Zendesk supports enterprise single sign-on access to Zendesk accounts via Secure Assertion Markup Language (SAML) and JSON Web Token (JWT). With SSO, users can sign in once using their company sign-in form to gain access to multiple systems and service providers, including Zendesk products.
As a Zendesk admin, your role consists of enabling the SSO options. This article describes how to enable multiple SAML single sign-on configurations that can be used to authenticate team members (admins and agents, including light agents and contributors), end users, or both.
This article contains the following topics:
- How SAML SSO for Zendesk works
- Requirements for enabling SAML SSO
- Enabling SAML SSO
- Assigning SAML SSO to users
- Managing users in Zendesk after enabling SAML SSO
- Switching authentication methods
The IT team in a company is usually responsible for setting up and managing the company's SAML authentication system. Their role is to implement SSO for Zendesk on the system. Refer the team to the following topic in this article:
How SAML SSO for Zendesk works
SAML for Zendesk works the way SAML does with all other service providers. A common use case is a company where all user authentication is managed by a corporate authentication system such as Active Directory or LDAP (generically referred to as an identity provider or IdP). Zendesk establishes a trust relationship with the identity provider and allows it to authenticate and sign in users to Zendesk accounts.
A common use case is a user who signs in to their corporate system at the beginning of the work day. Once signed in, they have access to other corporate applications and services (such as email or Zendesk Support) without having to sign in separately to those services.
If a user attempts to sign in directly to a Zendesk account, they are redirected to your SAML server or service for authentication. Once authenticated, the user is redirected back to your Zendesk account and automatically signed in.
Another supported workflow is giving users access to Zendesk after they sign in to your company's website. When a user signs in to the website using their website credentials, the website sends a request to the identity provider to validate the user. The website then sends the provider's response to the SAML server, which forwards it to your Zendesk account, which grants a session to the user.
Requirements for enabling SAML SSO
Meet with the team in your company responsible for the SAML authentication system (usually the IT team) to make sure your company meets the following requirements:
The company has a SAML server with provisioned users or connected to an identity repository such as Microsoft Active Directory or LDAP. Options include using an in-house SAML server such as OpenAM, or a SAML service such as Okta, OneLogin, or PingIdentity.
If using an Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) server, forms-based authentication must be enabled. Zendesk does not support Windows Integrated Authentication (WIA). For more information, see Setting up single sign-on using Active Directory with ADFS and SAML.
- Zendesk-bound traffic is over HTTPS, not HTTP.
- The remote login URL for your SAML server (sometimes called SAML Single Sign-on URL)
- (Optional) The remote logout URL where Zendesk can redirect users after they sign out of Zendesk
- (Optional) A list of IP ranges to redirect users to the appropriate sign-in option. Users making requests from the specified IP ranges are routed to the remote SAML authentication sign-in form. Users making requests from IP addresses outside the ranges are routed to the normal Zendesk sign-in form. If you don't specify a range, all users are redirected to the remote authentication sign-in form.
- The SHA2 fingerprint of the SAML certificate from your SAML server. X.509 certificates are supported and should be in PEM or DER format, but you'll still need to provide a SHA2 fingerprint for the X.509 certificate. There is no upper limit on the size of the SHA fingerprint.
The IT team may require additional information from Zendesk to configure the SAML implementation. Refer them to the Technical implementation worksheet in this article.
After you've confirmed that you meet the requirements and have all of the necessary information, you're ready to enable SAML SSO.
Enabling SAML SSO
Admins can enable SAML single sign-on only for end users, only for team members (including light agents and contributors), or for both groups. You can create multiple SAML SSO configurations. Before you start, obtain the required information from your company's IT team. See Requirements for enabling SAML SSO.
To enable SAML single sign-on in Zendesk
- In Admin Center, click Account in the sidebar, then select Security > Single sign-on.
- Click Create SSO configuration then select SAML.
- Enter a unique Configuration name.
- For SAML SSO URL, enter the remote login URL for your SAML server.
- Enter the SHA-256 Certificate fingerprint. This is required for us to communicate with your SAML server.
- (Optional) For Remote logout URL, enter a logout URL where users should be redirected after they sign out of Zendesk.
- (Optional) For IP ranges, enter a list of IP
ranges if you want to redirect users to the
appropriate sign-in option.
Users making requests from the specified IP ranges are routed to the remote SAML authentication sign-in form. Users making requests from IP addresses outside the ranges are routed to the normal Zendesk sign-in form. Don't specify a range if you want all users to be redirected to the remote authentication sign-in form.
- Select Show button when users sign in to add a
Continue with SSO button to the Zendesk
You can customize the button label by entering a value in the Button name field. Custom button labels are useful if you add multiple SSO buttons to the sign-in page. See Adding "Continue with SSO" buttons to the Zendesk sign-in page for more information.
- Click Save.
By default, enterprise SSO configurations are inactive. You must assign the SSO configuration to users to activate it.
Assigning SAML SSO to users
After creating your SAML SSO configuration, you must activate it by assigning it to end users, team members, or both.
