Glossary for the OASIS Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) V2.0

OASIS Standard, 15 March 2005

Document identifier:




Jeff Hodges, Neustar

Rob Philpott, RSA Security

Eve Maler, Sun Microsystems

SAML V2.0 Contributors:

Conor P. Cahill, AOL

John Hughes, Atos Origin

Hal Lockhart, BEA Systems

Michael Beach, Boeing

Rebekah Metz, Booz Allen Hamilton

Rick Randall, Booz Allen Hamilton

Thomas Wisniewski, Entrust

Irving Reid, Hewlett-Packard

Paula Austel, IBM

Maryann Hondo, IBM

Michael McIntosh, IBM

Tony Nadalin, IBM

Nick Ragouzis, Individual

Scott Cantor, Internet2

RL 'Bob' Morgan, Internet2

Peter C Davis, Neustar

Jeff Hodges, Neustar

Frederick Hirsch, Nokia

John Kemp, Nokia

Paul Madsen, NTT

Steve Anderson, OpenNetwork

Prateek Mishra, Principal Identity

John Linn, RSA Security

Rob Philpott, RSA Security

Jahan Moreh, Sigaba

Anne Anderson, Sun Microsystems

Eve Maler, Sun Microsystems

Ron Monzillo, Sun Microsystems

Greg Whitehead, Trustgenix


This specification defines terms used throughout the OASIS Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) specifications and related documents.


This is an OASIS Standard document produced by the Security Services Technical Committee. It was approved by the OASIS membership on 1 March 2005.

Committee members should submit comments and potential errata to the list. Others should submit them by filling out the web form located at The committee will publish on its web page ( a catalog of any changes made to this document.

For information on whether any patents have been disclosed that may be essential to implementing this specification, and any offers of patent licensing terms, please refer to the Intellectual Property Rights web page for the Security Services TC (

Table of Contents

1 Glossary 4

2 References 13

1 Glossary

This normative document defines terms used throughout the OASIS Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) specifications and related documents.

Some definitions are derived directly from external sources (referenced in an appendix), some definitions based on external sources have been substantively modified to fit the SAML context, and some are newly developed for SAML. Please refer to the external sources for definitions of terms not explicitly defined here.

Some definitions have multiple senses provided. They are denoted by (a), (b), and so on. References to terms defined elsewhere in this glossary are italicized.

Following are the defined terms used in the SAML specifications and related documents.

Term Definition

Access [link] To interact with a system entity in order to manipulate, use, gain knowledge of, and/or obtain a representation of some or all of a system entity’s resources. [RFC2828]

Access Control [link] Protection of resources against unauthorized access; a process by which use of resources is regulated according to a security policy and is permitted by only authorized system entities according to that policy. [RFC2828]

Access Control Information [link] Any information used for access control purposes, including contextual information [X.812]. Contextual information might include source IP address, encryption strength, the type of operation being requested, time of day, etc. Portions of access control information may be specific to a request itself, some may be associated with the connection via which a request is transmitted, and others (for example, time of day) may be "environmental". [RFC2829]

Access Rights [link] A description of the type of authorized interactions a subject can have with a resource. Examples include read, write, execute, add, modify, and delete. [Taxonomy]

Account [link] Typically a formal business agreement for providing regular dealings and services between a principal and business service providers.

Account Linkage [link] A method of relating accounts at two different providers that represent the same principal so that the providers can communicate about the principal. Account linkage can be established through the sharing of attributes or through identity federation.

Active Role [link] A role that a system entity has donned when performing some operation, for example accessing a resource.

Administrative Domain [link] An environment or context that is defined by some combination of one or more administrative policies, Internet Domain Name registrations, civil legal entities (for example, individuals, corporations, or other formally organized entities), plus a collection of hosts, network devices and the interconnecting networks (and possibly other traits), plus (often various) network services and applications running upon them. An administrative domain may contain or define one or more security domains. An administrative domain may encompass a single site or multiple sites. The traits defining an administrative domain may, and in many cases will, evolve over time. Administrative domains may interact and enter into agreements for providing and/or consuming services across administrative domain boundaries.

Administrator [link] A person who installs or maintains a system (for example, a SAML-based security system) or who uses it to manage system entities, users, and/or content (as opposed to application purposes; see also End User). An administrator is typically affiliated with a particular administrative domain and may be affiliated with more than one administrative domain.

Affiliation, Affiliation Group [link] A set of system entities that share a single namespace (in the federated sense) of identifiers for principals.

Anonymity [link] The quality or state of being anonymous, which is the condition of having a name or identity that is unknown or concealed. [RFC2828]

Artifact [link] See SAML Artifact.

