Automatic Key Management

Duende IdentityServer can manage signing keys for you using the Automatic Key Management feature.

Automatic Key Management follows best practices for handling signing key material, including

  • automatic rotation of keys
  • secure storage of keys at rest using data protection
  • announcement of upcoming new keys
  • maintenance of retired keys

Automatic Key Management is included in IdentityServer Business Edition or higher.


Automatic Key Management is configured by the options in the KeyManagement property on the IdentityServerOptions.

Managed Key Lifecycle

Keys created by Automatic Key Management move through several phases. First, new keys are announced, that is, they are added to the list of keys in discovery, but not yet used for signing. After a configurable amount of PropagationTime, keys are promoted to be signing credentials, and will be used by IdentityServer to sign tokens. Eventually, enough time will pass that the key is older than the configurable RotationTime, at which point the key is retired, but kept in discovery for a configurable RetentionDuration. After the RetentionDuration has passed, keys are removed from discovery, and optionally deleted.

The default is to rotate keys every 90 days, announce new keys with 14 days of propagation time, retain old keys for a duration of 14 days, and to delete keys when they are retired. All of these options are configurable in the KeyManagement options. For example:

var builder = services.AddIdentityServer(options =>
    // new key every 30 days
    options.KeyManagement.RotationInterval = TimeSpan.FromDays(30);
    // announce new key 2 days in advance in discovery
    options.KeyManagement.PropagationTime = TimeSpan.FromDays(2);
    // keep old key for 7 days in discovery for validation of tokens
    options.KeyManagement.RetentionDuration = TimeSpan.FromDays(7);

    // don't delete keys after their retention period is over
    options.KeyManagement.DeleteRetiredKeys = false;

Key storage

Automatic Key Management stores keys through the abstraction of the ISigningKeyStore. You can implement this extensibility point to customize the storage of your keys (perhaps using a key vault of some kind), or use one of the two implementations of the ISigningKeyStore that we provide:

The default FileSystemKeyStore writes keys to the KeyPath directory configured in your IdentityServer host, which defaults to the directory ~/keys. This directory should be excluded from source control.

If you are deploying in a load balanced environment and wish to use the FileSystemKeyStore, all instances of IdentityServer will need read/write access to the KeyPath.

var builder = services.AddIdentityServer(options =>
    // set path to store keys
    options.KeyManagement.KeyPath = "/home/shared/keys";

Encryption of Keys at Rest

The keys created by Automatic Key Management are sensitive cryptographic secrets that should be encrypted at rest. By default, keys managed by Automatic Key Management are protected at rest using ASP.NET Core Data Protection. This is controlled with the DataProtectKeys flag, which is on by default. We recommend leaving this flag on unless you are using a custom ISigningKeyStore to store you keys in a secure location that will ensure keys are encrypted at rest. For example, if you implement the ISigningKeyStore to store you keys in Azure Key Vault, you could safely disabled DataProtectKeys, relying on Azure Key Vault to encrypt your signing keys at rest.

See the deployment section for more information about setting up data protection.

Manage multiple keys

By default, Automatic Key Management will maintain a signing credential and validation keys for a single cryptographic algorithm (RS256). You can specify multiple keys, algorithms, and if those keys should additionally get wrapped in an X.509 certificate. Automatic key management will create and rotate keys for each signing algorithm you specify.

options.KeyManagement.SigningAlgorithms = new[]
    // RS256 for older clients (with additional X.509 wrapping)
    new SigningAlgorithmOptions(SecurityAlgorithms.RsaSha256) { UseX509Certificate = true },
    // PS256
    new SigningAlgorithmOptions(SecurityAlgorithms.RsaSsaPssSha256),
    // ES256
    new SigningAlgorithmOptions(SecurityAlgorithms.EcdsaSha256)

When you register multiple signing algorithms, the first in the list will be the default used for signing tokens. Client and API resource definitions both have an AllowedTokenSigningAlgorithm property to override the default on a per resource and client basis.