Get started with 33% off your first certification using code: 33OFFNEW

A guide to JWT (JSON Web Tokens)

3 min read
Published on 17th April 2024
A guide to JWT (JSON Web Tokens)

JSON Web Tokens (JWT) have emerged as a popular standard for securely transmitting information between parties as a compact, URL-safe JSON object. This digital token revolutionized authentication and information exchange in web applications, offering a more streamlined and efficient approach than traditional methods. This article delves deep into the mechanics of JWT, exploring its structure, usage scenarios, and security considerations.

Understanding JWT

At its core, a JWT is a method for representing claims securely between two parties. It's compact and self-contained, meaning it conveys all the necessary information about the user, avoiding the need to query the database on subsequent requests after authentication.

Why JWT?

JWT tokens facilitate secure data exchange with a mechanism that can be trusted due to its signature. They're particularly useful in:

  • Authentication: Once the user is logged in, each subsequent request will include the JWT, allowing the user to access routes, services, and resources permitted with that token.
  • Information Exchange: Securely transferring information between parties. Since JWTs can be signed—either using a secret (with HMAC algorithm) or a public/private key pair using RSA—recipients can verify the sender's identity and ensure the data hasn't been tampered with.

JWT Structure

A JWT is composed of three parts, separated by dots (.): Header.Payload.Signature. Let's break down each segment:

  1. Header: The header typically consists of two parts: the token type (JWT) and the signing algorithm being used, such as HMAC SHA256 or RSA.

      "alg": "HS256",
      "typ": "JWT"
  2. Payload: The second part of the token is the payload, which contains the claims. Claims are statements about an entity (typically, the user) and additional metadata. There are three types of claims: registered, public, and private claims.

      "sub": "1234567890",
      "name": "John Doe",
      "admin": true
  3. Signature: To create the signature part, you have to take the encoded header, the encoded payload, a secret, the algorithm specified in the header, and sign that.

    For example, if you're using the HMAC SHA256 algorithm, the signature will be created in the following way:

      base64UrlEncode(header) + "." +

The output is three Base64-URL strings separated by dots, which can be easily passed in HTML and HTTP environments.

How JWT Works

  1. User Requests Access: The user logs in with their credentials.
  2. Application Validates Credentials: Upon successful login, the application generates a JWT token.
  3. Token Issued to User: The server responds with the JWT token.
  4. Browser Stores JWT: The client stores the token, typically in local storage or a cookie.
  5. Client Uses JWT in Subsequent Requests: The token is included in the header of every request made to the server.
  6. Server Verifies JWT: The server verifies the token's validity before responding to the request.

Security Implications

While JWTs offer numerous advantages, they also present unique security challenges:

  • Sensitive Information Exposure: Avoid storing sensitive information in JWT payloads, as they're easily decoded.
  • Token Storage: Securely store tokens to prevent cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks. HttpOnly cookies are a safer option compared to local storage.
  • Token Expiry: Implement token expiration to mitigate the risk of token theft. Use refresh tokens to maintain session continuity without compromising security.
  • Signature Verification: Always verify the token's signature before trusting its content to prevent tampering.

Best Practices

  • Use HTTPS: Ensure all transactions involving JWTs occur over secure HTTPS connections.
  • Short Expiration Time: Set a short expiration time for tokens and rely on refresh tokens for extending sessions.
  • Handle Token Breach Promptly: Have a strategy in place for revoking tokens and handling breaches.


JWTs stand out as a flexible and efficient means for secure authentication and information exchange in web applications. Their ability to encapsulate information in a compact, verifiable format addresses many challenges inherent in distributed systems. However, like any technology, understanding its inner workings and associated risks is crucial for leveraging its benefits while mitigating potential security risks. Adopting JWTs with mindful consideration of security best practices ensures a robust framework for your application's authentication mechanism, safeguarding both your data and your users.