activator

simple user activation and password reset for nodejs

Activator

activator is the simple way to handle user activation and password reset for your nodejs apps!

Example:

var express = require('express'), app = express(), activator = require('activator');
    
    activator.init({user:userModel,transport:smtpURL,from:"activator@github.com",templates:mailTemplatesDir});
    
    app.user(app.router);
    
    // activate a user
    app.post("/user",activator.createActivate);
    app.put("/user/:user/active",activator.completeActivate);
    
    // reset a password
    app.post("/passwordreset",activator.createPasswordReset);
    app.put("/passwordreset/:user",activator.completePasswordReset);

Most interaction between users and your Web-driven service take place directly between the user and the server: log in, send a message, join a group, post an update, close a deal, etc. The user logs in by entering a username and password, and succeeds (or doesn't); the user enters a message and clicks "post"; etc.

There are a few key interactions - actually, mainly just two - that take place using side channels and with delays:

  • New user creation & activation
  • Password reset

In both of these cases, the user does something directly on the Web (or via your mobile app or API), then something happens "on the side", usually via email or SMS: a confirmation email is sent; a password reset token is texted; etc.

This process is quite burdensome to build into your app, since it breaks the usual "request-response" paradigm.

Activator is here to make this process easier.

Activator provides express middleware that to perform user activation - create and complete - and password reset - create and complete. It handles one-time link creation, link expiry, validation and all the other parts necessary to make user activation and password reset turnkey.

activator also does not tell you what the email you send out should look like; you just provide a template, and activator fills it in.

Here are activator's steps in detail.

For user creation, the steps are normally as follows:

  1. User creates a new account on your Web site / app
  2. System creates an "activation email" that contains a one-time link and sends it to the registered email
  3. User clicks on the link, thus validating the email address

Most sites call steps 2-3 "user activation". Activator calls step 2 "create an activation" and step 3 "complete an activation".

When you use activator, the steps are as follows:

  1. User creates a new account on your Web site / app
  2. You include activator.createActivate() as part of the creation middleware
  3. activator takes the user email address from the new user account, a template from the templates directory set on initialization, and the URL from initialization, creates a one-time activation key, composes an email and sends it.
  4. The user receives the email and clicks on the link
  5. You included activator.completeActivate() as the express middleware handler for the path in the URL
  6. activator checks the one-time activation key and other information against the user account, marks the account as activated

For password reset, the steps are normally as follows:

  1. User clicks "forgot password" on your Web site / app
  2. System creates a "password reset email" that contains a one-time link and sends it to the registered email for the account
  3. User clocks on the link, allowing them the opportunity to set a new password

Activator calls step 2 "create a password reset" and step 3 "complete a password reset"

When you use activator, the steps are as follows:

  1. User selects "reset password" on your Web site / app
  2. You include activator.createPasswordReset() as the express middleware handler for the path
  3. activator takes the user email address from the user account, a template from the templates directory set on initialization, and the URL from initialization, creates a one-time password reset key, composes an email and sends it.
  4. The user receives the email and clicks on the link
  5. You included activator.completePasswordReset() as the express middleware handler for the path in the URL
  6. activator checks the one-time password reset key and other information against the user account, and then allows the user to reset the password

To user activator, you select the routes you wish to use - activator does not impose any special routes - and use activator as middleware. Of course, you will need to tell activator how to do several things, like:

  • How to find a user, so it can check for the user
  • How to update a user, so it can mark the user as being activated, or that it has a temporary password reset key
  • Where to find the templates to use for activation and password reset emails
  • What URL the user should be using to activate or reset a password. The URL is included in the email, since the user normally clicks on a link.

All of these are described in greater detail below.

