ref: 13ed958d65981a2744683ffbffae1c0d2c51e36d vpn-documentation/INSTANCE_DISCOVERY.md -rw-r--r-- 5.6 KiB
13ed958dFrançois Kooman make clear that "the only difference" now refers only to OAuth 9 months ago

#title: Instance Discovery description: Obtain a list of VPN server Instances category: dev

NOTE: this is legacy. See SERVER_DISCOVERY for the new server discovery we are implementing in Q1-2020.

Applications can use "Instance Discovery" to obtain a list of known servers to show in the application instead of asking the user to provide the FQDN of the VPN server they want to connect to.

This document can be used by application developers implementing the API.

#Discovery File

For eduVPN the discovery file is available here. Discovery files are JSON files describing the available VPN servers. The files are accompanied with a file containing a signature as well, to make sure they were not tampered with on the server.


For eduVPN we define two "types" of discovery files. One for "Secure Internet" and one for "Institute Access".

The "Secure Internet" list contains VPN servers the user can connect to after "authorizing" at one of the listed servers. See Guest Usage.

The "Institute Access" list contains VPN servers that typically only allow users from the organization itself to connect to it. These servers are used to protect (private) networks at an organization.

eduVPN applications MUST support both discovery files and make a clear distinction in the UI of the application between them.

#Fetching Frequency

The discovery files MUST be obtained according to these rules:

#"Secure Internet"

This file is obtained when:

  1. no "Secure Internet" instance is configured yet (or were removed) and the user selects to add a "Secure Internet" instance through "Add Provider";
  2. a "Secure Internet" instance is already configured, in that case it is fetched automatically, but NOT more than once a week (7 days).

This makes sure the user can manually trigger a reload after deleting the "Secure Internet" server and then trying to add it again.

If no "Secure Internet" server was selected, the "Secure Internet" discovery file is NOT fetched.

#"Institute Access"

This file is ONLY obtained when the user selects to add a "Institute Access" instance through "Add Provider". There is no automatic update here.


The JSON file looks like this:

    "authorization_type": "...",
    "instances": [

The authorization_type can be either local or distributed indicating whether or not the OAuth tokens obtained from those servers can be used at other VPN servers or not. See Authorization.

The instances key has an array with objects, in the most simple form:

    "base_uri": "https://demo.eduvpn.nl/",
    "display_name": "Demo",
    "logo": "https://static.eduvpn.nl/disco/img/demo.png"

The API's Multi Language Support also applies here for both the display_name and logo fields!

The base_uri field can be used to perform the API Discovery of the instances themselves, see API.

A public_key field MAY be specified, but it is NOT used by the application, it is only used by other VPN servers.


When downloading the instance discovery file, the signature MUST be verified as well. The signature file is located in the same folder, but has the .sig extension, e.g. https://static.eduvpn.nl/disco/secure_internet.json.sig.

These signatures can be verified by e.g. using libsodium. The signature file contains a Base64 encoded string string. See this document for various language bindings.

The flow:

  1. Download e.g. secure_internet.json;
  2. Download matching signature file, e.g. secure_internet.json.sig;
  3. Verify the signature using libsodium and the public key stored in your application
  4. If you already downloaded the file before, verify the seq field of the new file is higher than in the current file;
  5. Overwrite the file you already have if seq was incremented.

The signed_at key is just informational and MUST NOT be relied on to be available.

The public key that is currently used is E5On0JTtyUVZmcWd+I/FXRm32nSq8R2ioyW7dcu/U88=. This is a Base64-encoded Ed25519 public key.


#Institute Access

Every server configured for "Institute Access" has their own OAuth server. The application needs to (try) to start the authorization flow for each of them individually. This of course only succeeds if the user has an account at that particular server. All "Institute Access" servers are completely independent, the only thing in common is that they are mentioned in the "Institute Access" discovery file.

#Secure Internet

Obtaining an access token from any of the instances listed in the discovery file is enough and can then be used at all the instances. Typically the user has the ability to obtain only an access token at one of the listed instances, because only there they have an account, so the user MUST obtain an access token at that instance.

This is a bit messy from a UX perspective, as the user does not necessarily know for which instance they have an account. In case of eduVPN this will most likely be the instance operated in their institute's home country. So students of the University of Amsterdam will have to choose "The Netherlands" first.

When API discovery is performed, the keys for authorization_endpoint and token_endpoint for the specific instance MUST be ignored. Refreshing access tokens MUST also be done at the original OAuth server that was used to obtain the access token.