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API authentication

API and stream key authentication

The Companies House API requires authentication credentials to be sent with each request. In most cases this can be sent as an API or stream key for streaming API connections.

Sending the key

The Companies House API uses HTTP basic access authentication to send an API key or stream key between the client application and the server.

Basic authentication usually consists of a username and password. The Companies House API takes the username as the API or stream key and ignores the password, so it can be left blank.

Example of HTTP basic authentication

For an API key of my_api_key, the following curl request demonstrates the setting of the Authorization HTTP request header, as defined by RFC2617:

curl -XGET -u my_api_key: https://api.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/00000006
GET /company/00000006 HTTP/1.1
Host: api.company-information.service.gov.uk
Authorization: Basic bXlfYXBpX2tleTo=
  

OAuth 2.0 authentication

Interaction with some Companies House API functionality requires OAuth 2.0 authorisation. In web server apps, interaction with the Companies House API requires end-user involvement for authentication to prove their identity before the API will allow access. The Companies House API uses HTTP bearer access authentication to send an access token between the client application and the server.

Overview

In a web server process flow, there must be end user involvement. The process flow is as follows:

Developer setup

  1. The developer registers an application.
  2. The developer then creates a web client for their application obtaining a client_id and a client_secret which must be stored securely by the developer.
  3. The web server application must be configured to use this client_id and client_secret combination for interactions with the Companies House OAuth 2.0 service.

Initiating the OAuth web server flow

  1. When the web server wants to sign an end user in with their Companies House account, it redirects the user's browser to the /oauth2/authorise endpoint with the developer's client_id and other details including the requested scopes and a registered redirect_uri.
  2. The end user signs in to their Companies House account and provides a Company authentication code if any requested scopes contain a specific company number.
  3. The end user will be prompted to grant access for the application to perform certain actions on their behalf.
  4. When the end user grants this permission, they will be redirected to the redirect_uri provided with a code parameter to be used in the next stage.

Handling the redirect back

  1. The web server can then use the code to exchange for the users access_token and refresh_token by making a POST request to the /oauth/token endpoint.
  2. This request is not done via a browser but directly from the web server to the Companies House OAuth 2.0 service.
  3. This request body includes the code, the developer's client_id, client_secret and some other relevant information. The grant_type must be set to authorization_code to exchange an authorization code for an access token.
  4. The Companies House OAuth 2.0 service verifies this request, and if access is permitted, responds with access and refresh tokens.
  5. The application uses this access token when making requests to the Companies House API.

Verifying the access token

  1. The web server can verify the access token before using it against other Companies House APIs.
  2. To verify the access token, the web server should make another request directly (not in the user's browser) to the /oauth/verify endpoint.

Refreshing an access token

  1. When the access token expires, the application can use the /oauth/token endpoint again to exchange the refresh token for a new access token. The grant_type must be set to refresh_token to exchange a refresh token for an access token.

Example of HTTP bearer authentication

For an access token of my_access_token, the following curl request demonstrates the setting of the Authorization HTTP request header, as defined by RFC2617:

curl -XGET -H "Authorization: Bearer my_access_token" https://api.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/00000006
GET /company/00000006 HTTP/1.1
Host: api.company-information.service.gov.uk
Authorization: Bearer my_access_token
  

OAuth 2.0 service specifications

Each Companies House OAuth 2.0 service endpoint is documented with examples within the API specifications list in the Developer's API suite.

Companies House has also written an example third party test harness application that shows how a web server application can interact with the Companies House OAuth 2.0 service. The README of this GitHub repository details how to configure and run the test harness.