Installation is simple, just install the npm module:

npm install activator

First initialize your activator instance, then use its methods to activate users and reset passwords

In order for activator to work, it needs to be able to read your user instances and save to them. It also needs to be able to compose and send emails.

activator = require('activator');
    activator.init(config);

The config object passed to activator.init() must contain the following keys:

  • user: object that allows activator to find and save a user object. See below.
  • emailProperty: the property of the returned user object that is the email of the recipient. Used in user.find(). Defaults to "email".
  • transport: string or pre-configured nodemailer transport that describes how we will send email. See below.
  • templates: string describing the full path to the mail templates. See below.
  • from: string representing the sender for all messages

Optionally, config can also contain:

  • id: the property that contains the ID in a user when it is found using find. See below for user.save()

The user object needs to have two methods, with the following signatures:

user.find(login,callback);

Where:

  • login: string with which the user logs in. activator doesn't care if it is an email address, a user ID, or the colour of their parrot. user.find() should be able to find a user based on it.
  • callback: the callback function that user.find() should call when complete. Has the signature callback(err,data). If there is an error, data should be null or undefined; if there is no error but no users found, both err and data must be null (not undefined). If an object is found, then data must be a single JavaScript object. The data object should have:
    • a property containing the user id. By default, it is named id, but you can override it with config.id.
    • a property containing the email address. By default, it is named email, but you can override it with config.emailProperty.
    • a property named activation_code if the user has a stored activation code.
    • a property named password_reset_code if the user has a stored password reset code.
    • a property named password_reset_time if the user has a stored password reset time.

activator also needs to be able to save a user:

user.save(id,data,callback);

Where:

  • id: ID of the user to save.
  • data: the data to update the user as an object, e.g.: {activation_code: "asqefcehe78qa"}
  • callback: the callback function that user.save() should call when complete. Has the signature callback(err). If the save is successful, err must be null (not undefined).

What properties will it add to the user object in save()?

  1. activation: When a new activation is created, it will save a random string to activation_code. For example: user.save("256",{activation_code:"ABT678HB"}). When activation is complete, it will set the code to "X".
  2. password reset: When a new password reset is created, it will save a random string to password_reset_code and an integer representing the expiry at password_reset_time. For examle, user.save("256",{password_reset_code:"ABT678YY",password_reset_time:1377151862978}). When password reset is complete, it will set the code to "X" and the time to 0.

What ID does it use to save the user?

  • If you passed an id parameter to activator.init(config), then it is that property of the user. For example, activator.init({id:'uid'}) means that when activator does user.find('me@email.com') and the returned object contains {uid:12345}, then activator will save as user.save(12345,{activation_code:"ABFHWD"})
  • If you did not pass an id parameter, then it is the exact same search term as used in user.find(). else it is the search term used as login in user.find(login). For example, if activator does user.find('12bc5') then it will also do user.save('12bc5').

There are 2 ways activator can send email: SMTP (default) or a passed-in transport.

If you are using SMTP - which is the default - all you need to pass in is a string describing how activator should connect with your mail server. It is structured as follows:

protocol://user:pass@hostname:port/domain?secureConnection=true
  • protocol: normally "smtp", can be "smtps"
  • user: the user with which to login to the SMTP server, if authentication is required.
  • pass: the password with which to login to the SMTP server, if authentication is required.
  • hostname: the hostname of the server, e.g. "smtp.gmail.com".
  • port: the port to use.
  • domain: the domain from which the mail is sent, when the mail server is first connected to.
  • secureConnection: the use of SSL can be guided by the query parameter "secureConnection=true".

If you prefer a different service - or you want to override the SMTP configuration - then instead of passing a URL string to transport, you can pass in a preconfigured nodemailer transport object. Since activator uses nodemailer under the covers, the transport is a pass-through.

And, yes, you can even use the nodemailer SMTP transport instead of a URL string, if you prefer. Once activator receives a configured transport object, rather than a string, it doesn't care what it is as long as it works.

How would you do it? Well, SMTP would normally look like this:

activator.init({transport:"smtp://user:pass@mysmtp.com/me.com"});

Or similar.

To use a pre-configured transport, you need to:

  1. Include the transport module
  2. Configure the transport
  3. Initialize activator with the transport

Here is an SMTP example:

var smtpTransport = require('nodemailer-smtp-transport'), mailer = require('nodemailer');
    var transport = mailer.createTransport(smtpTransport(options));
    activator.init({transport:transport});

Of course, because the 'nodemailer-smtp-transport' is the default in nodemailer, the above example is identical to just passing in a URL string, but you can work whichever way works for you.

Here is an Amazon Simple Email Service (SES) example:

var sesTransport = require('nodemailer-ses-transport'), mailer = require('nodemailer');
    var transport = mailer.createTransport(sesTransport(options));
    activator.init({transport:transport});

In all cases, it is up to you to set the options to create the transport.

