Authentication in the development environment

This page documents special notes that are useful for configuring Zulip’s various authentication methods for testing in a development environment.

Many of these authentication methods involve a complex interaction between Zulip, an external service, and the user’s browser. Because browsers can (rightly!) be picky about the identity of sites you interact with, the preferred way to set up authentication methods in a development environment is provide secret keys so that you can go through the real flow.

The steps to do this are a variation of the steps discussed in the production documentation, including the comments in zproject/ The differences here are driven by the fact that is in Git, so it is inconvenient for local settings configuration. As a result, in the development environment, we allow setting certain settings in the untracked file zproject/dev-secrets.conf (which is also serves as /etc/zulip/zulip-secrets.conf).

Below, we document the procedure for each of the major authentication methods supported by Zulip.

Email and password

Zulip’s default EmailAuthBackend authenticates users by verifying control over their email address, and then allowing them to set a password for their account. There are two development environment details worth understanding:

  • All of our authentication flows in the development environment have special links to the /emails page (advertised in /devtools), which shows all emails that the Zulip server has “sent” (emails are not actually sent by the development environment), to make it convenient to click through the UI of signup, password reset, etc.

  • There’s a management command, print_initial_password, that prints out default passwords for the development environment users. Note that if you change a user’s password in the development environment, those passwords will no longer work. It also prints out the user’s current API key.


  • Visit the Google developer console and navigate to “APIs & services” > “Credentials”. Create a “Project”, which will correspond to your dev environment.

  • Navigate to “APIs & services” > “Library”, and find the “Identity Toolkit API”. Choose “Enable”.

  • Return to “Credentials”, and select “Create credentials”. Choose “OAuth client ID”, and follow prompts to create a consent screen, etc. For “Authorized redirect URIs”, fill in .

  • You should get a client ID and a client secret. Copy them. In dev-secrets.conf, set social_auth_google_key to the client ID and social_auth_google_secret to the client secret.



  • Register an OAuth application with GitLab at Specify as the callback URL.

  • You should get a page containing the Application ID and Secret for your new application. In dev-secrets.conf, enter the Application ID as social_auth_gitlab_key and the Secret as social_auth_gitlab_secret.



  • Sign up for a developer Okta account.

  • Set up SAML authentication by following Okta’s documentation. Specify:

    • http://localhost:9991/complete/saml/ for the “Single sign on URL”`.

    • http://localhost:9991 for the “Audience URI (SP Entity ID)”.

    • Skip “Default RelayState”.

    • Skip “Name ID format”.

    • Set ‘Email` for “Application username format”.

    • Provide “Attribute statements” of email to, first_name to user.firstName, and last_name to user.lastName.

  • Assign at least one account in the “Assignments” tab. You’ll use it for signing up / logging in to Zulip.

  • Visit the big “Setup instructions” button on the “Sign on” tab.

  • Edit zproject/dev-secrets.conf to add the two values provided:

    • Set saml_url = http... from “Identity Provider Single Sign-On URL”.

    • Set saml_entity_id = http://... from “Identity Provider Issuer”.

    • Download the certificate and put it at the path zproject/dev_saml.cert.

  • Now you should have working SAML authentication!

  • You can sign up to the target realm with the account that you’ve “assigned” in the previous steps (if the account’s email address is allowed in the realm, so you may have to change the realm settings to allow the appropriate email domain) and then you’ll be able to log in freely. Alternatively, you can create an account with the email in any other way, and then just use SAML to log in.

When SSL is required

Some OAuth providers (such as Facebook) require HTTPS on the callback URL they post back to, which isn’t supported directly by the Zulip development environment. If you run a remote Zulip development server, we have instructions for an nginx reverse proxy with SSL that you can use for your development efforts.

Testing LDAP in development

Before Zulip 2.0, one of the more common classes of bug reports with Zulip’s authentication was users having trouble getting LDAP authentication working. The root cause was because setting up a local LDAP server for development was difficult, which meant most developers were unable to work on fixing even simple issues with it.

We solved this problem for our unit tests long ago by using the popular fakeldap library. And in 2018, we added convenient support for using fakeldap in the Zulip development environment as well, so that you can go through all the actual flows for LDAP configuration.

  • To enable fakeldap, set FAKE_LDAP_MODE in zproject/ to one of the following options. For more information on these modes, refer to our production docs:

    • a: If users’ email addresses are in LDAP and used as username.

    • b: If LDAP only has usernames but email addresses are of the form

    • c: If LDAP usernames are completely unrelated to email addresses.

  • To disable fakeldap, set FAKE_LDAP_MODE back to None.

  • In all fakeldap configurations, users’ fake LDAP passwords are equal to their usernames (e.g. for, the password is ldapuser1).

  • FAKE_LDAP_NUM_USERS in zproject/ can be used to specify the number of LDAP users to be added. The default value for the number of LDAP users is 8.

Testing avatar and custom profile field synchronization

The fakeldap LDAP directories we use in the development environment are generated by the code in zerver/lib/, and contain data one might want to sync, including avatars and custom profile fields.

We also have configured AUTH_LDAP_USER_ATTR_MAP in zproject/ to sync several of those fields. For example:

  • Modes a and b will set the user’s avatar on account creation and update it when sync_ldap_user_data is run.

  • Mode b is configured to automatically have the birthday and Phone number custom profile fields populated/synced.

  • Mode a is configured to deactivate/reactivate users whose accounts are disabled in LDAP when sync_ldap_user_data is run. (Note that you’ll likely need to edit zerver/lib/ to ensure there are some accounts configured to be disabled).

Automated testing

For our automated tests, we generally configure custom LDAP data for each individual test, because that generally means one can understand exactly what data is being used in the test without looking at other resources. It also gives us more freedom to edit the development environment directory without worrying about tests.

Two factor authentication

Zulip uses django-two-factor-auth as a beta 2FA integration.

To enable 2FA, set TWO_FACTOR_AUTHENTICATION_ENABLED in settings to True, then log in to Zulip and add an OTP device from the settings page. Once the device is added, password based authentication will ask for a one-time-password. In the development environment, this one-time-password will be printed to the console when you try to log in. Just copy-paste it into the form field to continue.

Direct development logins don’t prompt for 2FA one-time-passwords, so to test 2FA in development, make sure that you log in using a password. You can get the passwords for the default test users using ./ print_initial_password.

Password form implementation

By default, Zulip uses autocomplete=off for password fields where we enter the current password, and autocomplete="new-password" for password fields where we create a new account or change the existing password. This prevents the browser from auto-filling the existing password.

Visit for more details.