Course – LS (cat=REST)

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1. Overview

In a traditional web application, logging in usually requires sending a username and password to the server for authentication. While these elements could theoretically be URL parameters in a GET request, it is obviously much better to encapsulate them into a POST request.

However, should logging out be available through a GET request since it does not require any sensitive information to be sent?

In this tutorial, we’ll look at various aspects of this design consideration.

2. Server-Side Sessions

When we manage server-side sessions, we must expose an endpoint to destroy those sessions. We may be tempted to use the GET method due to its simplicity. Of course, this will technically work, but it may lead to some undesirable behavior.

There are some processes like web accelerators that will prefetch GET links for the user. The purpose of prefetching is to immediately serve content when a user follows that link, which cuts down on page loading times. These processes make an assumption that the GET link is strictly for returning content and not for changing the state of anything.

If we expose our logout as a GET request and present it as a link, these processes may inadvertently log users out while trying to prefetch links on the page.

This may not be a problem if our logout URL is not statically available, such as being determined by javascript, for example. However, the HTTP/1.1 RFC clearly states that GET methods should only be used to return content and the user cannot be held responsible for any side-effects of a GET request. We should follow this recommendation whenever possible.

In contrast, the RFC describes the POST method as one that can submit data (our session or session ID) to a data-handling process (logout). This is a more appropriate description of what we are trying to accomplish.

2.1. Spring Security

By default, Spring Security requires the logout request to be of type POST. However, we can cause Spring to use a GET logout request when we disable CSRF protection:

protected void configure(HttpSecurity http) throws Exception {

3. Stateless REST

When we manage stateless REST sessions, the concept of “logging out” changes. In a stateless environment, every request includes the entire session. Therefore, it is possible to “log out” by simply using Javascript to throw away the session rather than sending any kind of request at all.

However, for security reasons, the server should still be notified of log-out actions in order to blacklist the revoked JWT. This prevents a session from being used after “logging out.”

Even in a stateless environment, we must still send a request to the server upon logging out. Since the intent of such a request is not to retrieve content, it should not be made via GET. Instead, the session should be POST-ed to the server with the explicit intent to log out.

4. Conclusion

In this short discussion, we’ve briefly looked at the common design question of whether logging out should be a GET or POST.

We considered various aspects of this issue:

  • Semantically, GET requests should not have any stateful side effects
  • There are processes that users might be running in their browser that include prefetching links. If logging out happens over GET, a prefetching process could inadvertently log the user out after logging in
  • Even stateless sessions should report log-out events to the server, which should be done via a POST request
Course – LSS (cat=Security/Spring Security)

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Course – LS (cat=REST)

Get started with Spring and Spring Boot, through the Learn Spring course :

res – REST (eBook) (cat=REST)
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