Assertion [link] A piece of data produced by a SAML authority regarding either an act of authentication performed on a subject, attribute information about the subject, or authorization data applying to the subject with respect to a specified resource.

Asserting Party [link] Formally, the administrative domain that hosts one or more SAML authorities. Informally, an instance of a SAML authority.

Attribute [link] A distinct characteristic of an object (in SAML, of a subject). An object’s attributes are said to describe it. Attributes are often specified in terms of physical traits, such as size, shape, weight, and color, etc., for real-world objects. Objects in cyberspace might have attributes describing size, type of encoding, network address, and so on. Attributes are often represented as pairs of "attribute name" and "attribute value(s)", e.g. "foo" has the value 'bar', "count" has the value 1, "gizmo" has the values "frob" and "2", etc. Often, these are referred to as "attribute value pairs". Note that Identifiers are essentially "distinguished attributes". See also Identifier and XML attribute.

Attribute Authority [link] A system entity that produces attribute assertions. [SAMLAgree]

Attribute Assertion [link] An assertion that conveys information about attributes of a subject.

Authentication [link] To confirm a system entity’s asserted principal identity with a specified, or understood, level of confidence. [CyberTrust] [SAMLAgree]

Authentication Assertion [link] An assertion that conveys information about a successful act of authentication that took place for a subject.

Authentication Authority [link] A system entity that produces authentication assertions. [SAMLAgree]

Authorization [link] The process of determining, by evaluating applicable access control information, whether a subject is allowed to have the specified types of access to a particular resource. Usually, authorization is in the context of authentication. Once a subject is authenticated, it may be authorized to perform different types of access. [Taxonomy]

Authorization Decision [link] The result of an act of authorization. The result may be negative, that is, it may indicate that the subject is not allowed any access to the resource.

Authorization Decision Assertion [link] An assertion that conveys information about an authorization decision.

Back Channel [link] Back channel refers to direct communications between two system entities without “redirecting” messages through another system entity such as an HTTP client (e.g. A user agent). See also front channel.

Binding, Protocol Binding [link] Generically, a specification of the mapping of some given protocol's messages, and perhaps message exchange patterns, onto another protocol, in a concrete fashion. For example, the mapping of the SAML <AuthnRequest> message onto HTTP is one example of a binding. The mapping of that same SAML message onto SOAP is another binding. In the SAML context, each binding is given a name in the pattern “SAML xxx binding”.

Credentials [link] Data that is transferred to establish a claimed principal identity. [X.800] [SAMLAgree]

End User [link] A natural person who makes use of resources for application purposes (as opposed to system management purposes; see Administrator, User).

Federated Identity [link] A principal's identity is said to be federated between a set of Providers when there is an agreement between the providers on a set of identifiers and/or attributes to use to refer to the Principal

Federate [link] To link or bind two or more entities together [Merriam].

Federation [link] This term is used in two senses in SAML:

  1. The act of establishing a relationship between two entities [Merriam].

  2. An association comprising any number of service providers and identity providers.

Front Channel [link] Front channel refers to the “communications channel” that can be effected between two HTTP-speaking servers by employing “HTTP redirect” messages and thus passing messages to each other via a user agent, e.g. a web browser, or any other HTTP client [RFC2616]. See also back channel.

Identifier [link] This term is used in two senses in SAML:

  1. One that identifies [Merriam].

  2. A data object (for example, a string) mapped to a system entity that uniquely refers to the system entity. A system entity may have multiple distinct identifiers referring to it. An identifier is essentially a "distinguished attribute" of an entity. See also Attribute.

Identity [link] The essence of an entity [Merriam]. One's identity is often described by one's characteristics, among which may be any number of identifiers. See also Identifier, Attribute.

Identity Defederation [link] The action occurring when Providers agree to stop referring to a Principal via a certain set of identifiers and/or attributes.

Identity Federation [link] The act of creating a federated identity on behalf of a Principal. .

Identity Provider [link] A kind of service provider that creates, maintains, and manages identity information for principals and provides principal authentication to other service providers within a federation, such as with web browser profiles.

Initial SOAP Sender [link] The SOAP sender that originates a SOAP message at the starting point of a SOAP message path. [WSGloss]

Login, Logon, Sign-On [link] The process whereby a user presents credentials to an authentication authority, establishes a simple session, and optionally establishes a rich session.

Logout, Logoff, Sign-Off [link] The process whereby a user signifies desire to terminate a simple session or rich session.

