the box, but thanks to its extensibility we can easily write our own JWT authenticator.

Let the fun begin!

Let’s start with informing Lift that out precious API needs to be protected.

def protectedRoutes: LiftRules.HttpAuthProtectedResourcePF = {
  //Empty means that this resource is protected by authentication but no authorization is performed
  case "api" :: "secured" :: "treasure" :: Nil JsonGet _ => Empty
LiftRules.authentication = JWTAuthentication("api"){
  case(payload, _) =>

For each HttpAuthProtectedResourcePF inside LiftRules.httpAuthProtectedResource, Lift will use the authentication mechanism defined with LiftRules.authentication.
In our case JWTAuthentication.

Let’s write it.

First thing to do, in order to tell Lift we are writing an HTTP authentication method, we must extend the HttpAuthentication trait

trait HttpAuthentication {
  def header(r: Req): Box[String] = r.request.header("Authorization")

  def verified_? : PartialFunction[Req, Boolean]

  def realm: String = ""

  def unauthorizedResponse: UnauthorizedResponse = UnauthorizedResponse(realm)

  def shutDown {}

and override the verified_? partial function, that is the bouncer of our API.

Inside the verified_? partial function we need to take the token from the request’s Authorization header, verify it and decode its payload, if we are interested in the claims inside its stomach.
If verified_? returns true, the client is allowed, otherwise a 401 UnauthorizedResponse will be returned.

case class JWTAuthentication(realmName: String)(func: PartialFunction[(String, Req), Boolean]) extends HttpAuthentication {
    //If the credentials functions returns a Full box, func gets executed
    override def verified_? : PartialFunction[Req, Boolean] = {
    case (req) =>
        credentials(req) match {
        case Full(payload) if func.isDefinedAt(payload, req) =>
            func(payload, req)
        case _ => false

credentials is a simple function that decodes the JWT with your secret and a given algorithm, you can find the full code at the end of this post.

Now we have an interceptor that can extract a JWT from each request that points to a protected resource, but how can we examine the claims that are inside the token without redoing the work that our interceptor has already done?

It’s simple, we can stick our decoded payload in a TransientRequestVar, a request variable that has the scope of the current HTTP request.

object jwtClaims extends TransientRequestVar[Option[String]](Empty)

Now in our api we can access jwtClaims and analyze the JWT payload.

object SecuredApi extends RestHelper{
  serve("api" / "secured" prefix {
     case "treasure" :: Nil JsonGet _ =>
       //Here you can access jwtClaims TransientRequestVar
       JString("My Treasure")

This example is purposefully simple in order to make you better understand the general architecture, a better approach would be deserialize our claims and stick inside the TransientRequestVar not a String but a more suitable and easier to manage data type.

Here below, for your enjoyment, the full source code.

Keep Learning
Until next time