Suppressing forms authentication redirects

One of the most terrible pain points of correctly implementing authentication is to define how to handle unauthorized requests. So for example neither unauthenticated users, nor users who are not the members of the Admins group can request the /admin URL.

Thankfully the FormsAuthenticationModule in ASP.NET provides a built-in solution to this problem. When the module is initialized, it subscribes to the EndRequest event with the OnLeave event handler, and when the HTTP status code is 401, this event handler redirects the user to the login page. This is a very convenient feature for classic requests, however it may cause serious headaches for Ajax.

When the module redirects the request, the client receives a HTTP 302 Redirect header instead of the original 401 Unauthorized error code. As defined in the standard, the XMLHttpRequest client transparently follows the redirect and downloads the content from the URI specified in the Location header, which is usually the Login.aspx page. So when the success handler of the XHR is called, it will see the HTML markup of the login page as the result of the call, and the result code will be 200 OK which indicates success. Well, how you can handle this easily?

Until .NET 4.0  you had no other option to fix this behavior than adding a custom HTTP module to the ASP.NET pipeline. But ASP.NET 4.5 introduced a new HttpResponse.SuppressFormsAuthenticationRedirect property, which you can set to true to avoid the redirect, and force the FormsAuthenticationModule to send the original 401 error code to the browser. Because this property is attached to the Response, you cannot set it globally, but instead you have to flip this switch in every handler that requires this behavior. If you want to set it for every response, then you can implement this in the Application_EndRequest handler in global.asax.

Now it is the client’s task to handle the specific error code as required, for example by displaying a login box or a warning message in JavaScript. But you already have that logic, haven’t you?


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