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12 Common WCF Interop Misconceptions

I get mails almost on a daily basis from people asking me how to build a WCF client to consume a service of framework X (usually axis or wsit but others as well). After getting hundreds of these mails in the recent years I conclude that there is a single most common setting which most people need. There are also common confusions that a lot of people stumble on in their first try. In this post I will present the common setting, and what can (and will) go wrong.

The mails I get usually start with this soap sample which people want wcf to send:

Optionally ssl is also used.

The wcf setting required here is a custom binding with an authentication mode of "mutualCertificate":

(where https may be used instead of HTTP)

Misconception 1: A wrong soap version by you can cause the server to return different kinds of exceptions. Make sure the "messageVersion" property on the textEncodingElement fits your needs. In particular if no ws-addressing headers are used (To, ReplyTo, MessageID and Action) then use "Soap11" (as above) or "Soap12" without any ws-addressing version.

Misconception 2: The proxy may throw this exception:

The client certificate is not provided. Specify a client certificate in ClientCredentials.

That's an easy one, you must confiugure a client certificate which is pretty basic for a signing scenario. You can do it from code or config. Here is the config version:

Misconception 3: You still get the same error after you have defined the certificate. In this case make sure you have configured the endpoint to use the behavior:

Misconception 4: When I use mutualCertificate authentication mode I define my client certificate. I do not have a server certificate to define. My proxy is not sending anything and throws this error:

The service certificate is not provided for target 'http://localhost/MyWebServices/Services/SimpleService.asmx'. Specify a service certificate in ClientCredentials.

The issue is that mutualCertificate always requires you to define a server certificate. In some cases you may not need it. In such cases it is ok to define some dummy certificate as the server certificate, even can be the same certificate you use for the client:

Of course you may also do so from code.

Misconception 5: You may get this error:

"The X.509 certificate CN=WSE2QuickStartServer chain building failed. The certificate that was used has a trust chain that cannot be verified. Replace the certificate or change the certificateValidationMode. A certificate chain processed, but terminated in a root certificate which is not trusted by the trust provider.\r\n"

This typically mean the server certificate you have defined is not trusted by your machine. In the case that you have defined a dummy server certificate (see confusion 3) or in other cases - at your risk and for testing purpose only - you can turn off this validation by setting certificateValidationMode to None.

Misconception 6: I am getting a good response from the server but the proxy throws this exception:

The incoming message was signed with a token which was different from what used to encrypt the body. This was not expected.

Congratulations, turns out you need to define a real server certificate anyway (so confusion 2 does not apply). You should get it from the service author. But if you don't there a nice trick to infer the certificate by extracting the value of the binary security token from the message and saving it to disk (in binary form) as alluded here.

Misconception 7: I am getting a good response from the server but the proxy throws this exception:

Security processor was unable to find a security header in the message. This might be because the message is an unsecured fault or because there is a binding mismatch between the communicating parties. This can occur if the service is configured for security and the client is not using security.

This means the service is not signing the response even though you sent a signed request. In .NET 4+ you can turn off the secured response requirement by toggling the security channel in your custom binding:

Misconception 8: When I use mutualCertificate I see my proxy sends a message in a very different from what I need. In particular there is no signature but only encryption, something like this:

What you need to know is that by default messages will be signed AND encrypted, and moreover the encryption will also encrypt the signature and "hide" it from your eyes. The solution is to set the correct protection level on your contract:

Misconception 9: After applying the mitigation to confusion 7 the outgoing message is still not in the desired format. In particular the message is not signed by the binary token by a derived token, and there is a primary and a secondary signature instead of just one:

For all things interop wssecurity10 is your friend and wssecurity10 is the enemy. keep your friends close! Make sure the messageSecurityVersion attribute has a value that starts with wssecurity10:

Misconception 10: You get this error :

Identity check failed for outgoing message. The expected DNS identity of the remote endpoint was 'localhost' but the remote endpoint provided DNS claim 'WSE2QuickStartServer'. If this is a legitimate remote endpoint, you can fix the problem by explicitly specifying DNS identity 'WSE2QuickStartServer' as the Identity property of EndpointAddress when creating channel proxy.

You fell for the oldest trick in the book! Just do exactly what the error tells you to do . Yes, it's ok...

Misconception 11: You get a good response from the server but the proxy throws this error:

No Timestamp is available in security header to do replay detection

or this one:

The security header element ‘timestamp’ with ‘Timestamp-xxxx’ id must be signed.

These may happen when you send to the server a signed timestamp so WCF expects to get one back AND to have it signed. So either you do not get one back or it is not signed. For start try to set the includeTimestamp property on the "security" binding element to false. But this will not work if the server actually requires a timestamp. If it requires one but unsigned then write a custom encoder to you proxy and manually generate and push the timestamp header to the request. If the server requires a signed timestamp then your only hope is to set allow unsecured response to true (.NET 4 only):

AND to strip out ANY remains of the "security" tag from the response (not just the timestamp) using a custom encoder. If WCF will see the security tag then it will be very defensive and try to validate it. Of course if the security tag which you removed contains some signature this means you will not be able to validate it, which is a shame. I'm not familiar with any better workaround at this moment, so I'm investigating a few directions.

Misconception 12: Ssl is used, and you try certificateOverTransport instead of mutualCertificate authentication mode on your custom binding. You may get away with the request, since it is similar, but once the response come back you may experience:

Cannot find a token authenticator for the 'System.IdentityModel.Tokens.X509SecurityToken' token type. Tokens of that type cannot be accepted according to current security settings.

What's going on here? certificateOverTransport assumes the client authenticates with a message level certificate, but the server authenticates with its transport ssl certificate. However a more common use case is that the server also authenticates with a message level certificate, in addition to its transport one. You could identify such scenario by seeing a signature element in the server response. This means you need a mutualCertificate authentication mode together with an https transport binding element:

When WCF consumes third party services, the most common authenticationMode would be "mutualCertifiate". Make sure you tried all combinations of this setting before trying other settings. Of course if you are in a situation where mutualCertificate clearly does not apply (e.g. username authentication) then this is not relevant for you. But even when usernames are used they may still be in combination with a client certificate, in which case it would still make sense to SecurityBindingElement.CreateMutualCertificateBindingElement() for bootstrap and add the username as a supporting token.

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