The Copenhagen Book

Server-side tokens

Table of contents


A "server-side token" is any long, random string that is stored on the server. It may be persisted in a database or in-memory data store (e.g. Redis) and is used for authentication and verification. A token can be validated by checking if it exists in storage. Examples include session IDs, email verification tokens, and access tokens.

	expires_at INTEGER NOT NULL,

	FOREIGN KEY (user_id) REFERENCES user(id)

For single-use tokens, any retrieval should also guarantee deletion. In SQL for example, an atomic operation such as a transaction should be used when fetching a token.

Generating tokens

Tokens should have at least 112 bits of entropy (120-256 is a good range). For example, you could generate 15 random bytes and encode it with base32 to get a 24-character token. If you generate tokens by choosing random characters one by one, you should ensure a similar level of entropy. See the Generating random values page for more information.

Tokens must be generated using a cryptographically secure random generator. Fast, pseudo-random generators like those generally provided by standard math packages should be avoided for this.

Tokens should be case-sensitive, but you may want to constrain your token generation to lowercase letters if your storage is case-insensitive (e.g. MySQL).

For a 120 bit token, it would take someone 2 quintillion years before they guess a valid token if they generate 10,000 tokens per second and there are 1,000,000 valid tokens in the system.

import (

bytes := make([]byte, 15)
sessionId := base32.StdEncoding.EncodeToString(bytes)

UUID v4 may fit these requirements (122 bits of entropy), but keep in mind that UUID v4 is space inefficient and the spec does not guarantee the use of a cryptographically secure random generator.

Storing tokens

Tokens that require an extra level of security, such as password reset tokens, should be hashed with SHA-256. SHA-256 can be used instead of a slower algorithm here as the token is sufficiently long and random. Tokens can be validated by hashing the incoming token before querying.

Real-life examples of accidental leaks include Paleohacks and Spoutible.