This guide will assist with standing up a simple application protected by Shibboleth and add the application to the AAF’s TEST Federation to evaluate basic functionality. The prerequisites for this guide require elevated privileges to one of the supported platforms and the installation and/or configuration of the following components:

  • a supported web server, 
  • SSL libraries suitable for the web server,
  • open firewall port HTTPS/443 that permits inbound and outbound traffic,
  • NTP service and active time synchronisation - SAML transactions are time-sensitive,
  • allocation of a DNS name for the service,
  • were available, SELinux is disabled, as it may interfere with communication between the Apache web server and the Shibboleth process.

This guide is derived from the Shibboleth Wiki and assumes knowledge of the following aspects of the target OS and architecture:

  • working knowledge of the web server platform,
  • standard OS-level knowledge, sufficient for software installation, configuration file editing and starting/stopping of processes/services,
  • working knowledge of XML,
  • basic knowledge of public key cryptography,
  • basic understanding of web cookies and redirects,
  • basic understanding of web authentication.

The Shibboleth Wiki provides installation and configuration information for Shibboleth Service Provider (SP) on the following platforms:

  • RedHat/CentOS versions 6, 7 or 8 with Apache 2.2, 2.4 or FastCGI; and 
  • Windows 2008 and later with Apache 2.2, 2.4 or IIS; 
  • additional information on building packages from source for other RPM-supporting Linux versions.

The Shibboleth Consortium has considerably streamlined the SP installation process for Linux and Apache, and this guide reflects that approach. Other combinations of platform and web server require additional steps to install the SP, configure the web server and protect content. For these, links in this guide will refer deployers to additional Shibboleth documentation. All links in this guide are collated in the Links Section at the end.

The AAF provides two Federations to subscribing organisations: TEST and PRODUCTION. Membership of the AAF is an essential condition for adding services to the PRODUCTION Federation. Details on joining the AAF are found here:

Shibboleth Guides

The key to deploying federated services is understanding Shibboleth and SAML, how the required components interact, and details on session cookies and the terminology in use. The following articles serve as an an introduction to these topics:


The following is a sequence of steps to protect a service (in this instance, a simple PHP script) by deploying a Shibboleth SP with Apache running on Linux. 

For supported Linux distributions, the Shibboleth Consortium provides a web service which generates the appropriate package management configuration file. This service is available here:

Copy the configuration into a file in the repository directory, on CentOS/RedHat for example, the file can be labelled /etc/yum.repos.d/shibboleth.repo

1 - Install Shibboleth

Install Shibboleth, Apache and the SSL libraries for the architecture of the OS: x86_64 or i386, to ensure the installation of the appropriate versions of and other pluggable modules. This demonstration will use Shibboleth SP 3.1.x, Apache 2.4 and the current SSL libraries, and PHP (currently 5.4) to demonstrate the protection of a simple application and passing user attributes to the application.

$> yum install httpd.x86_64 mod_ssl.x86_64 shibboleth.x86_64 PHP.x86_64 -y

An outline for installing the Shibboleth SP on other web platforms is available in the Shibboleth Wiki:

At this point in the deployment process, determine which federation the application will join: TEST or PRODUCTION. This choice influences which metadata distribution service to connect and which Federation Registry (FR) will process the SP Registration

2 - Configure Shibboleth

For this demonstration, minor updates to the default installation are sufficient to demonstrate functionality. However, a deployer should thoroughly review the Shibboleth SP documentation and be sufficiently familiar with the configurable options and advanced functionality to ensure a secure deployment.

2.1 - <ApplicationDefaults> Element

To be a SAML entity, a SP requires a globally unique entityID. This value permits IdPs to identify the SP and locate the SP’s service end-points in the Federation metadata. Likewise, the SP uses the IdP’s entityID value to identify and locate the IdP’s service end-points in the Federation metadata. Typically, including a service’s hostname in the entityID value ensures a globally unique value. Shibboleth is very configurable and can operate in a multi-domain environment. A web server may have several virtual hosts, and an application may span several physical hosts, all protected by one or more instances of Shibboleth.


Choose wisely! Once registered and in-use, any change to an entityID value disrupts a web service’s availability.

For Linux edit the configuration file /etc/shibboleth/shibboleth2.xml, and for Windows locate the shibboleth2.xml file within the installation directory. Locate the <ApplicationDefaults> element. Update the default value for entityID, updating the placeholder value”.