Markup Language [link] A set of XML elements and XML attributes to be applied to the structure of an XML document for a specific purpose. A markup language is typically defined by means of a set of XML schemas and accompanying documentation. For example, the Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) is defined by two schemas and a set of normative SAML specification text.

Name Qualifier [link] A string that disambiguates an identifier that may be used in more than one namespace (in the federated sense) to represent different principals.

Namespace [link] This term is used in several senses in SAML:

  1. (In discussing federated names) A domain in which an identifier is unique in representing a single principal.

  2. (With respect to authorization decision actions) A URI that identifies the set of action values from which the supplied action comes.

  3. (In XML) See XML namespace.

Party [link] Informally, one or more principals participating in some process or communication, such as receiving an assertion or accessing a resource.

Persistent Pseudonym [link] A privacy-preserving name identifier assigned by a provider to identify a principal to a given relying party for an extended period of time that spans multiple sessions; can be used to represent an identity federation.

Policy Decision Point (PDP) [link] A system entity that makes authorization decisions for itself or for other system entities that request such decisions. [PolicyTerm] For example, a SAML PDP consumes authorization decision requests, and produces authorization decision assertions in response. A PDP is an “authorization decision authority”.

Policy Enforcement Point (PEP) [link] A system entity that requests and subsequently enforces authorization decisions. [PolicyTerm] For example, a SAML PEP sends authorization decision requests to a PDP, and consumes the authorization decision assertions sent in response.

Principal [link] A system entity whose identity can be authenticated. [X.811]

Principal Identity [link] A representation of a principal’s identity, typically an identifier.

Profile [link] A set of rules for one of several purposes; each set is given a name in the pattern “xxx profile of SAML” or “xxx SAML profile”.

  1. Rules for how to embed assertions into and extract them from a protocol or other context of use.

  2. Rules for using SAML protocol messages in a particular context of use.

  3. Rules for mapping attributes expressed in SAML to another attribute representation system. Such a set of rules is known as an “attribute profile”.

Provider [link] A generic way to refer to both identity providers and service providers.

Proxy [link] An entity authorized to act for another.

  1. Authority or power to act for another.

  2. A document giving such authority. [Merriam]

Proxy Server [link] A computer process that relays a protocol between client and server computer systems, by appearing to the client to be the server and appearing to the server to be the client. [RFC2828]

Pull [link] To actively request information from a system entity.

Push [link] To provide information to a system entity that did not actively request it.

Relying Party [link] A system entity that decides to take an action based on information from another system entity. For example, a SAML relying party depends on receiving assertions from an asserting party (a SAML authority) about a subject.

Requester, SAML Requester [link] A system entity that utilizes the SAML protocol to request services from another system entity (a SAML authority, a responder). The term “client” for this notion is not used because many system entities simultaneously or serially act as both clients and servers. In cases where the SOAP binding for SAML is being used, the SAML requester is architecturally distinct from the initial SOAP sender.

Resource [link] Data contained in an information system (for example, in the form of files, information in memory, etc), as well as:

  1. A service provided by a system.

  2. An item of system equipment (in other words, a system component such as hardware, firmware, software, or documentation).

  3. A facility that houses system operations and equipment. [RFC2828]

SAML uses resource in the first two senses, and refers to resources by means of URI references.

Responder, SAML Responder [link] A system entity (a SAML authority) that utilizes the SAML protocol to respond to a request for services from another system entity (a requester). The term “server” for this notion is not used because many system entities simultaneously or serially act as both clients and servers. In cases where the SOAP binding for SAML is being used, the SAML responder is architecturally distinct from the ultimate SOAP receiver.

Role [link] Dictionaries define a role as “a character or part played by a performer” or “a function or position.” System entities don various types of roles serially and/or simultaneously, for example, active roles and passive roles. The notion of an Administrator is often an example of a role.

SAML Authority [link] An abstract system entity in the SAML domain model that issues assertions. See also attribute authority, authentication authority, and policy decision point (PDP).

Security [link] A collection of safeguards that ensure the confidentiality of information, protect the systems or networks used to process it, and control access to them. Security typically encompasses the concepts of secrecy, confidentiality, integrity, and availability. It is intended to ensure that a system resists potentially correlated attacks. [CyberTrust]

Security Architecture [link] A plan and set of principles for an administrative domain and its security domains that describe the security services that a system is required to provide to meet the needs of its users, the system elements required to implement the services, and the performance levels required in the elements to deal with the threat environment. A complete security architecture for a system addresses administrative security, communication security, computer security, emanations security, personnel security, and physical security, and prescribes security policies for each. A complete security architecture needs to deal with both intentional, intelligent threats and accidental threats. A security architecture should explicitly evolve over time as an integral part of its administrative domain’s evolution. [RFC2828]

Security Assertion [link] An assertion that is scrutinized in the context of a security architecture.

Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) [link]

The set of specifications describing security assertions that are encoded in XML, profiles for attaching the assertions to various protocols and frameworks, the request/response protocol used to obtain the assertions, and bindings of this protocol to various transfer protocols (for example, SOAP and HTTP).

SAML Artifact [link] A small, fixed-size, structured data object pointing to a typically larger,variably-sized SAML protocol message. SAML artifacts are designed to be embedded in URLs and conveyed in HTTP messages, such as HTTP response messages with "3xx Redirection" status codes, and subsequent HTTP GET messages. In this way, a service provider may indirectly, via a user agent, convey a SAML artifact to another provider, who may subsequently dereference the SAML artifact via a direct interaction with the supplying provider, and obtain the SAML protocol message. Various characteristics of the HTTP protocol and user agent implementations provided the impetus for concocting this approach. The HTTP Artifact binding section of [SAMLBind] defines both the SAML Artifact format and the SAML HTTP protocol binding incorporating it.

Security Context [link] With respect to an individual SAML protocol message, the message's security context is the semantic union of the message's security header blocks (if any) along with other security mechanisms that may be employed in the message's delivery to a recipient. With respect to the latter, an examples are security mechanisms employed at lower network stack layers such as HTTP, TLS/SSL, IPSEC, etc.

With respect to a system entity, "Alice", interacting with another system entity, "Bob", a security context is nominally the semantic union of all employed security mechanisms across all network connections between Alice and Bob. Alice and Bob may each individually be, for example, a provider or a user agent. This notion of security context is similar to the notion of "security contexts" as employed in [RFC2743], and in the Distributed Computing Environment [DCE], for example.

Security Domain [link] An environment or context that is defined by security models and a security architecture, including a set of resources and set of system entities that are authorized to access the resources. One or more security domains may reside in a single administrative domain. The traits defining a given security domain typically evolve over time. [Taxonomy]

Security Policy [link] A set of rules and practices that specify or regulate how a system or organization provides security services to protect resources. Security policies are components of security architectures. Significant portions of security policies are implemented via security services, using security policy expressions. [RFC2828] [Taxonomy]

Security Policy Expression [link] A mapping of principal identities and/or attributes thereof with allowable actions. Security policy expressions are often essentially access control lists. [Taxonomy]

Security Service [link] A processing or communication service that is provided by a system to give a specific kind of protection to resources, where said resources may reside with said system or reside with other systems, for example, an authentication service or a PKI-based document attribution and authentication service. A security service is a superset of AAA services. Security services typically implement portions of security policies and are implemented via security mechanisms. [RFC2828] [Taxonomy]

Service Provider [link] A role donned by a system entity where the system entity provides services to principals or other system entities.

Session [link] A lasting interaction between system entities, often involving a Principal, typified by the maintenance of some state of the interaction for the duration of the interaction.

Session Authority [link] A role donned by a system entity when it maintains state related to sessions. Identity providers often fulfill this role.

Session Participant [link] A role donned by a system entity when it participates in a session with at least a session authority.

Site [link] An informal term for an administrative domain in geographical or DNS name sense. It may refer to a particular geographical or topological portion of an administrative domain, or it may encompass multiple administrative domains, as may be the case at an ASP site.

Subject [link] A principal in the context of a security domain. SAML assertions make declarations about subjects.

System Entity, Entity [link] An active element of a computer/network system. For example, an automated process or set of processes, a subsystem, a person or group of persons that incorporates a distinct set of functionality. [RFC2828] [SAMLAgree]

Time-Out [link] A period of time after which some condition becomes true if some event has not occurred. For example, a session that is terminated because its state has been inactive for a specified period of time is said to “time out”.

Transient Pseudonym [link] A privacy-preserving identifier assigned by an identity provider to identify a principal to a given relying party for a relatively short period of time that need not span multiple sessions.

Ultimate SOAP Receiver [link] The SOAP receiver that is a final destination of a SOAP message. It is responsible for processing the contents of the SOAP body and any SOAP header blocks targeted at it. In some circumstances, a SOAP message might not reach an ultimate SOAP receiver, for example because of a problem at a SOAP intermediary. An ultimate SOAP receiver cannot also be a SOAP intermediary for the same SOAP message. [WSGloss]

User [link] A natural person who makes use of a system and its resources for any purpose [SAMLAgree]

Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) [link] A compact string of characters for identifying an abstract or physical resource. [RFC2396] URIs are the universal addressing mechanism for resources on the World Wide Web. Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) are a subset of URIs that use an addressing scheme tied to the resource’s primary access mechanism, for example, their network “location”.

