Indivo Authentication

Calls to the Indivo API are authenticated using oAuth. Here, we provide details of exactly how Indivo uses oAuth, in particular the options that are supported and those that aren’t.

Specifics of our oAuth implementation

OAuth Section 5.2 defines three possible approaches to sending OAuth Protocol Parameters. In Indivo, we use exclusively the HTTP authorization header, as defined by the OAuth specification, as the preferred method. We allow oauth_callback and oauth_verifier to be provided as POST parameters, only because some client libraries that are not oAuth 1.0a-compatible cannot otherwise connect.

We require all changes suggested by the oAuth 1.0a revision:

  • When asking for a request_token, the PHA must provide oauth_callback as an extra oAuth parameter. This can be a URL where Indivo X will send the user after token authorization, or it can be oob to use the default URL specified by the PHA at registration time.
  • When responding to a request token, Indivo X will include oauth_callback_confirmed=true
  • A PHA’s callback URL should accept both oauth_token and oauth_verifier parameters.
  • When exchanging a request token for an access token, the PHA must provide the corresponding oauth_verifier parameter in addition to all existing parameters.

In addition, we implement the following constraints:

  • As per the oAuth recommended approach, all oAuth token setup and exchange calls use the POST method. The Indivo server will respond with a 405 Method Not Allowed error code to any GET request against its OAuth protocol URLs.
  • The oauth_version parameter is mandatory. Every PHA request should include the oauth_version parameter. The only supported value in Indivo at this point is oauth_version=1.0.
  • Given an Indivo Server running at https://INDIVO_SERVER, the OAuth URLs are defined as follows:
    • Request Token URL: https://INDIVO_SERVER/oauth/request_token
    • User Authorization URL: Since there is a UI component to enabling User Authorization (i.e., we have to obtain their consent), Indivo_Server does not explicitly offer a User Authorization URL via its API. Individual UI apps can (with a valid user session) authorize tokens on behalf of users with a call to POST /oauth/internal/request_tokens/{TOKEN}/approve, but each individual UI-app implementation will provide a different app-facing User Authorization URL. We recommend using https://UI_SERVER/oauth/authorize?oauth_token={token}, which is the URL used by our reference UI-app implementation.
    • Access Token URL: https://INDIVO_SERVER/oauth/access_token
  • oAuth defines a number of default signature methods and leaves open the possibility of using other signature methods. Indivo supports only one request signature method: HMAC-SHA1. Support for RSA-SHA1 may eventually be added.

Body and Content-Type

By default, oAuth only signs the body of HTTP requests that are form-url-encoded. Indivo uses the oAuth Body Hash Extension to ensure that raw POSTs, e.g. to send XML documents, become part of the signature. When the body-hash extension is activated, Indivo also expects an additional parameter, oauth_content_type, to certify the content type HTTP header (and prevent content-sniffing attacks.)

User Applications (PHAs)

PHA Registration

A PHA registers with Indivo using an Indivo-installation specific process, at the conclusion of which both Indivo and the PHA agree on:

  • The name of the PHA, e.g. “Medical Surveys”
  • An oAuth consumer_key and consumer_secret.
  • A start_url_template for the PHA, e.g.{indivo_record_id}&document_id={document_id}.
  • A callback_url for the PHA, e.g., which should expect to receive query parameters oauth_token and oauth_verifier.
  • Whether the PHA has a web user interface (certain applications that synchronize data have no UI), and whether that PHA is frameable inside Indivo.
  • Whether the PHA is autonomous or not, and if it is, why it wants that kind of access to the user’s personal health record.

IMPORTANTLY, the callback_url is the only URL that Indivo will return the user to after a successful PHA attachment. Indivo does not support a custom oAuth callback URL.

Autonomous Apps

An autonomous app is one that wants to access the user’s record while the user is not connected. PHAs that qualify include hospital data connectors, drug-interaction checkers, etc. There are very good reasons for PHAs to access a record while the user is not online, but we want to ensure that users understand the implications, and thus the Indivo authorization pathway looks different depending on whether an app is autonomous or not.

An app must choose to be autonomous at registration time. It must be autonomous for all users, or for none.

An autonomous app accesses the entire record by default, and the user must consent to this. This design choice is meant to prevent medical mistakes for automated apps that, for example, check for drug-drug interactions but may fail to notify the user if they have only partial data access. An autonomous app thus triggers the appropriate authorization screen that warns the user about the long-term, autonomous access, displays the app’s reason for requesting this type of access, and simply gives the user a yes/no choice.

Autonomous apps can, in some circumstances, have no user-interface. This might happen if, for example, a hospital connector application sits behind the hospital firewall and connects autonomously to the Indivo record to upload hospital data into the PCHR, but never lets the user connect directly to the app itself. There are two ways, currently, to authorize such an application. The first is via admin-based PHA setup, where an administrative app primes the Indivo record with this app. Alternatively, the UI may allow users to permission autonomous apps without an interface. In this case, there is no oauth dance: the user ‘enables’ the app, and the app is then able to acquire access tokens for enabled users directly. In any case, these apps must declare their lack of UI at registration time, much like they declare their being autonomous or not. Only autonomous apps can choose to forgo a UI.

