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SCIM vs JIT: What’s the Difference

Exploring the differences between JIT and SCIM, how they function, and how to choose which one to support.


JIT and SCIM are both user provisioning strategies which automate account creation. And while they might seem similar (they both provision user accounts from an identity provider to an app), they are designed for different use cases.

JIT provisioning creates a user account when a user signs in via Single Sign-On (SSO) for the first time, while SCIM provisioning not only creates accounts pre-login, but also updates and deletes user accounts across various platforms from a central Directory Provider.

In this article, we’ll break down the differences between JIT and SCIM, discuss how they work, and look at their pros and cons to help you decide which one you should support.

JIT vs SCIM: Which is right for you + what are they?

JIT (Just-In-Time) provisioning automates the creation of user accounts, and as the name suggests, it does this on the fly during the user’s first login. Your app uses the data from the SSO provider to create the account.

SCIM provisioning is much more comprehensive compared to JIT provisioning – it uses Directory Providers to manage all aspects of a user throughout their lifecycle from creating and updating user accounts to deleting them when the user is deprovisioned.

So which one should you support?

If you have to choose, prioritize SCIM. It’s much more widely used by enterprises due to its ability to manage the entire user lifecycle (create, update, delete accounts) at a large scale.

However, if you have the time and the engineering resources, you should support both JIT and SCIM to cater to a broader customer base – some of your customers might only be using SSO and JIT, while others might be using SCIM.

Read more:

What is SCIM?

SCIM (System for Cross-domain Identity Management) is an open standard for automating the exchange of user identity information between different systems, typically an Identity Provider (IdP) and a Service Provider (SP).

It defines a standard schema to represent user and group identities and RESTful endpoints for communication. The standardized format ensures that your app (the service provider) and the IdP understand and interpret user data in the same way.

How SCIM provisioning works

SCIM provisioning syncs user changes between your customer’s IdP and your app automatically in real time. When an IT admin creates, updates, or removes a user from their IdP, SCIM propagates these changes to your app.

For example, when an admin adds a new user to their IdP (such as a new employee), the IdP automatically sends a request to your app to create a new account for the user.

Similarly, if the account is deactivated (when an employee leaves) the IdP will send a deprovisioning request to your app automatically without requiring manual intervention from an admin.

Initially SPs added SCIM support because their app’s user experience depended on being able to know about customers shortly after they were added to the system. Over time, the focus expanded to include security as a significant factor for adopting SCIM.

With SCIM’s ongoing synchronization, your app always has up to date information on the user. And, you’re able to ensure they have the appropriate level of access to your app or specific parts of it, based on their current roles and access rights.

Pros of SCIM provisioning

  • Interoperability: Because SCIM defines standardized JSON payloads and endpoints, it enables uniform user provisioning processes across different platforms. Without a standardized protocol like SCIM, integrating each new IdP or service into your app would require custom development work to map between the disparate user identity models of each of your customer’s IdPs.
  • Efficiency in identity management: Automating user provisioning and de-provisioning means your customer’s admin teams don’t have to manually update or delete users from your app which, like any manual process, can be prone to errors -  such as an admin forgetting to revoke all access permissions and consequently exposing your app to unauthorized users.
  • Scalability: SCIM can handle bulk requests, meaning admins can provision hundreds or even thousands of user accounts at once.

Cons of SCIM provisioning

  • Complex implementation: Setting up SCIM can be complex, especially if you’re integrating with multiple IdPs. Because despite the standardization efforts of SCIM, its implementation can differ from one IdP to another.  You may need to write custom code to map data correctly to your app’s data model and to handle SCIM requests in a way that aligns with each IdP’s specific requirements.
  • It requires pre-provisioning: Your customers have to take the time to pre-provision users beforehand i.e. they have to give their employees permission to access your app way ahead of time. This is unnecessary with JIT as we’ll see in the next section.

What is JIT?

