Shibboleth IdP - SAML2 Authentication Flows w/ Refeds MFA

Posted by Misagh Moayyed on March 24, 2022 · 5 mins read ·

The Shibboleth Identity Provider supports a SAML authentication flow. This login flow supports the use of a separate SAML 2.0 identity provider to authenticate the user, with the IdP acting as a SAML proxy. This blog post provides a quick overview of the external identity selection and discovery strategy for advanced login flows while taking into requested authentication contexts.

Our starting position is based on the following:

  • Shibboleth Identity Provider 4.1.x
  • Java 11

A similar topic that covers Apereo CAS is also available here.


Let’s consider that we have two Okta integration routes, each of which is configured to act as a SAML2 identity provider. Okta instance A is NOT capable of handling multifactor authentication requests and as such can only handle urn:oasis:names:tc:SAML:2.0:ac:classes:PasswordProtectedTransport or unknown/unspecified authentication context classes. Okta instance B on the other hand, is capable of doing multifactor authentication and should be the designated identity provider for authentication context classes.


To handle this integration, the identity provider metadata for each Okta integration must first be specified in the metadata-providers.xml:

<MetadataProvider id="OktaHTTPMetadataA"

<MetadataProvider id="OktaHTTPMetadataB"

Then, we will need to include the entity ID of the two identity providers in our file:


Then, we can modify the global.xml configuration file to include our logic for selection discovery:

<util:map id="OktaIntegrationsMap">
     <entry key="oktaWithRefedsMfa" value="%{idp.refeds.entityId}" />
     <entry key="oktaWithoutRefedsMfa" value="%{idp.default.entityId}" />

<bean id="shibboleth.authn.SAML.discoveryFunction" 
     <constructor-arg name="scriptSource">
               logger = Java.type("org.slf4j.LoggerFactory").getLogger("net.shibboleth.idp.authn");
               authCtx = input.getSubcontext("net.shibboleth.idp.authn.context.AuthenticationContext");
               rprinCtx = authCtx.getSubcontext("net.shibboleth.idp.authn.context.RequestedPrincipalContext");
               var idpToUse = "";
               if (rprinCtx != null) {
                         = Java.type("net.shibboleth.idp.saml.authn.principal.AuthnContextClassRefPrincipal");
                    mfaSignal = new authnContextClassPrincipal("");
                    if ( rprinCtx.getRequestedPrincipals().contains(mfaSignal) ) {
                         idpToUse = custom.get("oktaWithRefedsMfa");
                         logger.debug("SP for which REFEDS MA is required, use " + idpToUse);
                    } else {
                         idpToUse = custom.get("oktaWithoutRefedsMfa");
                         logger.debug("SP with no REFEDS MFA requirement, use " + idpToUse);
               } else { // Just in case context is null
                    idpToUse = custom.get("oktaWithoutRefedsMfa");
                    logger.debug("SP with no REFEDS MFA requirement, use " + idpToUse);

     "IDP discovery process has selected " + idpToUse);

The Shibboleth Identity Provider will invoke our discovery function above to determine the external identity provider. Our script examines the requested authentication context class and will choose the appropriate provider accordingly. In case no authentication context class is requested, the script will choose the default identity provider.

Big thanks to Mike Grady who’s the original author of the script. I only should take credit for minor customizations, particularly for injecting the custom object.

Need Help?

If you have questions about the contents and the topic of this blog post, or if you need additional guidance and support, feel free to send us a note and ask about consulting and support services.


I hope this review was of some help to you and I am sure that both this post as well as the functionality it attempts to explain can be improved in any number of ways. Please feel free to engage and contribute as best as you can.

Misagh Moayyed