How to: Plug which verifies header signature signed using request body

I’m writing up this quick “How to” because what I thought was going to be an easy implementation of a Plug to validate a webhook request turned out to be more complicated than I expected. Hopefully this can save others some time. This is for a JSON API.

Prior discussions here, and here. Recommended approach here by Jose from these discussions.

Goal: Validate a request signature which is a SHA256 HMAC of the request body signed by your secret key.

Challenge: The request body can only be read once from the conn, and it is done by Plug.Parsers before the request even reaches the router.

Solution: Normally, I add a webhook endpoint to my router, and add a controller which does something with the webhook, like store it in a queue for later processing. I can put the webhook route inside a pipeline, or add a Plug to my controller which verifies the header before processing the request.

However, I need the request body (as a string) to sign and compare to the signature in the header. It can only be accessed in this way using Plug.Conn.read_body/2. Unfortunately, that function is called by Plug.Parsers before the request hits the router.

Therefore, I need to create a Plug which is added to the endpoint of my app, before Plug.Parsers, here in endpoint.ex:

plug Plug.RequestId
plug Plug.Logger

# --> Add my Plug here <--
plug Plug.Parsers,
  parsers: [:urlencoded, :multipart, :json],
  pass: ["*/*"],
  json_decoder: Poison

plug Plug.MethodOverride
plug Plug.Head

Also, the Plug has to actually handle the request and then halt the conn. Once the request body is read, the subsequent plug, Plug.Parsers will fail. This means I can’t use a controller. It also means every request to the endpoint will go through my Plug; so I need a way of only taking action on request to the endpoint I care about.

I used a module plug for this. I copied the format from the recommended approach linked above (credit to

init/1 and call/2 are simple. init/1 just passed along the options with no modifications. I actually need to do modifications here, but I punt to a private function after I know whether the request is to the endpoint I care about. Otherwise every request will go through those modification - unnecessary overhead.

def init(opts), do: opts

call/2 checks the request path. It just returns the connection to continue one if it doesn’t match, otherwise it performs the verification and ultimately halts it.

def call(conn, opts) do
  mount = Keyword.get(opts, :mount)
  case conn.request_path do
    ^mount ->
      verify_signature(conn, opts)
    _ ->

verify_signature/2 does the work of verifying the header signature. If correct, it will handle the request. If not, it will return a 401 error. handle_request/2 here is the equivalent of create/2 if I were using a Phoenix.Controller. (All my webhooks come in as POST requests.)

defp verify_signature(conn, opts) do
  opts = prepare_options(opts) # Normally my init/1 function.
  with [request_signature|_] <- get_req_header(conn, opts[:header]),
       secret when not is_nil(secret) <- opts[:secret],
       {:ok, body, _} <- Plug.Conn.read_body(conn),
       signature = Plug.Crypto.MessageVerifier.sign(body, secret, :sha256),
       true <- Plug.Crypto.secure_compare(signature, request_signature) do
    handle_webhook(conn, Poison.decode!(body))
    nil ->
      Logger.error(fn -> "Webhook secret is not set" end)
      halt send_resp(conn, 401, "")
    false ->
      Logger.error(fn -> "Received webhook with invalid signature" end)
      halt send_resp(conn, 401, "")
    _ ->
      halt send_resp(conn, 401, "")

Important: Note how each response includes halt/1. This ensures the conn won’t proceed to the next plug and foul things up (since the request body has already been read). Whatever you implement for handle_webhook/2, it needs to also included halt/1 with its response.

defp handle_webhook(conn, webhook) do
  event_params = get_params(webhook)
  with {:error, changeset} <-,
       true <- is_nil(changeset.errors[:resource_topic]) do
    Logger.warn(fn -> "Failed to store event: #{inspect changeset}" end)
  halt send_resp(conn, 200, "")

Finally, my Plug is placed in endpoint.ex at the location noted above.

MyApp.Plug.Webhook, mount: "/v1/webhooks", header: "X-Request-Signature-Sha-256", secret: "s3cret"