To assign an SSO configuration to team members or end users
- Open the Security settings for team members or end users.
- If you're assigning an SSO configuration to team members, select
External authentication to show the
These options are already displayed for end users.
- Click the Single sign-on (SSO) option in the External
authentication section, then select the name(s)
of the SSO configuration(s) you want to use.
Single sign-on might not cover all use cases, so Zendesk authentication remains active by default.
- Select how you'd like to allow users to sign in.
Let them choose allows users to sign in using any active authentication method. See Giving users different ways to sign into Zendesk.
Redirect to SSO only allows users to authenticate using the primary SSO configuration. Users don’t see additional sign-in options, even if those authentication options are active. When you select Redirect to SSO, the Primary SSO field appears for you to select the primary SSO configuration.
- Click Save.
Managing users in Zendesk after enabling SAML SSO
After enabling SAML single sign-on in Zendesk, changes made to users outside Zendesk are reflected in your Zendesk account. For example, if a user is added to your internal Active Directory or LDAP system, and the user tries to sign in to Zendesk, the user is automatically added to your Zendesk account. When changes are made to the user's data in your internal system (such as name or email address), any attributes shared in the payload of the SAML are updated in Zendesk. If a user is deleted from your internal system, the user will no longer be able to sign in to Zendesk. However, their account will still exist in Zendesk.
By default, the only user data stored in Zendesk when single sign-on is enabled is the user's given name, surname, and email address. Zendesk does not store passwords. As a result, you should disable any automated email notifications from Zendesk about passwords. See Disabling password notification emails from Zendesk.
To provide a better customer experience, you might want to store more than just the user's name and email address in Zendesk. See Obtaining additional user data.
Disabling password notification emails from Zendesk
When a user is added to a Zendesk account, an automatic email notification may be sent to the user asking them to verify their email address and to create a username and password.
A Zendesk user profile is created for any new user who accesses your Zendesk account through SAML or JWT. Because they're authenticated with a non-Zendesk password, the profile is created without a password because they don't need to sign in to Zendesk. However, by default every new user gets an email notifying them to verify their email address and create a username and password.
- In Admin Center, click People in the sidebar, then select Configuration > End users.
- In the Account emails section, deselect Also send a welcome e-mail when a new user is created by an agent or admin
- In Allow users to change their passwords, deselect this option.
Switching authentication methods
If you use a third-party SSO method to create and authenticate users in Zendesk, then switch to Zendesk authentication, these users will not have a password available for login. To gain access, ask these users to reset their passwords from the Zendesk sign in page.
Technical implementation worksheet
This section is for the team in the company responsible for the company's SAML authentication system. It provides details about the Zendesk SAML SSO implementation.
- Required user data to identify the user being authenticated
- Configuring the identity provider for Zendesk
- Configuring the SAML server for Zendesk
- Parameters returned to your remote sign-in and sign-out URLs
- Using RelayState to redirect users after authentication
- Troubleshooting the SAML configuration for Zendesk
Required user data to identify the user being authenticated
When you implement SAML SSO access to Zendesk accounts, you specify certain user data to identify the user being authenticated.
These topics describe the data you need to provide:
Specifying the user's email address in the SAML subject's NameID
Zendesk uses email addresses to uniquely identify users. You should specify the user's email address in the SAML subject's name ID.
If the givenname and surname attributes aren't provided,
Zendesk will use the username of the email address
provided in the
<saml:NameID> element as the
name of the user. The first part of an email address
before the '@' symbol is the username.
If the email's username has a period character in it,
then we will use it to parse out a first name and
last name. If there is no period character, then the
whole username becomes the name of the user in
Zendesk. For example, if the email address
is firstname.lastname@example.org, the user's
name in Zendesk would be stored as Stanley
Yelnats; however, if the email address is
email@example.com, the user
name in Zendesk would be stored as
Specifying two required user attributes in the SAML assertion
If you specify the givenname and surname attributes, you must use the full namespace rather than the friendly names. For example: where the friendly name might be 'surname', the actual value you need to specify for the attribute is http://schemas.xmlsoap.org/ws/2005/05/identity/claims/surname
|The given name of this user. You must specify the full namespace for this attribute.
|The surname of this user. A user in Zendesk is created or updated in accordance with this user's given name and surname. See example below. You must specify the full namespace for this attribute.
Given name and surname example:
Zendesk supports additional user attributes. Talk to your Zendesk Support admin about their data requirements in Support.
Obtaining additional user data
The only user data required by Zendesk from your authentication system is the user's given name, surname, and email address. The given name and surname are the only attribute names you should use to capture information about a user's name. However, you can get more data by asking your IT team to add user attributes to the SAML assertions the identity provider sends to Zendesk when users sign in.
A SAML assertion contains one or more statements about the user. One statement is the authorization decision itself – whether or not the user was granted access. Another statement can consist of attributes describing the signed-in user.
|Name or id of an organization to add the user to. The external_id attribute of an organization is not supported. If the organization doesn't exist in Zendesk, it won't be created. The user will still be created, but they won't be added to any organization.
|Comma separated values such as
The organization's external ID in the Zendesk API. If both organization and organization_id are supplied, organization is ignored.