URI Reference [link] A URI that is allowed to have an appended number sign (#) and fragment identifier. [RFC2396] Fragment identifiers address particular locations or regions within the identified resource.

XML [link] Extensible Markup Language, abbreviated XML, describes a class of data objects called XML documents and partially describes the behavior of computer programs which process them. [XML]

XML Attribute [link] An XML data structure that is embedded in the start-tag of an XML element and that has a name and a value. For example, the italicized portion below is an instance of an XML attribute:

<Address AddressID=”A12345”>…</Address>

See also attribute.

XML Element [link] An XML data structure that is hierarchically arranged among other such structures in an XML document and is indicated by either a start-tag and end-tag or an empty tag. For example:

<Address AddressID=”A12345”>
<Street>105 Main Street</Street>
<Post Code=”56789”/>

XML Namespace [link] A collection of names, identified by a URI reference, which are used in XML documents as element types and attribute names. An XML namespace is often associated with an XML schema. For example, SAML defines two schemas, and each has a unique XML namespace.

XML Schema [link] The format developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for describing rules for a markup language to be used in a set of XML documents. In the lowercase, a “schema” or “XML schema” is an individual instance of this format. For example, SAML defines two schemas, one containing the rules for XML documents that encode security assertions and one containing the rules for XML documents that encode request/response protocol messages. Schemas define not only XML elements and XML attributes, but also datatypes that apply to these constructs.

2 References

[CyberTrust] Fred B. Schneider, editor. Trust in Cyberspace. Committee on Information Systems Trustworthiness, National Research Council, ISBN 0-309-06558-5, 1999. See and glossary at

[DCE] DCE 1.2.2 Introduction to OSF DCE. The Open Group, Catalog number F201,
ISBN 1-85912-182-9, Nov 1997. See

[Merriam] Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. CDROM Version 2.5, 2000. An online version is available at

[PolicyTerm] A. Westerinen et al. Terminology for Policy-Based Management. IETF RFC 3198, November 2001. See

[RFC2396] T. Berners-Lee et al. Uniform Resource Identifiers (URI): Generic Syntax. IETF RFC 2396, August 1998. See

[RFC2616] R. Fielding et al. Hypertext Transfer Protocol – HTTP/1.1. IETF RFC 2616, June 1999. See

[RFC2743] J. Linn. Generic Security Service Application Program Interface Version 2, Update 1, IETF RFC 2743, January 2000. See

[RFC2828] R. Shirey. Internet Security Glossary. IETF RFC 2828, May 2000. See

[RFC2829] M. Wahl et al. Authentication Methods for LDAP. IETF RFC 2829, May 2000. See

[SAMLAgree] OASIS Security Services TC Use Case and Requirements Conference Call Consensus. Consensus on the wording for this item occurred during one or more conference calls of the SAML Use Cases and Requirements subcommittee. Meeting minutes are available at

[SAMLBind] S. Cantor et al. Bindings for the OASIS Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) V2.0. OASIS SSTC, March 2005. Document ID saml-bindings-2.0-os. See

[Taxonomy] Security Taxonomy and Glossary. Lynn Wheeler, ongoing. See See for the list of sources.

[X.800] Information processing systems – Open Systems Interconnection – Basic Reference Model – Part 2: Security Architecture. ISO 7498-2:1989, ITU-T Recommendation X.800 (1991). See

[X.811] Security Frameworks for Open Systems: Authentication Framework. ITU-T Recommendation X.811 (1995 E), ISO/IEC 10181-2:1996(E). See

[X.812] Security frameworks for open systems: Access control framework. ITU-T Recommendation X.812 (1995 E), ISO/IEC 10181-3:1996(E). See

[XML] T. Bray et al. Extensible Markup Language (XML) 1.0 (Third Edition). World Wide Web Consortium Recommendation, February 2004. See

[WSGloss] H. Haas et al. Web Services Glossary, World Wide Web Consortium Note, February 2004. See

  1. Acknowledgments

The editors would like to acknowledge the contributions of the OASIS Security Services Technical Committee, whose voting members at the time of publication were:

The editors also would like to acknowledge the following former SSTC members for their contributions to this or previous versions of the OASIS Security Assertions Markup Language Standard:

Finally, the editors wish to acknowledge the following people for their contributions of material used as input to the OASIS Security Assertions Markup Language specifications:

  1. Notices

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