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What is Keycloak and How Does It Empower Businesses With Security and Efficiency?

By June 20, 2024June 27th, 2024Web Development
what is keycloak

Far too often in the cybersecurity industry, people paint stormy skies of doom, employ fear-based strategies, and quote other professionals who also scare people with dark predictions about how their businesses will collapse if they don’t invest in a security solution. 

However, our team here at Bitcot has a refreshing take on how identity and access management (IAM) can be leveraged as a catalyst for improving efficiency, strengthening security, reducing operational friction, and enhancing user experience across your organization.

As per a survey by Cybersecurity Insiders, 89% of companies consider IAM to be crucial or highly significant for the future of their organizations.

This article discusses how Keycloak, a leading IAM provider, offers a transformative approach to managing identities and access. If you’re looking to understand what is Keycloak and how it works, this is the perfect resource for you.

What Is Keycloak?

keycloakKeycloak is a free IAM solution developed by Red Hat – the one you may know for its contributions to the open-source community through projects like RHEL, OpenShift, and Ansible. 

Keycloak provides functionalities that help organizations manage user identities and control access to their apps and resources securely. 

Acting as a centralized authentication service, it verifies who users are and what they can access across systems, offering authentication, authorization, and federation capabilities. 

The Keycloak architecture is primarily developed using Java and integrates with WildFly for application server capabilities. It utilizes Hibernate for database interactions and JAX-RS for RESTful API endpoints, while its front end employs JavaScript, HTML, and CSS for user interface functionality.

Keycloak is built on top of well-established security protocols like OAuth 2.0, OpenID Connect, and SAML, making it suitable for securing modern apps and services.

The primary feature of Keycloak IAM is its robust support for single sign-on (SSO), which simplifies user authentication across multiple apps and systems.

What Is Single Sign-On (SSO) and Why Is It Needed?

ssoImagine you have a bunch of different keys for your house: one for the front door, one for the back door, one for the garage, and one for each room inside. It would be a hassle to keep track of all these keys and remember which one goes where, right?

Single Sign-On (SSO) is like having a master key that unlocks all the doors in your house. With SSO, you only need to remember one set of login credentials (like a username and password) to access multiple apps or websites.

Instead of remembering different passwords for each service, you just log in once, and you can use that same login for everything that supports SSO.

For example, if you have an SSO account with Google, you can use your Google username and password to log into YouTube, Gmail, Google Drive, and many other services without having to log in separately for each one. 

Implementing Keycloak SSO can benefit your business in several ways:

  • Convenience for Users: SSO allows your users to access multiple systems with just one set of credentials. This reduces the need for them to remember multiple passwords, making it more convenient and less frustrating.
  • Improved Security: SSO enhances security because it centralizes authentication. With SSO, you can enforce stronger password policies and implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) more easily. This reduces the risk of weak or reused passwords across different systems.
  • Increased Productivity: Since your users don’t have to spend time logging in separately to each app, SSO can boost productivity. Employees spend less time dealing with password resets and login issues, allowing them to focus more on their tasks.
  • Ease of Administration: IT departments benefit from simplified user provisioning and deprovisioning processes. When a user leaves the company or changes roles, administrators can update permissions in one place, ensuring access to all apps is managed consistently.
  • Cost Savings: Implementing SSO leads reduces costs by minimizing password-related support tickets and ensuring secure access management across multiple apps, thus lowering administrative overhead.
  • Elimination of Multiple Logins: With SSO, you don’t need to create a separate login page and authentication mechanism for each app. This reduces development time and effort, as well as potential security risks associated with managing multiple authentication systems.

In a nutshell, SSO simplifies the user experience, strengthens security, and reduces administrative burdens, making it a valuable investment if your business is looking to improve efficiency in its IT environments.

To access your company’s apps securely, your users can login with Keycloak software, which provides streamlined authentication and authorization services.

How Does Keycloak Work?

keycloak working processAuthentication Flow (Logging In)

When you access an app protected by the Keycloak identity provider (the client application), you get sent to the Keycloak login system which is like a security guard at the door. 

Depending on how the Keycloak authentication flow is configured, you might log in with a username and password, through a social media account, or using another service. Moreover, Keycloak’s multi-factor authentication can add an extra layer of security by requiring additional verification steps like SMS codes, authenticator apps, etc.

Keycloak auth verifies if your credentials are right. If everything checks out, it gives you something called an “authentication token” which is like a digital pass that proves you are who you say you are. 

It typically includes information like the user’s ID, username, their roles or permissions, an expiration time, and a secret key which is used for encrypting and signing the token to ensure its authenticity and integrity. This token is securely stored either in the browser’s local storage or as a cookie. With this authentication token, Keycloak lets you in.