If you'd like to pass multiple organization IDs at the same time, use the organization_ids attribute instead. The organization IDs must be passed in a string, separated by commas.
The organization's external IDs in the Zendesk API. Use this attribute when passing multiple organization IDs at the same time. If both organizations and organization_ids are supplied, organizations is ignored.
Example: Comma separated values such as
|A phone number, specified as a string.
|Tags to set on the user. The tags will replace any other tags that may exist in the user's profile.
|URL for a photo to set on the user profile.
|locale (for agents)
locale_id (for end users)
|The locale in Zendesk, specified as a number. To get a list of valid numbers, see Locales in the API docs.
|The user's role. Can be set to end-user , agent, or admin. Default is end-user.
|Applicable only if the value of the role attribute above is agent. You can get the ids of your custom roles with the Custom Roles API.
|A user id from your system if your users are identified by something other than an email address or if their email addresses are subject to change. Specified as a string.
|A value for a custom user field in
Zendesk Support. See Adding custom
fields to users. The <key> is the
field key assigned to the custom user field in
Zendesk Support. Example:
employee_number is the field key
in Zendesk. Sending a
null value or an empty string in the attribute
value will remove any custom field value set in
|SAML2 formal name
|ou (organization unit)
Configuring the identity provider for Zendesk
For both values, replace your_subdomain with the Zendesk Support subdomain. If you're unsure of the subdomain, ask your Zendesk admin.
Zendesk enforces the
Configuring the SAML server for Zendesk
Some SAML servers may require the following information when configuring an integration with Zendesk:
Access Consumer Service (ACS) URL: Specify https://yoursubdomain.zendesk.com/access/saml (case sensitive), where 'accountname' with your Support subdomain
Redirects to SAML Single Sign-on URL: Use HTTP POST
Hashing algorithm (ADFS): Zendesk supports the SHA-2 algorithm when using Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS)
Parameters returned to your remote sign-in and sign-out URLs
When redirecting users to your authentication system, Zendesk appends the following parameters to the remote sign-in and remote sign-out URLs.
|The brand of the Help Center the user was on when they attempted to sign in. For more information, see Creating a Help Center for one of your brands.
|Email of the user signing out.
|A unique identifier from your system stored in the Zendesk user profile.
|The brand of the Help Center the user was on when they signed out. For more information, see Creating a Help Center for one of your brands.
If you prefer not to receive email and external id information in the sign-out URL, ask your Zendesk admin to specify blank parameters in the Remote logout URL field in the admin interface. See Enabling SAML SSO. For example: https://www.yourdomain.com/user/signout/?email=&external_id=.
Using RelayState to redirect users after authentication
RelayState is a parameter used to maintain the
state of the originating request throughout the SSO process.
It specifies the original URL the user was trying to access
before the SSO process started. After completing the SSO
process, you can forward the user to the
RelayState URL to provide a
seamless user experience.
RelayState parameter is optional in SAML. If
you don’t include it in your request, the user will be
directed to the default location based on their user
- For agents, the default location is the agent dashboard in Zendesk Support.
- For end users, the default location is the home page of the help center for your default brand.
When a user accesses a Zendesk link that requires signing in, and
you are using SAML, Zendesk redirects the user to the SSO
configuration you set up and, along with that, sends the URL
the user came from in the
When constructing the SAML authentication request, add the
RelayState parameter and set its
value to the URL sent from Zendesk in the SAML response.
RelayState parameter redirecting users
Troubleshooting the SAML configuration for Zendesk
Here is Zendesk's SAML 2.0 metadata:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" standalone="yes"?>
<EntityDescriptor entityID="https://yoursubdomain.zendesk.com" xmlns="urn:oasis:names:tc:SAML:2.0:metadata">
<SPSSODescriptor AuthnRequestsSigned="false" WantAssertionsSigned="true" protocolSupportEnumeration="urn:oasis:names:tc:SAML:2.0:protocol">
<AssertionConsumerService index="1" Binding="urn:oasis:names:tc:SAML:2.0:bindings:HTTP-POST" Location="https://yoursubdomain.zendesk.com/access/saml"/> <!-- Note: replace 'accountname' with your Zendesk subdomain -->
Zendesk expects a SAML assertion that looks as follows:
<samlp:Response xmlns:samlp="urn:oasis:names:tc:SAML:2.0:protocol" ID="s2202bbbb
9200d8" Version="2.0" IssueInstant="2011-03-21T11:22:02Z" Destination="https://yoursubdomain.zendesk.com/access/saml">
Note: Replace 'accountname' in the
Destination attribute with your
Zendesk expects user attributes to be specified in an assertion's
as in the following example:
<saml:AttributeValue xsi:type="xs:string">Acme Rockets</saml:AttributeValue>
<saml:AttributeValue xsi:type="xs:string">tag1 tag2</saml:AttributeValue>
For the names and descriptions of the user attributes supported by Zendesk, see the table in Obtaining additional user data above. Note that the full namespace isn't supported for optional user attributes.