Authenticating with the GitHub API

I've been working on a chrome extension for the last few weeks that utilizes the GitHub API. It's my first time working with an API and I've enjoyed it thus far. Everything is written in Javascript with a little Node.js on the server. Here's the process.

Setup an application on GitHub

The first thing you need to do is login to your GitHub account. Once logged in, click on the wrench icon (account settings) at the top and then click on Applications on the left. Click on Register New Application.


Now give the application a name, main URL, and callback URL. The callback URL is where GitHub will redirect your users to after they successfully login. It has to be on the same domain as your main URL. It also needs to be a valid http:// URL. GitHub won't accept 'localhost', 'your mom', etc..


Seeing as how I am writing a browser extension, I REALLY didn't want to have to set up a server just for the extension. However, doing the entire Oauth process on the client side would expose my GitHub client secret, and that's never a good thing. So in the end, I bit the bullet and set up a simple node.js server.  I decided to go with Nodejitsu instead of using my existing server. I'll get into some of the code down below, but you can use any server you have access too. Also, there's no repercussions to setting up an application on GitHub. It doesn't cost anything, and you can delete it at any time.

Redirect your users to GitHub and get an Access Code

When you are ready to authenticate a user you'll need to send them to GitHub to request an access code for you application.'');

You can find your client ID on the in your GitHub account settings page under Applications. Click on your application name and the client id will be in the top right. There are several other parameters you can (and should) append to the URL. Here are the available parameters;

client_id  Required - The client ID you received from GitHub when you registered the application.

redirect_uri Optional  - URL in your app where users will be sent after authorization.

scope  Optional  - Comma separated list of scopes.

state  Optional  - An unguessable random string. It is used to protect against cross-site request forgery attacks.

You can add any of these parameters to the URL by adding an & between them. For example'');

Once redirected to GitHub the user will be prompted to login. After they do, GitHub will redirect back to the Callback URL you set up with an access code in the url.

Parse the access code from the URL and exchange it for an auth token

Once GitHub redirects back to your Callback URL with an access code, you need to exchange it for an auth token.

Get the access code from the URL

// Get the authorization code from the url that was returned by GitHub

var authCode = getAuthCode(window.location.href);

// Extract the auth code from the original URL

function getAuthCode(url){
    var error = url.match(/[&\?]error=([^&]+)/);
    if (error) {
        throw 'Error getting authorization code: ' + error[1];
    return url.match(/[&\?]code=([\w\/\-]+)/)[1];

And exchange this for an auth token by sending a POST request to

Your client secret can be found in the same place as your client id from above. You should never share this secret with anyone. It's called a client secret for a reason.

Regarding the POST request, I'm using Gatekeeper to handle the authentication with GitHub on my nodejitsu server. Here is a small snippet of relevant code from Gatekeeper. If you want to implement it yourself, grab it from GitHub and let me know if you have any questions. The only change I made was replacing a deprecated Express call and adding a few small features like 404 handling.

function authenticate(code, cb) {
    var data = qs.stringify({
        client_id: config.oauth_client_id, //your GitHub client_id
        client_secret: config.oauth_client_secret,  //and secret
       code: code   //the access code we parsed earlier

    var reqOptions = {
        host: '',
        port: '443',
        path: '/login/oauth/access_token',
        method: 'POST',
        headers: { 'content-length': data.length }

    var body = '';
    var req = https.request(reqOptions, function(res) {
        res.on('data', function (chunk) { body += chunk; });
        res.on('end', function() {
            cb(null, qs.parse(body).access_token);

    req.on('error', function(e) { cb(e.message); });

This is just a small snippet to illustrate what is going on. Once you send the POST request, GitHub will return a response that looks like this


From here you just need to parse the auth token and save it somewhere. Going forward, when you want to make an API call, you need to retrieve the auth token from wherever you saved it and send it along with your request.

Check the GitHub documentation for more details.

Also, if you're looking to work with the GitHub API via Javascript, I highly recommend GitHub.js and Gatekeeper. Both have helped me immensely in getting this extension off the ground. I'm still working on a few minor bugs but I'm hoping to release it in the chrome store in a couple more weeks.