As a developer, when it comes to creating a user administration system for your application, you need to look at every aspect: user authorization, input sanitation, secure communication, web tokens, authentication, login and registration forms, email confirmation, password reset, and more.
When starting to build your User Management system, looking at the open source option is, as always, very appealing. Developers love working with open source, and it has its own pros and cons.
The upside of using Open Source for your User Management
A user management application requires constant checking and improvement from a dedicated team. Such tools will require intervention over time—to fix bugs, create enhancements, or make security updates.
The greatest power of open source is the community, which is supposed to address just that. Open source is backed by not just a team, but an entire community of developers and users. It will be a diverse global community that will generate more ideas, and develop and troubleshoot faster than an in-house team working on proprietary solutions.
Considering that this type of software can differ greatly depending on the specific needs you have, an open source solution will give you visibility into the scope and limitations of a particular solution.
As opposed to proprietary software, once you integrate an open source project into your infrastructure you will be able to know exactly what it is like and how it behaves.
When using open-source code, you have access to the code before making a decision, so you know in advance exactly if there will be integration problems or if certain functionalities are more limited than described. In other words, with a publicly available code, it is safe to say you get what you see.
User management software can be expensive because it tends to be a reasonably complex tool, with many functions and a lot of work in building it. At the same time, due to its nature, it needs to be constantly updated.
For all this, you must establish a dedicated team, a team able to maintain the software. This team may be an internal team that will maintain and update the software, or the software owner may provide the maintenance for a recurring fee. In any case, this implies that its proprietary user management software will require a purchase cost and a maintenance cost.
With an open-source solution, this problem is eliminated, as the entire software is maintained by the community that created it. All you have to do is keep up to date with updates and keep up with the information they publish. So yes, this means that you have to do the updates/upgrades yourself, but the overall cost can be much lower if the software is developed and updated correctly.
The downside of using Open Source for your User Management
1. Handling Initial Deployment
It’s hard to perform the initial lift-up of the open source foundation. Indeed, with open source, all you have is a documentation paper, your skills, and your ability to google stuff online. You need to rely solely on this when installing, configuring, and deploying the open-source software. However, if the community around the open-source project engages in discussions and is willing to help each other, it undoubtedly makes the process easier.
At the same time, the lack of a dedicated support team that can walk you through all the steps you need to follow can be a disadvantage, especially if the tool is complex or the team encounters countless problems on the way. Having support in the early stages involves more cost but can compensate in terms of delivery speed.
2. Handling Scale
When it comes down to authentication and authorization, real-time scaling is crucial. If you choose open source, you have to maintain the production on your own, which means you have to handle the load and scale.
When it comes to deployment and open source software, you are limited to just one option.
In other words, you need to provide and maintain the server configuration as well. This involves taking care of rate-limiting and possible DoS / DDoS attacks, uptime, database scaling, load balancing, and so on.
Authentication implies password hashing, which is a CPU-intensive task. Attackers can use that to send a flood of HTTP traffic to your authentication endpoints. Thousands of HTTP requests over a small window of time to these endpoints can freeze the entire server and bring the application down.
3. Handling Sensitive Data
You are in charge of handling the most sensitive data out there: your users’. Some regulations come into play like GDPR, CCPA, backing up the data, etc.
To comply with these regulations, you or your team need to understand them entirely and implement them in the system, which means more time spent in development and an increase in the delivery time.
This problem may vary based on your company’s location, your target audience, and how much revenue you produce. Nevertheless, when you have a self-managed solution, these things must be taken into consideration and addressed.
Top Open Source Projects for User Management
As web developers, we understand the importance of the open source community. To give back to the community, here is a list of such open source projects that you can use for your user management needs.
These projects vary, from boilerplates and simple applications that offer limited but required features to fully packaged solutions that provide everything out of the box.
Perhaps one of the most popular and used projects on this list, KeyCloak is an application for identity and access management. Keycloak offers everything a sophisticated user management tool needs. Some of its features are:
- User registration
- Social login
- Role-based authorization
- Single sign-on/sign-off across all applications belonging to the same realm
- LDAP integration
- Multitenancy with per-realm customizable skin
- Enriched admin console
- Built-in support for multiple standard protocols: OpenID Connect, OAuth 2.0 and SAML
Additionally, users can log in with Keycloak directly. So, the application for which you want to use it does not have to deal with authentication forms at all.
The main benefit of Kratos is that it implements core use cases while still allowing a high level of customization.
In the current state, it can be used to cover the following use cases:
- Self-service login and registration
- Multi-factor authentication (MFA/2FA)
- Account verification
- Account recovery
- Profile and account management
- Admin APIs
With this application, you are not limited to the existing configuration. You can choose your identity model and even your user interface. At the same time, the large community behind this project is actively involved, which validates this project. It can be integrated out of the box into any infrastructure.
Primary language: Python
Number of contributors: 29
Number of stars: 2.5k
This project is similar to the previous one, but it addresses the Python community.
Flask-base is a boilerplate for apps written with Flask, and has authentication within it. This project comes preconfigured with several technologies that can help create a customized system to be adapted to your requirements.
Out of the box, it comes with:
- User and permissions management
- Flask-mail for sending emails
- Simple UI to manage users with minimal features
This project is exactly as described, a boilerplate. That’s why it’s suitable for someone who wants to create a Python user management system and doesn’t want to start from scratch.
Primary language: PHP
Number of contributors: 52
Number of stars: 1.5k
Who is using and top sponsors: NextGi
If you have a PHP project and want to add user management, take a look at UserFrosting. UserFrosting is a PHP framework built on top of a Slim MicroFramework that implements user login and user management out of the box. Some of its features include:
- A sign-in system with sessions
- Built-in user management page
- Roles and permissions
Its features are limited, but it provides the basic features you’ll need from a small user management system. Even though UserFrosting can be extended, its current functionalities are not configurable. You’ll need to use Twig as a template engine and Eloquent as an ORM to communicate with the database.
5. Nest User Auth
Primary language: TypeScript
Number of contributors: 1
Number of stars: 151
nest-user-auth is an open source user management project built on top of the NestJS framework. The project itself serves better as a base that you can either use as it is, or build on top of it to extend its features based on your needs. It uses NestJS and GraphQL to communicate with the back-end and MongoDB as a database to store user data.
- user authentication based on JWT (login, signup, forgot password)
- email integration
6. Frontegg OpenSaas
Although not a classic Open Source project for User Management, OpenSaaS offers a quick start for anyone who wants to quickly create an MVP to put in front of early adopters.
Please notice that the User Management part is not Open-Sourced and you will have to sign-up on the Frontegg website to use that infrastructure. The SaaS boilerplate is open-sourced.
The OpenSaaS project comes as SaaS shell that has the following features pre-built:
- Authentication system (login, sign-up, forgot password, etc.)
- Roles and permission management
- Team management (inviting new users and revoking access)
- MFA support
- Multi-tenant support
- SSO based on SAML or OpenID protocol
- UI built using modern frameworks
Users need to be effectively managed for them to get the best of your platform. From securely storing users’ information to ensuring privacy for managing access to your application’s different services, user management is one of the most important foundations of your app.
Building your user management system requires that you do not miss out on the essential parts. It might not be a straightforward process, and you may also need professional experience to go about them correctly. Using an open-source solution is a legit option and one should always have in mind, the pros and cons of choosing this path as opposed to the other options layed ahead.