Proof Key for Code Exchange (RFC 7636)

1. Introduction

RFC 7636 : Proof Key for Code Exchange (PKCE, pronounced “pixy”) is a specification about a countermeasure against the authorization code interception attack.

authorization code interception attack

The specification was released on September, 2015. It has added:

  1. code_challenge parameter and code_challenge_method parameter to authorization requests using the authorization code flow, and
  2. code_verifier parameter to token requests that correspond to the authorization requests.

This mechanism enables an authorization server to reject a token request from a malicious application that does not have a code verifier.

2. PKCE Authorization Request

2.1 Request Parameters

An authorization request that uses PKCE goes out with code_challenge parameter and optionally with code_challenge_method parameter.

2.2 Code Challenge Value

The value of code_challenge parameter is computed by applying a code challenge method (= computation logic) to a code verifier.

2.3 Code Verifier Value

A code verifier itself is a random string using characters of [A-Z] / [a-z] / [0-9] / "-" / "." / "_" / "~", with a minimum length of 43 characters and a maximum length of 128 characters.

pkce authorization request

2.4 Code Challenge Method

The defined code challenge methods are plain and S256. Respective computation logics to convert a code verifier into a code challenge are as follows.

Method Logic
plain code_challenge = code_verifier
S256 code_challenge = BASE64URL-ENCODE(SHA256(ASCII(code_verifier)))

The plain method does not change the input, so the value of code_verifier and the resultant value of code_challenge are equal.

The S256 method computes the SHA-256 hash of the input and then encodes the hash value using Base64-URL. For example, when the value of code_verifier is dBjftJeZ4CVP-mB92K27uhbUJU1p1r_wW1gFWFOEjXk, the value of code_challenge becomes E9Melhoa2OwvFrEMTJguCHaoeK1t8URWbuGJSstw-cM.

When the used code challenge method is S256, a client application must tell it by including code_challenge_method=S256 parameter in an authorization request. When code_challenge_method parameter is omitted, an authorization server assumes plain as the default value.

3. PKCE Authorization Response

After generating an authorization code, an authorization server saves it into its DB with the code challenge and the code challenge method contained in the authorization request.

The authorization server will use the saved code challenge and the code challenge method later to verify a token request from the client application.

A response from the authorization endpoint has nothing special for PKCE. It’s a normal response as usual.

pkce authorization response

4. PCKE Token Request

After receiving an authorization code from an authorization server, a client application makes a token request. In addition to the authorization code, the token request must include the code verifier used to compute the code challenge.

The name of the request parameter to specify a code verifier is code_verifier.


5. PKCE Token Response

5.1 Require Code Verifier

A token endpoint of an authorization server that supports PKCE checks whether a token request contains a valid code verifier.

Of course, this check is performed only when grant_type is authorization_code and the authorization code contained in the token request is associated with a code challenge.

If a token request does not contain a valid code verifier although the conditions above meet, the request is regarded as from a malicious application and the authorization server returns an error response.

5.2 Verify Code Verifier

Verification is performed by comparing two code challenges.

One is what was contained in the authorization request and is stored in the DB. The other is what an authorization server computes using the code verifier contained in the token request and the code challenge method stored in the DB.

If the two code challenges are equal, the token request can be regarded as from the legitimate client application that has made the original authorization request. Otherwise, the token request must be regarded from a malicious application.

5.3 Issue Access Token

If a token request is verified, an authorization server issues an access token as usual.


6. Try PKCE

6.1 Preparation

6.1.1 Sign up

If you don’t have your Authlete account yet, please sign up for free. It will finish in a minute.

6.1.2 Serve API Key and Client ID

A service API key and a client ID are needed to make an authorization request.

If you have not deleted the first authorization server and the first client application that were created automatially on account registration, you already have a service API key and a client ID.

The service API key of the first authorization server is written in the email you received after account registration. Also, you can find it in Service Owner Console.

The client ID of the first client application is written in the email, too. Also, you can find it in Developer Console.

6.1.3 Service and Client Setting

If you have changed settings of your authorization server (= Service in Service Owner Console) and the client application (= App in Developer Console) from the default values, adjust some setting items as described in the tables below.

Table. Settings of Service in Service Owner Console

Tab Parameter Value
Authorization Supported Grant Types Include AUTHORIZATION_CODE
Authorization Supported Response Types Include CODE
Authorization Authorization Endpoint / Direct Endpoint Enabled Select YES
Authorization Token Endpoint / Direct Endpoint Enabled Select YES

Table. Settings of Client in Client Developer Console

Tab Parameter Value
Basic Client Type Select PUBLIC
Authorization Grant Types Include AUTHORIZATION_CODE
Authorization Response Types Include CODE
Authorization Redirect URIs

6.2. Authorization Request

6.2.1. Access Authorization Endpoint

Access the URL below with your web browser. Don’t forget to replace service-api-key and client-id with your service API key and client ID.

Note that the URL contains code_challenge parameter and code_challenge_method parameter. They are the very parameters you want to try.

6.2.2 Authorization Request

At the authorization endpoint, an authorization page is displayed. You can find a login form in the page. Input the API key and the API secret of the service to the login form, and then click the Authorize button.

login form in authorization page

As for the reason you can use the API credentials of the service as if they were an end-user’s login ID and password, read Technical Note in “3.2. Input Credentials” in “Getting Started”.

6.2.3 Authorization Response

A response from an authorization endpoint is returned to a redirection endpoint which a client application has registered in advance. Since the configuration of the redirect URIs of the client application contains one redirect URI,, the response from the authorization endpoint is passed to the redirection endpoint and processed there.

The implementation of the redirection endpoint is provided just to help developers. The implementation displays parameter values it receives. For example, if an authorization response contains an authorization code, the redirection endpoint displays its value as shown below.


In addition, when appropriate, it deserializes a serialized ID token and shows a form to send a token request. You’ll use the form in the next section.

6.3 Token Request

6.3.1 Token Request Form

As mentioned in the previous section, when an authorization response contains an authorization code, the redirection endpoint displays a form to send a token request with the authorization code.

The form has an input field for a code verifier. Input dBjftJeZ4CVP-mB92K27uhbUJU1p1r_wW1gFWFOEjXk there, and the form will finally look like below.


Click the Submit button to make a token request with the code verifier. Note that an authorization code will expire in 10 minutes, so don’t spend longer time than 10 minutes after the redirection page is displayed.

6.3.2. Token Response

If the authorization code and the code verifier you entered in the form were valid, an access token is returned in the form of JSON like the following.

    "access_token": "KPLXrl_wJSHqU708R9kp3bNRGi0LgKUdh0kh-CQhx9g",
    "refresh_token": "YLRJXfratV4yq0_65seCT0bF6YxxgU5jKBUvhOZPrb4",
    "scope": null,
    "token_type": "Bearer",
    "expires_in": 86400

Congratulations! You have succeeded in getting an access token using the authorization code flow secured by PKCE.

6.4. PKCE Configuration

Authlete provides a configuration item for PKCE. Login Service Owner Console, select a service and click the Authorization tab, and you will be able to find a boolean configuration item labeled “Proof Key for Code Exchange (RFC 7636)”.


If YES is selected, code_challenge request parameter is always required for authorization requests using authorization code flow. The default value is NO.

Select YES for better security. It makes the authorization server reject any authorization request using the authorization code flow that is not accompanied with code_challenge request parameter.