SAML authentication

Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) is an XML-based authentication mechanism that provides single sign-on capability and is defined by the OASIS Security Services Technical Committee.


Consider a scenario in which a service provider (LargeProvider) hosts a number of applications for a customer (BigCompany). BigCompany has users that must seamlessly access these applications. In a traditional setup, LargeProvider would need to maintain a database of users of BigCompany. This raises some concerns for each of the following stakeholders:

  • LargeProvider must ensure security of user data.
  • BigCompany must validate the users and keep the user data up-to-date, not just in its own database, but also in the user database maintained by LargeProvider. For example, a user removed from the BigCompany database must also be removed from the LargeProvider database.
  • A user has to log on individually to each of the hosted applications.

The SAML authentication mechanism provides an alternative approach. The following deployment diagram shows how SAML works.

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The concerns raised by traditional authentication mechanisms are resolved as follows:

  • LargeProvider does not have to maintain a database for BigCompany users. Freed from identity management, LargeProvider can concentrate on providing better services.
  • BigCompany does not bear the burden of making sure the LargeProvider user database is kept in sync with its own user database.
  • A user can log on once, to one application hosted on LargeProvider, and be automatically logged on to the other applications that are hosted there.

The NetScaler appliance can be deployed as a SAML Service Provider (SP) and a SAML Identity Provider (IdP). Read through the relevant topics to understand the configurations that must be performed on the NetScaler appliance.

A NetScaler appliance configured as a SAML service provider can now enforce an audience restriction check. The audience restriction condition evaluates to “Valid” only if the SAML replying party is a member of at least one of the specified audiences.

You can configure a NetScaler appliance to parse attributes in SAML assertions as group attributes. Parsing them as group attributes enables the appliance to bind policies to the groups.


A NetScaler appliance MPX FIPS appliance used as a SAML service provider now supports encrypted assertions. Also, a NetScaler appliance MPX FIPS appliance functioning as a SAML service provider or a SAML identity provider can now be configured to use the SHA2 algorithms on FIPS hardware.

Configuring FIPS offload support using the command line interface

  1. Add SSL FIPS

    add ssl fipsKey fips-key

  2. Create a CSR and use it at CA server to generate a certificate. You can then copy the certificate in /nsconfig/ssl. Let’s assume that the file is fips3cert.cer.

    add ssl certKey fips-cert -cert fips3cert.cer -fipsKey fips-key<!--NeedCopy-->

  3. Specify this certificate in the SAML action for SAML SP module

    set samlAction <name> -samlSigningCertName fips-cert<!--NeedCopy-->

  4. Use the certificate in samlIdpProfile for SAML IDP module

    set samlidpprofile fipstest –samlIdpCertName fips-cert<!--NeedCopy-->

The following table lists some articles that are specific to deployments where the NetScaler appliance is used as a SAML SP or a SAML IdP.

SAML SP SAML IdP Information Link
NetScaler Citrix AppController Z3 Citrix Support
NetScaler CloudGateway Citrix Support
NetScaler Microsoft AD FS 2.0 Citrix Support
NetScaler Shibboleth Citrix Support
NetScaler Shibboleth (With SAML single logout configuration) Citrix Support
Siteminder NetScaler Citrix Support
ShareFile NetScaler Citrix Support
SAML authentication