Single Sign-On (Staying Logged In)

Once you’re in, Keycloak single sign-on is employed, which enhances user experience by allowing them to stay logged in across multiple apps without repeatedly entering credentials. 

When you navigate to another app that is also integrated with the same Keycloak server, the app can validate the token with Keycloak. If the token is valid and not expired, Keycloak recognizes that you’re already authenticated and doesn’t prompt you to log in again.

This Keycloak authentication process means users don’t have to remember and re-enter credentials for each app they use within the Keycloak ecosystem. Once you’ve logged in initially, Keycloak “remembers” you across different apps until your session expires (based on token expiration settings) or you explicitly log out.

Authorization and Access Control (Gaining Access)

Once authenticated, Keycloak authorization determines what you’re allowed to access or change. For example, can you only view a document, or can you edit it too? It’s about defining roles and permissions based on who the user is and what they do.

For instance, a user assigned the “Admin” role might have full access to manage users and settings, while a user with the “User” role might only have access to view and update their own profile.

Access control ensures that only users who have the right permissions can perform specific actions or access certain parts of an app. It manages these rules centrally, making it easier to maintain security and manage who can do what.

For instance, a CMS might restrict access to sensitive financial data to only those with the “Finance Manager” role, while allowing all employees to view company policies. This granular control over access helps maintain confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information.

User Management (Managing Accounts)

Keycloak provides administrators with tools to create, modify, and delete user accounts across all the apps that use Keycloak. They can assign roles and permissions to users within each Keycloak realm, which is a logical grouping of users, apps, and their corresponding roles and credentials. 

Administrators can also define and manage custom user attributes like profile information (e.g., name, email, organization) or preferences (e.g., language, theme). These attributes can be used by apps to personalize user experiences. 

One key feature of Keycloak user management is its support for various authentication methods and protocols. Administrators can configure multi-factor authentication (MFA), social logins, and identity brokering to allow users to sign in using credentials from third-party identity providers like Google or Facebook. 

They can also enforce password policies for user accounts. This includes setting requirements for password complexity, expiration periods, and reset options. 

User Federation (Integrating Externally)

Many organizations have already invested in and standardized on specific identity providers like LDAP, Active Directory, or SAML-based systems to manage user identities across their IT systems. 

Integrating these existing systems with Keycloak allows these organizations to leverage their current investments and infrastructure without duplication.

They can configure synchronization settings to periodically fetch user data from the external system into Keycloak. They can also define mappings to map attributes and roles between the external system and Keycloak.

Once configured, Keycloak can handle authentication requests for users stored in the external system. It can also apply its own authorization policies and manage sessions and tokens for authenticated users.

Keycloak offers flexibility in how User Federation is configured and extended. Organizations can write custom User Federation providers if the built-in options don’t meet your needs.

A Few Practical Uses Cases of Keycloak

keycloak use casesNow that we’ve discussed the technical aspects, let’s explore what Keycloak is used for across various industries.

Keycloak is designed to be highly extensible and customizable, making it suitable for a wide range of use cases from small businesses to large enterprises needing secure identity management capabilities. 


Keycloak really steps up to secure intranet portals within enterprises by providing robust identity and access management capabilities. It ensures that employees can securely access company resources like documents, collaboration tools, and internal services. 

With features like Keycloak MFA and SSO which are super handy for large-scale deployments, Keycloak amps up security across various internal systems.

For employee portals, Keycloak facilitates secure access to sensitive HR systems, payroll information, and other company-specific apps. It ensures that only authorized personnel get to peek at confidential data, thereby maintaining data privacy and compliance with internal security policies. 


Keycloak comes through with solid identity management solutions to ensure protected customer interactions. It enables secure customer login processes and manages access to shopping carts, order histories, and personalized content. Keycloak’s support for social login integration enhances user convenience while maintaining security standards. 

Additionally, Keycloak enhances payment gateway security by managing user authentication for secure transactions, thereby safeguarding financial transactions and customer data privacy. 

Its scalability and high availability make it suitable for handling peak transaction loads during sales events and promotional campaigns, keeping customers happy and transactions flowing.


Keycloak’s role in healthcare extends to securing electronic health records (EHR) and telemedicine platforms. It ensures that healthcare providers and patients can securely access sensitive medical information, all while adhering to strict regulatory requirements like HIPAA. 

With secure authentication mechanisms, Keycloak helps healthcare organizations maintain the confidentiality and integrity of patient data across various digital platforms. Its audit logging and reporting features support compliance audits, enabling healthcare providers to adhere to regulatory standards and best practices in data security. 

