SAML vs OAuth – What’s the Difference? (Explained Pros and Cons)

SAML vs OAuth – What’s the Difference? (Explained Pros and Cons). To login to a website is the first step in your relationship with your users. You must ensure it goes smooth and is secure. To use a specially designed protocol lets you give users a secure, established process for accessing privileged resources. The two systems that allow you to do so is SAML and OAuth. On the surface they are similar but there are more differences than you might expect.


SAML or security assertion markup language is an authentication process. It provides the user identity data to a service. SAML is an Extensible markup language. On the other hand OAuth is the authorization protocol. It gives users the access to specific resources with a service provider or SP. It is based on JavaScript object Notation.

What is SAML?

SAML 2.0 is the most updated version and holds up the integration with Microsoft Active Directory. It is an open service and is often used to give single sign on to web based applications. SAML provides both authorization and authentication. According to the report of Okta, large enterprises use more than 150 applications a day for their work. It can be hectic to log in and remember the credentials of all these applications for logging in. SAML provides ease in this process by the SSO.

SAML has three operations: user agent, identity provider and service provider. The identity provider provides the user data (name, emails, and other credentials) to the service provider on request, and the user builds a relationship of trust with the identity provider to access the authorization of service provider apps.

It is crucial to develop a relationship of trust between the service provider and the identity provider; without it, the service does not authorize and authenticate the identity provider. The collaboration is built by sharing a few artifacts such as metadata, signed and encrypted certificates. 

Users log in to the SSO using the SAML, and identity providers receive this login information. They pass the attributes in the XML to the service provider. The service provider notes this information, so users do not need to put the credentials every time they log into any app. These SSO credentials open the door to hundreds of applications for the users.

Interestingly SAML is an authentication protocol to confirm digital identities for accessing SaaS apps. Let’s find out the benefits and drawback of SAML.

Pros of SAML SSO

  • Open and standardized

SAML is a free source and a standardized application, and it is compatible with any system independent of implantation.

  • Security

Security is the utmost requirement of all enterprises, and fortunately, SAML is one of the most protected applications for SSO. It delivers a single point of authorization and authentication at secure identity providers. And the service ensures that the user login information never leaves the firewall. To provide additional security: SAML uses the PKI (Public Key infrastructure) to protect confidential information from the breach.

  • Centralize control of user access 

The identity provider has centralized access that provides an easy way to access and deactivate the user account. SAML SSO allows you to create the user id, update it and remove the users without much hassle. 

  • Improved user experience and tool adaptation rate 

The application is super easy to use, and switching the app is also super easy. SAML allows the users to log in to hundreds of applications by entering their credentials. The SSO feature of SAML delivers a seamless business experience and helps in saving time.

  • Simple transfer protocol

The greatest thing about the SAML is that it can be transported by simple transport protocols such as SMTP (simple mail transfer protocol) and HTTP (Hypertext transfer protocols).

  •  User experience

SAML is known for the ease it has provided to large enterprises. Arguably SAML offers the best user experience. It allows users to seamlessly access multiple applications that help business staff efficiently and effectively.

  • Platform neutrality and Reduced complexity

SAML abstracts the security framework from platform architecture and also from particular vendor implementation.  With SAML you can ‘reuse’ logging in with the username and password multiple times across multiple services.

Cons of SAML SSO

  • Employee offboarding needed to be done by the administration. Otherwise, your ex employee will continue to get SSO access.
  • SAML uses XML as the markup language. Over the years, it has been proved that XML is not the best format for security constructs.
  • Web applications work wonderfully, but the mobile app lacks several things. Like mobile apps do not advertise the metadata, so you have to resort to file sharing or manual configuration.
  • People have reported having faced security issues while using the SAML with the SPAs and mobile Apps. 

In our article blog SAML vs OAuth – What’s the Difference? let’s compare the OAuth next.

What is OAuth?

OAuth has derived from the word authorization. It is a platform that provides robust authorization protocols that deliver applicants the ability to design secure access to multiple applications. Moreover, OAuth verifies the users to get access to the application restricted by the service providers. OAuth 2.0 is an authorization framework, not an authentication protocol. 

