expected v0.1.1 Expected View Source

A module for login and session management.

This module enables persistent logins through a cookie, following Barry Jaspan’s Improved Persistent Login Cookie Best Practice. It also provides an API to list and discard sessions.


To use Expected in your app, add this to your dependencies:

{:expected, "~> 0.1.1"}


You must configure Expected in your config.exs, for instance:

config :expected,
  store: :mnesia,
  table: :logins,
  auth_cookie: "_my_app_auth",
  session_store: PlugSessionMnesia.Store,
  session_cookie: "_my_app_key"

The mandatory fields are the following:

  • store - the login store
  • auth_cookie - the persistent authentication cookie name
  • session_store - the session store passed to Plug.Session
  • session_cookie - the key option for Plug.Session

There are also some optional fields:

  • cookie_max_age - the authentication cookie max age is seconds (default: 90 days)
  • cleaner_period - the login cleaner period in seconds (default: 1 day)
  • session_opts - options passed to Plug.Session
  • plug_config - options passed to the plugs in Expected.Plugs

Login store

Currently, the built-in stores are :mnesia and :memory. :memory is for testing purpose only, so please use :mnesia. An official :ecto one could come some day; feel free to ask me if you need it or plan to implement it. You can also implement another store using the Expected.Storespecifications.

For the :mnesia store, you need to add a :table option to set the Mnesia table where to store logins. Then, ask mix to create the table for you:

$ mix expected.mnesia.setup

If you want to use a node name or a custom directory for the Mnesia database, you can take a look at Mix.Tasks.Expected.Mnesia.Setup.

You can also create it directly from Elixir using Expected.MnesiaStore.Helpers.setup!/0. This can be useful to include in a setup task to be run in a release environment.

Authentication cookie

The authentication cookie contains the username, a serial and a token seperated by dots. The token is usable only once, and is renewed on each successful authentication.

By default, the authentication cookie is valid for 90 days after the last successful authentication. This can be configured using the cookie_max_age option in the configuration.

To avoid old logins to accumulate in the store, inactive logins older than the cookie_max_age are automatically cleaned by Expected.Cleaner once a day. You can change this period by setting cleaner_period (in seconds) in the application configuration.

Session store

Expected calls Plug.Session itself. Therefore, you need to set the session store in the Expected configuration. For the session management to work, it must be a server-side session store that stores the session ID in the session cookie. I’ve written plug_session_mnesia, but you can use whatever server-side session store you want.

The session_cookie field is passed as key to Plug.Session. Every other specific options you would need to pass to Plug.Session must be written in a session_opts list. For example, to set the table for the :ets session store:

config :expected,
  session_store: :ets,
  session_opts: [table: :session],
  session_cookie: "_my_app_auth"

You must plug Expected in you endpoint, and do not plug Plug.Session yourself:

# Plug Expected
plug Expected

# Do NOT plug Plug.Session
# plug Plug.Session,
#   store: PlugSessionMnesia.Store,
#   key: "_my_app_key"

Then, in your pipeline, plug Expected.Plugs.authenticate/2:

defmodule MyAppWeb.Router do
  use MyAppWeb, :router

  # Import the authenticate/2 plug
  import Expected.Plugs, only: [authenticate: 2]

  pipeline :browser do
    plug :accepts, ["html"]
    plug :fetch_session
    plug :authenticate  # Plug it after fetch_session
    plug :fetch_flash
    plug :protect_from_forgery
    plug :put_secure_browser_headers


Login registration

To register a login, use Expected.Plugs.register_login/2 in your login pipeline, for instance:

case Auth.authenticate(username, password) do
  {:ok, user} ->
    |> put_session(:authenticated, true)
    |> put_session(:current_user, user)
    |> register_login()  # Call register_login here
    |> redirect(to: page)

  :error ->

To associate the login with a user, register_login/2 expects a :current_user key featuring a :username field in the session. For more information and configuration options, please look at Expected.Plugs.register_login/2 in the documentation.