Moreover, Keycloak’s fine-grained access control capabilities enable healthcare IT administrators to enforce policies that restrict access to specific medical records and clinical systems based on user roles and permissions.

Education and Research

Educational and research institutions leverage Keycloak to secure learning management systems (LMS), managing student and instructor access to course materials, grades, etc. Keycloak integrates smoothly with tools, ensuring that access to resources is controlled. This maintains data privacy while supporting collaborative learning environments. 

Keycloak’s support for federation allows integration with academic identity providers, facilitating a unified authentication experience for students and faculty across multiple platforms. 

Additionally, its adaptive authentication mechanisms enhance security by dynamically adjusting authentication requirements based on contextual factors like user location or device type, further protecting sensitive educational data.

Financial Services

Keycloak is instrumental in securing banking apps and investment platforms as it ensures secure online experiences, protects financial transactions, and manages access to investment portfolios and trading platforms. 

With robust security features like SSO and MFA, Keycloak supports compliance with financial regulations while enhancing overall security posture. Its integration with fraud detection systems and transaction monitoring tools enhances risk management capabilities, enabling financial institutions to detect and mitigate threats proactively. 

Moreover, Keycloak’s support for adaptive authentication policies helps organizations enforce stronger authentication requirements for high-risk transactions or suspicious account activities, further safeguarding customer funds and sensitive financial information.

Media and Entertainment

Keycloak security enables secure access to streaming platforms and gaming portals. It authenticates subscribers, manages access to streaming content, and enhances user experiences through personalized content delivery. 

A Keycloak custom login page can be implemented to ensure the authentication experience aligns with the brand’s aesthetic and user interface guidelines.

Keycloak’s support for scalable user management capabilities allows media companies to handle large volumes of user registrations and concurrent streaming sessions. 

Additionally, Keycloak’s integration with content management systems and digital rights management platforms helps media companies enforce licensing agreements and copyright protections, ensuring that content distribution remains secure and compliant with industry standards.


Keycloak secures smart home systems and industrial IoT platforms by managing device authentication and authorization. It ensures that connected devices and industrial sensors can securely interact with IoT services while maintaining data privacy and integrity. 

Businesses can ensure that only authorized users and devices can access critical IoT infrastructure. Its support for various OAuth 2.0 grant types and OpenID Connect protocols facilitates secure workflows between IoT devices and cloud-based IoT platforms, enabling integration and interoperability across diverse IoT ecosystems. 

Moreover, Keycloak’s extensibility allows IoT developers to implement custom authentication mechanisms and security policies tailored to specific IoT use cases, ensuring robust protection.

Travel and Hospitality

Keycloak facilitates secure authentication for booking platforms and travel agencies. It manages access to hotel bookings, loyalty programs, and personal travel information, ensuring that customer data remains confidential and protected. 

Keycloak supports secure communication channels between travelers and service providers. Its support for social login integration simplifies the authentication process for travelers, while its role-based access control capabilities enable travel agencies to define and enforce access policies based on customer preferences and booking histories. 

Additionally, Keycloak’s audit logging and reporting features support regulatory compliance audits, allowing travel companies to demonstrate adherence to data protection regulations and industry standards for consumer privacy and security.

Choosing the Right IAM Provider: Keycloak vs Others

keycloak vs othersWhile Keycloak is highly popular for its robust features and flexibility, it’s useful to be aware of Keycloak alternatives like Okta, Amazon Cognito, Microsoft Entra ID, and Google Cloud Identity. Let’s look into a comparison of each of the four providers.


Keycloak is great if you want a free, highly customizable solution that you can manage yourself. It allows you to tailor the authentication and authorization processes to fit your exact needs. 

Its self-hosted nature gives you full control over your identity management infrastructure, making it ideal for businesses that need extensive customization and have the capability to manage and maintain their own servers. 

It offers a robust authorization service that allows defining complex authorization policies and rules, often more detailed and flexible compared to others. It also comes pre-configured with many social login providers like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and GitHub, making it easy to integrate social logins without additional setup.

When considering Keycloak pricing, it’s important to note that the software itself is free, you might incur costs for hosting and support. 


Okta is a leading cloud-based IAM provider known for its ease of use and comprehensive feature set. When comparing Keycloak vs Okta, the latter is ideal for those who prefer an easy-to-use, cloud-based service with strong security features without the need for extensive configuration or maintenance. 

It has one of the largest pre-built integration networks (Okta Integration Network), making it easy to integrate with a vast number of apps out of the box.