And if all you know (or want to know) is SMTP, then just use the default SMTP connection with a URL string.

For details aboute nodemailer's transports, see the nodemailer transports at http://www.nodemailer.com/#available-transports

The directory where you keep text files that serve as mail templates. See below under the section templates.

All of the middleware available in activator can function in one of two modes:

  1. Send responses - this is usually used by Ajax, e.g. res.send(200,"success") or res.send(401,"invalidcode")
  2. Pass responses - pass the responses on to your middleware, where you can do what you wish

Here are two examples, one of each:

app.post("/users",createUser,activator.createActivate);     // will send the success/error directly
app.post("/users",createUser,activator.createActivateNext,handler);     // will call next() when done

When the middleware is done, if it ends in "Next", it will store the results in a req.activator object and then call next().

req.activator = {
    code: 500,                              // or 401 or 400 or 201 or 200 or ....
    message: "uninitialized"    // of null/undefined, or "invalidcode" or ....
}

Activation is the two-step process wherein a user first creates their account and then confirms (or activates) it by clicking on a link in an email or entering a short code via SMS/iMessage/etc.

activator provides the route handlers to create the activation code on the account and send the email, and then confirm the entered code to mark the user activated.

activator does not create the user; it leaves that up to you, since everyone likes to do it just a little differently.

Activation is simple, just add the route handler after you have created the user:

app.post("/users",createUser,activator.createActivate);                                 // direct send() mode
app.post("/users",createUser,activator.createActivateNext,handler);         // save results in req.activator and call next() mode

activator.createActivate needs access to several pieces of data in order to do its job:

  • id: It needs the ID of the user, so that it can call user.save(id,data)
  • response.body: Since createUser (in the above example) or anything you have done to create a user might actually want to send data back, createActivate() needs to be able to know what the body you want to send is, when it is successful and calls res.send(201,data);

createActivate() will look for these properties on req.activator.

req.activator = {
    id: "12345tg", // the user ID to pass to createActivate()
    body: "A message" // the body to send back along with the successful 201
}

If createActivate() or createActivateNext() cannot find req.activator.id or req.user.id, it will incur a 500 error.

Once the user actually clicks on the link, you need to complete the activation:

app.put("/users/:user/activation",activator.completeActivate);                              // direct res.send() mode
app.put("/users/:user/activation",activator.completeActivateNext,handler);      // save results and call next() mode

activator will return a 200 if successful, a 400 if there is an error, along with error information, and a 404 if it cannot find that user.

activator assumes the following:

  1. The express parameter user (i.e. /users/:user/whatever/foo) contains the user identifier to pass to user.find() as the first parameter. It will retrieve it using req.param('user')
  2. The req.body or req.query will contain the parameter code which has the actual activation code. It will retrieve it using req.param('code')

If it is successful activating, it will return 200, a 400 if there is an error (including invalid activation code), and a 404 if the user cannot be found.

Password reset is a two-step process in which the user requests a password reset link, normally delivered by email, and then uses that link to set a new password. Essentially, the user requests a time-limited one-time code that is delivered to the user and allows them to set a new password.

Creating a password reset is simple, just add the route handler:

app.post("/passwordreset",activator.createPasswordReset);                           // direct res.send() mode
app.post("/passwordreset",activator.createPasswordResetNext,handler);   // save data and call next() mode

When done, activator will return a 201 code and a message whose text content is the URL to be used to reset the password.

Activator assumes that the login/email/ID to search for will be in req.param("user").

Once the user actually clicks on the link, you need to complete the password reset:

app.put("/users/:user/passwordreset",activator.completePasswordReset);                              // direct res.send() mode
app.put("/users/:user/passwordreset",activator.completePasswordResetNext,handler);      // save response and call next() mode

activator will return a 200 if successful, a 400 if there is an error, along with error information, and a 404 if it cannot find that user.

activator assumes the following:

  1. The express parameter user (i.e. /users/:user/whatever/foo) contains the user identifier to pass to user.find() as the first parameter. It will retrieve it using req.param('user')
  2. The req.body or req.query will contain the parameter code which has the actual password reset code, and the parameter password which is the new password to set. It will retrieve them using req.param('code') and req.param('password').

If it is successful resetting the password, it will return 200, a 400 if there is an error (including invalid code), and a 404 if the user cannot be found.