When Expected.Plugs.authenticate/2 is called in the pipeline, it does the following things:

  1. It checks wether the session is authenticated, i.e. the :authenticated key is set to true. If it is the case, it assigns :authenticated and :current_user in the connection according to their values in the session, and does nothing more.

  2. If the session is not authenticated, it checks for an authentication cookie. If there is no authentication cookie, it does nothing more.

  3. If there is an authentication cookie, it checks for a login matching with the username and serial in the store. If the cookie is invalid or there is no login in the store, it just deletes the cookie and does nothing more.

  4. If there is a matching login, it checks wether the token matches. If it is the case, it sets :authenticated to true and :current_user to an Expected.NotLoadedUser in both the session and the connection assigns. If the token does not match, it deletes all the users’s logins and sessions, puts a flag in the connection assigns, deletes the cookie and does not authenticate.

User loading

Expected does not makes any assumptions regarding your user module or how to load it from the database. When authenticating from a cookie, it puts an Expected.NotLoadedUser with the username matching the one in the cookie in both the session and the connection assings.

If you want the user to be loaded in the session and/or the connection assigns, you should write a plug to do so:

@spec load_user(Plug.Conn.t(), keyword()) :: Plug.Conn.t()
def load_user(conn, _opts \\ []) do
  case conn.assigns[:current_user] do
    # If there has been a successful authentication, there is a
    # NotLoadedUser in the connection assigns.
    %Expected.NotLoadedUser{username: username} ->
      # Get the user from the database.
       user = Accounts.get_user!(username)

       # Replace the NotLoadedUser with the loaded one in both the session
       # and the connection assigns.
       |> put_session(:current_user, user)
       |> assign(:current_user, user)

    # If there is no user to load, do nothing.
    _ ->

Then, plug it in your pipeline:

pipeline :browser do
  plug :accepts, ["html"]
  plug :fetch_session
  plug :authenticate
  plug :load_user  # Plug it after authenticate
  plug :fetch_flash
  plug :protect_from_forgery
  plug :put_secure_browser_headers

Unexpected token

A token mismatch generally means an old token has been reused. It basically can arrive in two situations:

  1. the user has rolled back a backup or has cloned his browser profile,
  2. the user tries to authenticate after some malicious people have stolen the cookie and already authenticated with it.

In the assumption we are in the case (2), all the user’s sessions are deleted and a flag is put in the connection assigns. You can check after an authentication attempt if there has been an unexpected token using Expected.unexpected_token?/1. It’s up to you to choose wether you should show an alert to the user. Do not forget to state it can be due to case (1).


To log a user out, simply call Expected.Plugs.logout/2 on the connection. It will delete the login and its associated session from the stores and their cookies. For instance, you can imagine the following action for your session controller:

import Expected.Plugs, only: [logout: 1]

@spec delete(Plug.Conn.t, map) :: Plug.Conn.t
def delete(conn, _params) do
  |> logout()
  |> redirect(to: "/")

Link to this section Summary


Deletes all logins older than max_age

Deletes all logins for a given username

Deletes a login given its username and serial

Lists the logins for the given username

Returns wether there has been an authentication attempt with a bad token

Link to this section Functions

Link to this function clean_old_logins(max_age) View Source
clean_old_logins(integer()) :: :ok

Deletes all logins older than max_age.

Link to this function delete_all_user_logins(username) View Source
delete_all_user_logins(String.t()) :: :ok

Deletes all logins for a given username.

Link to this function delete_login(username, serial) View Source
delete_login(String.t(), String.t()) :: :ok

Deletes a login given its username and serial.

Link to this function list_user_logins(username) View Source
list_user_logins(String.t()) :: [Expected.Login.t()]

Lists the logins for the given username.

Link to this function unexpected_token?(conn) View Source
unexpected_token?(Plug.Conn.t()) :: boolean()

Returns wether there has been an authentication attempt with a bad token.