It provides advanced user experience customization capabilities, including branded login pages, user dashboards, and tailored user journeys. It offers a rich set of APIs that enable extensive customization and integration capabilities, especially for enterprise environments.

It also supports a wide range of MFA options including adaptive MFA that adjusts based on user behavior and risk.

AWS Cognito

This Keycloak alternative works best for apps within the AWS ecosystem, offering scalability and cost-effectiveness, particularly for businesses already utilizing AWS infrastructure. 

When it comes to Keycloak vs Cognito, the latter is a good option for businesses looking for deep integration with AWS services and those needing a solution that can handle large-scale apps.

It’s designed to work within a serverless architecture, automatically scaling to meet user demand without requiring server management, which is not as prominently featured in other providers. It offers specialized support for serverless apps, ensuring secure authentication and access management without the overhead of managing servers.

AWS Cognito can be very cost-effective for apps with low to moderate traffic due to its pricing model.

Microsoft Entra ID

Microsoft Entra ID, formerly known as Azure Active Directory, is a cloud-based IAM service that’s suitable for large businesses using Microsoft products, providing seamless integration with Office 365, Azure, and other services. 

Its strong security features and compliance capabilities make it a preferred choice for enterprises with stringent regulatory requirements. Advanced conditional access policies enable fine-grained control over how and when users can access resources, based on factors like location, device state, and user risk level.

Entra ID helps manage, control, and monitor access to important resources within an organization, including just-in-time privileged access and time-bound access controls.

It uses machine learning and Microsoft’s vast security intelligence to provide risk-based conditional access and identity protection features, helping to detect and respond to potential threats.

Google Cloud Identity

Google Cloud Identity is perfect for apps on Google Cloud. It’s designed to offer a simple, secure, and scalable solution for managing users and their access to apps. It’s particularly advantageous for organizations already using Google Workspace, as it allows for seamless user management and access control across Google’s suite of apps. 

It also enables the creation of access policies that consider the user’s context like location, device security status, and IP address, providing granular access control. 

Zero Trust IAM, as exemplified by Google Cloud Identity’s BeyondCorp, ensures that every access request is rigorously verified based on who is requesting access and their specific situation, following the principle of least privilege. 

This approach shifts from traditional perimeter-based security, which relied on a boundary to protect networks, towards continuous monitoring and risk-based access controls. It enhances security by limiting access strictly to what’s necessary for each user and device, adapting dynamically to changing conditions.

Feature / Service Keycloak Okta Amazon Cognito Microsoft Entra ID Google Cloud Identity
Open Source Yes No No No No
Customizable UI Yes Yes Limited Limited Limited
Integration Extensive customization Broad integration capabilities AWS services integration Microsoft ecosystem integration GCP services integration
Scalability Good Very good Very good Excellent Very good
Serverless Yes No Yes No No
User Federation Yes Yes Limited Yes Yes
Deployment On-premises, Cloud (Self-hosted) Cloud (SaaS) Cloud (SaaS) Cloud (SaaS), Hybrid Cloud (SaaS)
Pricing Free Subscription-based Pay-as-you-go Subscription-based Subscription-based

Choosing a suitable IAM tool depends on your specific needs and existing setup. If Keycloak is not the right fit for your organization, you may pick one of the alternatives to Keycloak that aligns best with your existing infrastructure, budget, and long-term goals.

Final Thoughts

Keycloak is a great IAM option. It helps you customize authentication and authorization processes extensively while maintaining full control over your infrastructure. By centralizing these critical aspects, Keycloak not only improves security posture but also streamlines operations and enhances user experience across the board.

What’s more, the Keycloak license allows users to freely use, modify, and distribute the software under the terms of the Apache License 2.0. This is a big money-saver, especially for startups and smaller companies with tight budgets.

For a practical glimpse into how Keycloak IDP can be configured and deployed effectively, we recommend reading this article on a recent client project.

Need help with Keycloak integration? Or maybe you’re unsure about how to set up SSO the right way? Keycloak support is essential for organizations looking to streamline their IAM processes.

Having implemented numerous managed Keycloak solutions for our clients, Keycloak is muscle memory for our team here at Bitcot. Get in touch with us for a free demo of an app integrated with Keycloak.

Raj Sanghvi

Raj Sanghvi is a technologist and founder of BitCot, a full-service award-winning software development company. With over 15 years of innovative coding experience creating complex technology solutions for businesses like IBM, Sony, Nissan, Micron, Dicks Sporting Goods, HDSupply, Bombardier and more, Sanghvi helps build for both major brands and entrepreneurs to launch their own technologies platforms. Visit Raj Sanghvi on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter. View Full Bio