A non-autonomous app, on the other hand, is one that is meant to be used by whoever is logged in and has access to the record in question. Depending on which user has launched the app, the app’s permissions might differ. For example, when Alice uses the Problems App within her record, she should see ‘’all’’ of her problems. However, when Bob, her co-worker, uses the Problems App to view Alice’s record, he should see only those problems which Alice has chosen to let him see. Thus, a non-autonomous app exists purely to proxy a human user’s clicks and perform some visualization / data entry assistance functionality. Non-autonomous apps are thus constrained to a carenet at the time that the user clicks on the app name to launch it. When Bob launches the Problems App on Alice’s record, the Problems App receives an access token that is constrained to Alice’s “Work” carenet, and the app can only access the problems Alice has made available within her Work carenet. All access tokens for non-autonomous apps are valid only for the duration of a web session.

Connecting a PHA to a Record

A user opts to add a PHA to her Indivo record by enabling it in the UI. At any subsequent point, when the user attempts to use the PHA (i.e. by clicking on it in the UI), she is sent to the PHA’s start URL with the indivo_record_id filled in. The PHA may present informational content if it so desires, then is expected to begin the OAuth authorization process. When the PHA begins the oAuth process, it should do so with the indicated indivo_record_id that it received when its start_url was accessed.

Obtain a Request Token

A PHA begins its access request for a user when the user visits the PHA’s start URL. While the user’s browser awaits a response, the PHA obtains from the Indivo Server a request token. This is accomplished by issuing a signed POST 2-legged oAuth request to the Request Token URL:


with optional form parameter indivo_record_id. Again, if the PHA was accessed via its start_url with the Indivo record ID filled in, it should use this record ID at this point in obtaining the request token. Otherwise, the user interface will be thoroughly confusing.

This call returns an oAuth token:


The PHA is expected to store the Request Token and its correspondence to this specific user, likely in the web session.

Authorize the Request Token

Once it has obtained a request token, with the user’s browser still waiting for a response, the PHA responds by redirecting the user’s browser to the User Authorization URL on an Indivo UI app, indicated in the request token response above, or by default:


with the request_token as a URL query parameter named oauth_token. Note how this URL is not a signed OAuth request. This step is simply a redirection of the user’s browser to her Indivo account in order to prompt for and obtain authorization.

Indivo prompts the user to authenticate if she isn’t already logged in. Indivo then associates the request token with this user, and only this user can proceed with this specific request token. It is an error for a PHA to attempt to reuse request tokens, and Indivo will prevent this from happening.

Indivo then presents the user with the details of the PHA’s requested permissions.

The user can choose to cancel the process, in which case no further requests are issued, the PHA is not notified, and the request token is discarded.

Obtain an Access Token

If the user agrees to connect with the PHA, Indivo redirects the user browser to the PHA’s callback_url, as specified by the PHA at registration time. Appended to this callback_url are the oauth_token, the request token that identifies this authorization dance, and the oauth_verifier. The PHA is encouraged to check that the oauth_token matches the token stored in its web-session.

The PHA must now exchange the Request Token for an Access Token. This is accomplished using a 3-legged oAuth POST request, with the request token and secret, to:


In response to this request, the PHA obtains an Access Token, including one of two optional parameters:




This token can then be used by the PHA to make 3-legged oAuth calls to Indivo. The Indivo record ID parameter indicates which record this token is bound to, while the carenet indicates which portion of the system the PHA can access.

Interact and Re-Auth

At this point, the PHA has an access token, an access secret, an Indivo record ID, and an Indivo privacy group. These credentials allow the PHA to make calls to the Indivo Server to obtain data from the given Indivo record. If the PHA provides a direct web interface to the user, this UI is delivered inside an IFRAME within the Indivo User Interface.

A few days later, when the user returns to his Indivo record, he can click on any of the PHAs he has already authorized. The PHA, however, does not know immediately who this user is. To communicate the user’s identity to the PHA, Indivo simply re-performs the oAuth dance, setting the IFRAME’s URL to the PHA’s starting point with the prescribed Indivo Record ID. When the PHA redirects the IFRAME to the authorization page, Indivo notices that this record has already authorized the app, and simply redirects the IFRAME immediately to the PHA’s callback_url. Thus, a complete oAuth process is re-performed, and the PHA re-obtains an access token, access secret, Indivo record ID and privacy group.

The PHA should never assume that the access token and secret stay the same. The long-term identifier that the PHA should key its data against is the Indivo Record ID.

Admin Applications

Admin Applications contact the Indivo X server using 2-legged oAuth only, with just a consumer key and consumer secret.

Chrome Applications

Most Indivo developers who only wish to write PHAs can safely ignore Chrome applications. Developers who wish to customize the entire Indivo experience need to understand Chrome apps.

The Indivo Chrome (User Interface) contacts the Indivo X server first using 2-legged oAuth to create a user-specific session using the user’s username and password. Indivo X responds with a fresh oAuth token and secret valid for the length of a typical web session. Then all Indivo Chrome calls to the Indivo X server on behalf of a given user are made as 3-legged calls, using the Indivo Chrome’s consumer key and secret, and the specific session token and secret.