In order to send an email (yes, we are thinking about SMS for the future), activator needs to have templates. The templates are simple text files that contain the text or HTML to send.

The templates should be in the directory passed to activator.init() as the option templates. It must be an absolute directory path (how else is activator going to know, relative to what??). Each template file should be named according to its function: "activate" or "passwordreset". You can, optionally, add ".txt" to the end of the filename, if it makes your life easier.

Each template file must have 3 or more lines. The first line is the Subject of the email; the second is ignored (I like to use '-----', but whatever works for you), the third and all other lines are the content of the email.

Remember, activator is a server-side product, so it really has no clue if the page the user should go to is https://myserver.com/funny/page/activate/fooooo.html or something a little more sane like https://myserver.com/activate.html

How does activator know what to put in the email? It doesn't; you do!. You put the URL in the template files for passwordreset and activate.

What you can do is have activator embed the necessary information into the templates before sending the email. Each template file follows a simplified EJS style (very similar to PHP). All you need to do is embed the following anywhere (and as many times as you want) inside the template:

<%= abc %>

and every such instance will be replaced by the value of abc. So if abc = "John", then

This is an email for <%= abc %>, 
       hi there <%= abc %>.

Will be turned into

This is an email for John,
       hi there John.

So what variables are available inside the templates?

  • code: the activation or password reset code
  • email: the email of the recipient user
  • id: the internal user ID of the user
  • request: the request object that was passed to the route handler, from which you can extract lots of headers, for example the protocol at req.protocol or the hostname from req.headers.host.

So if your password reset page is on the same host and protocol as the request that came in but at "/reset/my/password", and you want to include the code in the URL as part of a query but also add it to the page, you could do:

Hello,
    
    You have asked to reset your password for MySite. To reset your password, please click on the following link:
    
    <%= request.protocol %><%= request.headers.host %>/reset/my/password?code=<%= code %>&user=<%= id %>
    
    Or just copy and paste that link and enter your code as <%= code %>.
    
    Thanks! 
    From: the MySite team

Template files can be either text or HTML. If activator finds html, it will send html email; if activator finds text, it will send text email; if it finds both, it will send both in an email.

How does it know which? Simple: filename extension.

  • activate.html - use this as an HTML template for activation
  • passwordreset.html - use this as an HTML template for password reset
  • activate.txt - use this as a text template for activation
  • passwordreset.txt - use this as a text template for password reset
  • activate - use this as a text template for activation
  • passwordreset - use this as a text template for password reset

Notice that there are two options for text templates: no filename extenstion (e.g. activate) and text extension (e.g. activate.txt). How does it know which one to use when both are there? Simple:

  1. Use the filename without an extension. If it does not exist:
  2. Use the filename with the .txt extension.

The content format of both kinds of templates (html and text) is the same as described above and have all of the same variables.

Activator supports localized templates. You can have one template for the locale en_GB, a separate one for fr and a third for he_IL. Just create the files with the correct name as an extension: filename type (e.g. activate), followed by _ followed by the locale string (e.g. en_GB or fr) following by the optional filetype extension (nothing or .txt or .html).

Here are some examples:

  • activate_en_GB.txt - text template for locale en_GB
  • activate_en_GB - text template for locale en_GB
  • activate_en_GB.html - html template for locale en_GB
  • activate_fr.html - html template for locale fr, will be used when the language is fr or fr_anything that is not matched
  • activate - fallback for all unmatched locales

The search pattern is as follows.

  1. Look for an exact match of the locale, e.g. for en_GB, look for activate_en_GB
  2. Look for a language match, e.g. for en_GB, look for activate_en
  3. Look for a default file, e.g. for en_GB, look for activate

How does it know which language to use? Simple, just set it on req.lang. You might have retrieved that from your user preferences, or from your application's default, or perhaps from the http header Accept-Language. Either way, you should set it in earlier middleware:

        app.use(function(req,res,next){
            req.lang = myLang; // Set your lang here
        });
        app.use(app.router);
        app.post('/users',activator.createActivate); // etc.

An example - just a simplified and stripped down version of the tests - is available in ./example.js. It can be run via node ./example.js

To run the tests, from the root directory, run npm test.

Released under the MIT License. Copyright Avi Deitcher https://github.com/deitch