The current version is OAuth 2.0, which was updated in 2012. And it uses the HMAC-SHA used signature strings. 

OAuth is the process of transferring the authorization from one user to the other without revealing the credentials, of the first user. While using the OAuth user gets logged into one account and obtains the access permission of others through it. For the authentication and data transfer, it only takes the XML files. However, JavaScript object notation is also compatible with OAuth.

Like the SAML, OAuth also requires three entities. The user, the application, and the resource (it is the service provider and has the user credentials.) The user sends the request for the utilization of the application. The management or the application provider receives it and sends it to the service provider for authentication. If the service provider accepts, the user will get permission to use the app.

The bewildering thing about the OAuth is that it does not share the password and other login credentials with the users. It uses the authorization token for the identification of users. OAuth allows the interaction of one app with others without sharing the password. And with the help of authentication the user can use all the application in the set up active directory of the identity provider.

The permission or the access is called the scopes in OAuth. Not all users have an equal score, the service providers decide the scopes according to their rank and departments.

Pros of OAuth

OAuth is like an intermediary on behalf of the end user, providing the service with an access token that authorizes specific account information to be shared. OAuth benefits are:

  • Avoids directly using credentials.

It doesn’t  use client applications directly to access users’ login credentials. After getting access or permission from the service provider, you can read the data from different applications. It supplies authorization and smooth workflow on the mobile, desktops, and web.

  • Security and control 

Interestingly OAuth data transfers takes place on SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) to keep data as safe. With Control feature OAuth give users the power to allow sites limited access to their data. The authorization and authentication standards of OAuth protect users’ data by providing the interaction between the app without revealing the credentials. Third-party users can make an access request that can either be accepted or rejected by the service provider. In case of acceptance, the user will get access to use the application without knowing the password.

  • Cryptography protocols

Very few applications provide cryptographic protocols, and OAuth is one of them. OAuth provides a strong connection that allows two entities to communicate without privacy and data integrity.

  • Easy to use

The application is easy to implement. It provides two factor authentication, and the token or the sources can be revoked. The access to the resources is realized via HTTP / HTTPS.

  • No need to share the password

OAuth is the only SSO application that does not need to share the password. The users can get access if you accept the access request, and the permission will disappear when you remove the users.

  • Open source

The most significant advantage of using the OAuth is that it is a free source. It doesn’t cost you any money for the essential services. However, it does cost money for the premium services, but that is also relatively economical.

  • A pre made solution

OAuth provides you with a ready made token management system. You can use this system with your application to work effectively and reduce working hours.

Cons of OAuth

  • The process of user identification is quite hectic for the identity provider. You have to make multiple requests to get minimal user information.
  • When a token is stolen, an attacker can gain access to the secure data for a while.
  • There is no common format, so each service requires its own implementation.
  • Each service requires its unique implementation.
  • You should be extra careful with your source or codes. Once hackers know your password, they might break into your confidential files.
  • OAuth requires maintaining many TMS and SDKs, so you have to manage a large chunk of codes. 

SAML vs OAuth - Key Differences

SAML and OAuth both are free resources used by large enterprises for getting the SSO for their widespread applications. Both the service providers provide efficient services, yet they are different from each other. The following is a comparison of the two.


Flexibility in SAML

The flexibility of an SSO application allows you to switch seamlessly between web based and native applications. SAML is the best option for organizations that use web based applications. And it offers less flexibility than native apps.

Flexibility in OAuth

OAuth is one of the best apps if you want to use web based and native applications together. It offers considerable flexibility and lets you shift smoothly between the two windows.

Single Sign On


Both of the service providers provide excellent single sign-on services. But they are different from each other. With SAML, the identity provider provides the password to the user for the SSO.

OAuth’s SSO

Identity provider of OAuth gives access to the specific application to the user. With the help of another application, without sharing the password.

Identification and Access Management

SAML vs OAuth

OAuth and SAML both play crucial roles in identity access management and are used side by side by large enterprises. Initially, when a user enters the enterprise with the help of SSO provided by the organization, SAML verifies that credentials and let the user in. Then OAuth will give access to the user according to its sources. OAuth also helps to pass in the user’s data between the applications without revealing the login info.