The REMOTE_USER setting is an environment variable which enables Shibboleth to pass the “authenticated username” to an application. The default values are sufficient for this demonstration, however deployers should only include those attributes which are the primary identifiers in the web application. Shibboleth is, to some extent, unique among SSO tools because it does not require that REMOTE_USER contains a value, even if a user has authenticated. Details on the configurable options within the <ApplicationDefaults> element are available here:

2.2 - <Sessions> Element

The <Sessions> and its child <Handler> elements control SSO and provide core SAML functionality. Update the <Sessions> element settings with the following values. 

<Sessions lifetime="28800" timeout="3600" relayState="ss:mem" 
     checkAddress="true" handlerSSL="true" cookieProps="https" 

Enabling these items contributes to the overall security of the web application, though the checkAddress setting will be a source of errors in a NAT or proxy environment. Replacing checkAddress with consistentAddress may reduce those issues however, the best approach is to avoid combining a NAT or a proxy service with a web application protected by a Shibboleth SP. Details on the <Sessions> element configurable options are available here:

2.3 - <SSO> element

The <SSO> element enables and configures single sign-on and sets the choice of authentication protocols. The entityID configuration item sets the default IdP for user authentication. In a Federation, the use of the settings discoveryProtocol and discoveryURL provide access to a discovery service which offers a list of all the participating IdPs.

To configure the service to use the Federation, remove the entityID setting and value pair: entityID=""

Update the discoveryURL configuration value so the <SSO>element has the following contents:

When connecting the service to the PRODUCTION Federation, use the following value instead: discoveryURL=""

Details on the <SSO> element configurable options are available here:

2.4 - <MetadataProvider> element

The <MetadataProvider> element provides the core functionality which establishes the trust relationships with subscriber IdPs. Without metadata, SPs and IdPs will not be able to participate in the Federation, nor interact via the user browser agent.

The AAF collects the subscriber IdP and SP metadata and publishes aggregate metadata for IdPs and SPs to consume. The AAF signs both metadata documents with a common certificate and the metadata is periodically refreshed with a validity window. Without the aggregated metadata, each SP would need to independently obtain IdP metadata from each organisation with an IdP service to enable that organisation’s users access to the web application protected by the SP.

The aggregated metadata differs to the information available from the discovery service URL. For an SP, having an IdP’s metadata will provide access to users of the IdP as long as the IdP has a copy of the SP's metadata, even if the IdP is not listed by the discovery service. The reverse is not possible 

Locate the <MetadataProvider> elements and identify, via the comments and type of equal to “XML”, the element which controls the “remote supply of "signed metadata" which also caches a copy locally. To enable this element, remove the enclosing comment delimiters <!-- and --> .

Since this demonstration service will be available to the TEST Federation, replace the URL value with TEST Federation metadata source URL: If a service is production-ready, use the PRODUCTION Federation metadata source URL:

Replace the certificate setting value with the following string aaf-metadata-certificate.pem, and download the AAF signing certificate with the following command:
$> curl --output /etc/shibboleth/aaf-metadata-certificate.pem

PRODUCTION and TEST Metadata are signed by the same certificate.

The <MetadataProvider> element should now have the same content as the following fragment:

<MetadataProvider type="XML" validate="true" 
    backingFilePath="federation-metadata.xml" maxRefreshDelay="7200">
    <MetadataFilter type="RequireValidUntil" maxValidityInterval="2419200"/>
    <MetadataFilter type="Signature" certificate="aaf-metadata-certificate.pem" verifyBackup="false"/>
    <DiscoveryFilter type="Blacklist" matcher="EntityAttributes" trimTags="true"
      attributeValue="" />

Though a standard Shibboleth SP install creates two certificate pairs, one for signing and one for encryption, the AAF Service Provider Registration Form only requests one public key certificate. For a deployer, the choices available are to:

  1. add the other public key certificate to the FR once access is granted, or 

  2. use the same key pairs for both functions within the SP configuration. 

Pick an option and copy the public certificate for later use during the registration process. Keep the private keys secure! 

Details on the <MetadataProvider> elements configurable options are available here:

2.5 - Review the SP attribute-filter.xml file

For this demonstration, the uncommented default attributes are sufficient. A deployer selects those attributes a web application receives and configures the SP accordingly by updating the attribute-map.xml file. The attribute-map.xml configuration file maps incoming attribute names or formats into local or header variable names and determines the data the SP consumes from the IdPs. 

The deployer will also need to register those attributes in FR. Details on the attribute filter configurable options are available here:

3 - Configure Apache

The default Apache installation creates a self-signed certificate which is sufficient for this demonstration. A production-ready deployment requires a CA-issued SSL certificate and a review of the Apache configuration files for suitability. This review should include enabling UseCanonicalName and setting a value for ServerName

For this demonstration these can be set in Apache’s conf.d/ssl.conf file within the <VirtualHost _default_:443> directive. 

