Recently there have been a lot of conversations on the Django mailing list about fixing the auth module. Here are some of the recent mailing list threads:

  1. authentication by email
  2. auth.User refactor: reboot
  3. auth.User: The abstract base class idea

Originally the topic came up because of the fact that you can't really authenticate effectively using the email address as a username. The username field is currently required and only allows for 30 characters which is too short for an email. Developers can put a unique dummy value in the username field and just use the email field to authenticate the user but it's really a work around.

However one fixes this though there will be many unhappy people because everyone wants something different. It's a problem ripe for customization, but there is a really hard dependency on contrib.auth's current api.

contrib.auth sucks

My company, BeProud, ran into problems with auth early on and really haven't ever used it. We used to implement an auth solution for every project we worked on but that was just simply wasted work and prone to security bugs. A reusable solution was needed, but since Django's auth was so tied to the admin and had concrete models we just couldn't expand on it. The high-level reasons we never used auth were as follows:

  1. We do custom contract development. We don't often have the choice of designing the system around what is convenient to do with the framework. We have some leeway but we usually need to implement the client's specs.
  2. Even if we could, we don't want to have to design systems around the framework.

The detailed explanation:

  1. Keeping admin users and normal site users in the same table was just a non-starter: Customers got very nervous when we told them about the fact that they would be logged into the admin if they logged into the site itself. To their (perhaps non-technical minds) the admin was a completely separate system and users and logins were fundamentally different and managed separately. The fact that normal users couldn't log into the admin without an is_staff flag set to true was lost on them. Being in Japan it may be perhaps a cultural problem but the fact that Django mandates that behaviour made it very difficult for us to use contrib.auth
  2. Contrib auth's model was set in stone and couldn't be changed: Often we would make systems where users logged in only using Twitter auth, or email or whatever. Django's auth.User came with lots of cruft that just wasn't needed or wanted. The size and uniqueness of fields often had to be worked around. We would get specific requirements for the size of a username field which just wasn't modifiable with auth.User. etc. We wanted a solution where the fields on the user model were not set in stone and could be decided by the developer. No working around the existing fields on auth.User. No get_profile() on every damn request because one field on the profile was needed every request.
  3. Permissions are included with contrib auth but are pretty much useless to us: We never used them in a project and they pretty much just existed for the admin as far as we were concerned. Having authentication and authorization in the same module was annoying at best and we often had to build custom solutions anyway. No benefit to using contrib.auth here. Ideally permissions would be a separate module.
  4. We sometimes needed multiple user models: We had more than a couple projects were multiple user types were needed. On particular site required us to have two separate logins for normal site users and for affiliate users. The registration process for both was different. You didn't need to be a site user to be an affiliate. It just didn't make sense to me that there needed to be only one user model. I thought that any model that met the user model contract could use the auth machinery.

newauth

Without a solution we could use we were forced to either implement a solution for every project or come up with something that met our requirements and could be reused. This led to be developing what became my proposal for a django auth system, django-newauth.

Motivation + Future

django-newauth was a simple module rename and cleanup for a project that I developed for our internal use. Newauth is meant as a proposal or reference for new contrib.auth changes but I may decide to continue working on it. I released it quickly so I really don't want that to necessarily be a dead set API. I still see it as a work in progress. I'm really excited about the positive response it got and the discussion it generated, even if none of the code makes it into Django proper.

Anyone who would like to take a look can check out the documentation. Anyone wanting to check out the code or or work on fixing some of the issues with newauth can fork the project on bitbucket or github.