User Authorization

SAML vs OAuth User Authorization

OAuth provides a high level authentication process. Suppose you have a house that is your organization. And in the house, you have different rooms, and the rooms are the applications, you use under your organization.

Now when someone becomes a part of your organization, you provide keys to specific rooms to the users. And keep the other rooms protected. These keys are sources. You can cancel the user’s sources at any time or upgrade them based on the user’s rank. SAML does provide the authorization, so clearly, OAuth is a winner.

User Authentication

Authentication with SAML

SAML provides authentication. The application first verifies the user’s identity and then grants the user permission. SAML authentication is quite a secure process, and after the authentication, the user will get access to all the available applications.

Authentication with OAuth

OAuth does not provide authentication to the users. Instead, it allows access to the applications with the help of other applications.

SAML VS OAuth Users Case

SAML’s Users Experience

SAML single sign on is used in government and corporate applications, where XML processing is widespread. The application manages users from a central location or central control. The user only needs to put in the credentials once.

OAuth’s Users experience

OAuth has extensive use both in authorization and authentication. It grants access to RESTful APIs. Access tokens or resources are essential for getting access permission.

Is OAuth better than SAML?

  1. OAuth is easier to implement securely.
  2. More secure architecture and smaller attack surface.
  3. Important to say is that OAuth can be used only when the Service Provider can contact the Identity Provider.
  4. Easier to implement securely

Is SAML better than OAuth?

  1. Can be used always – also when the Service Provider cannot contact the Identity Provider
  2. Easier to learn than OAuth.
  3. Has less secure architecture and bigger attack surface.

WordPress Single Sign On Solutions

Benefits of WPCloud SSO

  • WP Cloud SSO offers WordPress SSO Single Sign On for your WordPress logins.
  • It allows to login to WordPress (WP) using Azure AD, Azure B2C, Okta, ADFS, Keycloak, OneLogin, Salesforce, Google Apps (G Suite), Shibboleth, Ping, Auth0 and other IdPs (Identity Providers).
  • It acts as SAML SP (Service Provider) which can be configured to establish a trust between our WordPress SSO plugin and IDP to securely authenticate and enable SSO / Login for the user into the WordPress (WP) site.
  • With WPCloud SSO you can perform Attribute Mapping, where you sync user attributes from your identity provider, e.g (Name, Username, Email, Profile Photo).
  • Protect Your Website with WPCloud SSO, where only authorized users can login to WordPress. Also restrict WordPress to only logged in users by redirecting.
  • Auto Redirect SSO-where you can automate the user experience with auto redirect with no need for username / password for a Single Sign .
  • Role Mapping, where you automatically assign WordPress roles to users based on IDP group membership.

That’s great! We have learned SAML vs OAuth – What’s the Difference? Let’s conclude.

SAML vs OAuth - What's the Difference Conclusion

Please remember that the state of the authentication solutions, including SSO, is one of the most crucial aspects of any application’s security.

SAML and OAuth are both the market leaders now. Both the application is doing great and providing extraordinary services to their users. It is hard to say which is best among the two, and it entirely depends upon your choice. For instance, if authorization is your primary need, and you want to provide the resource on a temporary or permanent basis, OAuth is the best choice. But if you want the authentication along with the authentication, then SAML is an ideal choice.

Summarizing it all — OAuth 2.0 authentication protocol and a simple solution based on HTTP, which makes it possible to use it on almost any platform. It allows apps, services, devices, and APIs to securely share protected resources.  Best suited for modern applications across multiple devices with the flexibility and ease of use of OAuth is just better in few scenarios.

SAML is more practical for large organizations and enterprises, where it enables users to access multiple services with ease. But remember it is a complex tool with the use of XML as the transport layer can make it more difficult to use SAML.

Please take a look at our content about Single Sign on.

Avatar for Farhan Yousuf
Farhan Yousuf

I am a content writer with more than five years of experience in the field. I have written for a variety of industries, and I am highly interested in learning new things. I have a knack for writing engaging copy that captures the reader's attention. In my spare time, I like to read and travel.

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