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Secure Web App Login Screens

More and more customers are using Xojo to create applications that may contain private end-user information. This means that it’s becoming increasingly important that your web applications be protected with an SSL certificate and some kind of authentication to make sure the user is who they claim to be.

Note: To follow along, you will need to build a CGI application and run it on a server that has an SSL certificate installed. Otherwise, you’ll get an error.

Traditionally, a login screen requests a UserID of some kind (whether an email address or other unique identifying identifier of some kind, like an account number) and a password (automatically generated or entered by the end-user).

A good method for creating login screens in Xojo is to use a Modal Dialog on an otherwise empty page, because there is no question about what you need the user to do next. It also allows you to deal with the complexities of the login process without any other code possibly getting in the way.SecureLogin.png

Something to remember: SSL connections are notably slower than non-SSL connections because no caching is allowed, so you might not want your whole web application to be secure (like if you were creating a publicly accessible site with special features for members-only). What you need to be able to do is to switch from non-SSL to SSL when a user gets to the login screen.

Making the Switch

In this example, the login screen is simply a blank web page that shows a web dialog in the Shown event. Before you get to that point, you need to check to see if the connection is secure. In the LoginPage.Open event:

// Make sure the user is connecting securely,
// If not have the browser load the application securely
If Not Session.Secure Then
  Dim host As String = Session.Header("Host")
  Dim url As String = "https://" + host
  ShowURL(url)
End If
Okay great, but this will take the user back to the default web page, not the login page, so you need to tell the session how to handle that. In the WebSession.Open() event:
If Self.Secure Then
  LoginPage.Show
End If
In this case we’re making the assumption that an end-user that is just connecting to the app (i.e. creating a new Session) and is connecting securely will want to be directed to the login page.

Remember Me

If you look at the screen shot, there is a “Remember Me” checkbox. Typically these are used to remember the UserID to help jog the end-user’s memory about what their password might be. This function uses a browser feature called Cookies which stores a snippet of information on the computer where the user is (assuming cookies are enabled, of course).
NOTE: It is best to not remember the user’s password because if this box gets checked on a public computer (like a Library or Internet Cafe) the user’s account could be compromised.

 

To make the checkbox work, you need two pieces of code – in LoginDialog.Shown:
If Session.Cookies.Value("username") <> "" Then
  UserNameField.Text = Session.Cookies.Value("username")
  RememberMeCheck.Value = True
  PasswordField.SetFocus()
End If
First, check to see if the “username” cookie has been set, and if it has, place the value into the Username text field, check the RememberMe checkbox and set the focus to the Password field (mostly a convenience to the users don’t need to do that manually).

 

Next, in the Action() event of the Login button:
DoLogin
Then create the DoLogin method on LoginDialog:
If RememberMeCheck.Value Then
  Session.Cookies.Set("username", UserNameField.Text)
Else
  Session.Cookies.Remove("username")
End If

// Now validate the credentials and if they are OK,
// you can close the dialog and show the main page.
If ValidateCredentials Then
  Self.Close
  MainPage.Show
Else
  MsgBox("The username/password combination does not match.")
End If

You may be asking yourself why should you create a separate method for what would normally be in the Action event? The reason is because you may want to close this dialog from another location (see below), but first, when the user clicks the login button, you check the value of the RememberMe checkbox – If True, set the Username Cookie to the what was typed as the user name. If False, remove the cookie (otherwise users wouldn’t be able to remove the cookie by unchecking the box).

Capturing Returns

One last thing. Users expect things to work just like all the other web applications out there, and that means that when they press the Return key on their keyboard, they usually expect the login action to occur. You can do this by adding code the the KeyPressed event of the window itself:
If Details.KeyCode = 13 Then
  LoginDialog1.DoLogin
End If
Which is why you put the code from the Action event into a separate method! Now, when the user types their username and/or password and hits the Return key, the dialog will be dismissed just as if they had clicked the Login button themselves!
(This is an update of a post originally published on April 3, 2102 by Greg O’Lone)



Web App Security