To ensure that users are always accessing the server via HTTPS, either disable port 80 or configure a redirect from port 80/HTTP to 443/HTTPS. Adding the following virtual host element to Apache’s conf.d/shib.conf file is a simple means of achieving the redirect, replacing the string with the DNS name of the host. The shib.conf file also contains the default <Location> directive which protects the secure directory with Shibboleth.
<VirtualHost *:80>
    RedirectMatch 301 (.*)$1

Details on the configuration options for Apache are available here:

Details on the configuration options for IIS are available here:

4 - Configure the application

The Shibboleth installation will create the secure directory in Apache’s DocumentRoot directory and protect that directory with a <Location> directive in the conf.d/shib.conf file. Create a PHP file in the secure directory and add the following PHP script to the file. This script is the Shibboleth protected application for this demonstration. The PHP script is not accessible without authentication and reports the Apache’s environment, including the attributes received by Shibboleth from the user agent.

<?php echo date("h:i A, l jS \of F, Y.") ?> <br/>
<?php echo $_SERVER['eppn']; ?> <br/>
<?php echo $_SERVER['affiliation']; ?> <br/>
<?php echo $_SERVER['persistent-id']; ?> <hr/>
<?php foreach ($_SERVER as $key => $value) {
       print $key."=>".$value."<br>";} ?> <br/>

5 - Start services and check logs

Using the system tools, start or restart the Apache and Shibboleth services. For Linux these are: httpd and shibd.

The shibd service creates its own logs in /var/log/shibboleth. These are the most important logs for debugging anything regarding the SP and most problems manifest here rather than in the web server logs. Details on the configurable options are available here:

To check the services are active, use the following command to retrieve the Shibboleth service status from the host’s console. 

$> curl https://localhost/Shibboleth.sso/Status --insecure

If the Shibboleth and Apache services start correctly, the web server will respond with a Status Handler report containing the current time (GMT) and the operational status of the SP instance. The <Status Handler> is only accessible from a remote client by updating the shibboleth2.xml file and adding the client IP address to the ACL parameter within the <Handler type=”Status”> located within the <Sessions> element. The ACL is restrictive by default since the SP can reveal sensitive information about the host and software versions in use. Details on the configurable options are available here:

6 - SP Registration in the Federation

A deployed Shibboleth SP only becomes useful after registering the SP in a Federation. The following steps show how to register an SP:

  1. From the following links, navigate to the landing page for the Federation Registry for the appropriate environment and select Create a Service Provider.
    1. PRODUCTION Federation -
    2. TEST Federation - 
  2. Select the Organisation under which the SP will be registered and provide the following details:
    1. a service name,
    2. a description of the service, and
    3. the service landing page URL
  3. There are two methods for providing the SAML details for the new service: automatically or manually.
    1. Automatically requires the URL of the service. This method is available to SPs operating with Shibboleth or SimpleSAMLPHP and relies on these products responding on their default metadata endpoints. 
    2. Manually requires the deployer to complete the Advanced SAML 2 Registration Form with the necessary information and assumes that the deployer is familiar with the SAML2 end-points for their service.
  4. Provide the contents of the public key certificate created by the Shibboleth installation, this is not the web server SSL public certificate.
  5. Select those attributes that the application requires, provide a reason for the request and whether the attribute is mandatory/required. The selection of attributes should match those attributes enabled in the attribute-map.xml file. For this demonstration the default Shibboleth installation enables the attributes eppn and affiliation.
  6. Submit the registration and await review by the AAF support team, who will be in touch with the deployer, whose details were supplied at the top of the form.
  7. On approval, the service is registered in the Federation and metadata generated for inclusion in the AAF Metadata file, which is refreshed every few hours.


7 - Test access to protected content

To test access to protected content, an active account at an existing subscriber with an IdP is necessary. The IdP must exist within the same Federation (TEST or PRODUCTION) as the deployed service. Access the PHP script within the protected directory /secure with a web browser. The PHP script will report values for those attributes which the attribute-map.xml configuration enables and the Apache session environment.


Joining the AAF

AAF Federations - for registering new services



Shibboleth SP3

Release Notes

Disabling SELinux

Interaction between Identity Provider and Service Provider

Application Model

Application Integration

Starting point for installation on Linux, Windows and Mac.

SP Configuration elements and components

Install SP on other web platforms

 <ApplicationDefaults> element configuration options

<Sessions> element configuration options

<SSO> element configuration options

<MetadataProvider> elements configuration options

Attribute filter configuration options

<Status> Handler configuration options

Logging configuration options



Shibboleth Configuration options 

Microsoft IIS configuration options