JIT provisioning creates user accounts at the exact moment they are required, typically during the user's first SSO (Single Sign-On).

With JIT, as soon as you configure an SSO integration between your app and your customer’s IdP, any user authenticated by the IdP can automatically gain access to your app, subject to the access controls and policies set by the organization.

It’s different from SCIM where an admin has to pre-provision accounts (set up user accounts in advance) before the user accesses an app.

JIT doesn't manage ongoing account updates or deletions after the initial setup, unlike SCIM. Your customers need to set up other processes to deactivate or update user accounts.

How JIT provisioning works

JIT provisioning leverages the SSO process to trigger the creation of user accounts.  So your customer’s IT team has to first enable SSO between your app and their IdP for it to work.

Here’s a breakdown of how JIT provisioning process looks like:

  • When a user attempts to log into your app for the first time, they’re redirected to their IdP.
  • The IdP authenticates the user and redirects them back to your app with a token containing their identity data (such as email address, role, name, and any other relevant details you need to create a user account).
  • After validating the token, your app checks its database to see if an account that matches the user's identity already exists.
  • If no matching account is found, JIT provisioning activates. Your app uses the provided identity data to automatically create a new user account in real time.

For the user, this entire process is seamless. They simply log in using their SSO credentials and gain immediate access to your app, even if it’s their first time using it.

During subsequent logins, your app will recognize the user's account (which was created during the first login) and won’t create another account.

Pros of JIT provisioning

  • Reduced administrative work: JIT significantly cuts down on the administrative effort required to provision users – admins don’t have to manually create user accounts for every employee that needs access to your app, they get immediate access on their first login.
  • More paid seats: By allowing users to self-provision their access through JIT provisioning, you essentially empower entire organizations to onboard themselves onto your app. Because of this ease of access, your app can quickly increase the number of paid seats in your app, from tens to hundreds or even thousands of users.
  • Potentially enhanced security: By only creating accounts when needed, JIT provisioning reduces the risks associated with inactive or dormant user accounts – if users are able to log in to your app without SSO, then fewer unused accounts can mean fewer potential targets for hackers. Note, the accounts have to be closed once they’re no longer in use, otherwise the security risk is reintroduced again.

Additionally, JIT provisioning relies on the authentication process performed by the IdP. Because SSO systems are designed to authenticate users securely (requiring passkeys, multi-factor authentication, etc.), the initiation of JIT provisioning is based on a securely authenticated session.

  • Speed of access: Users don’t have to wait for admins to see and approve their access requests when they want to use an app. They can just sign in to the app and instantly get access.

Cons of JIT provisioning

  • Security risks: JIT doesn’t support user account deletions or suspensions. This is a security risk if your customer doesn’t have other processes in place to remove accounts from your app. A user might end up retaining access long after they’ve left the company.
  • Poor user collaboration experience: If your app allows users to work together, JIT provisioning will prevent your users from collaborating with peers who haven’t signed into your app yet. This is because a user must first log in before their account is created and becomes accessible to the others within the app.

Consider a document review app. If a user wants to assign a document to a colleague for review, that colleague's account must already exist within the app. With JIT provisioning, if the colleague has never logged into the app, their account doesn't exist yet, making it impossible to assign them the document for review. An alternative is using SCIM to preemptively provision accounts.

  • Limited user data: The depth of user data is contingent upon what is provided at the time of authentication, which might be insufficient for your app. This is different from SCIM, whose schema can be extended to include custom attributes —  i.e. any extra piece of user information your app might need.

What can SCIM and JIT be used together for?

SCIM and JIT can be used together to automate the user management process. JIT is primarily used to automate the user onboarding process by automating account creation while SCIM can be used to manage those users throughout their lifecycle — from the time they’re created to the time they’re deleted.

FAQs

What’s the difference between SCIM and JIT?

There are two key differences between SCIM and JIT:

  • SCIM provisioning automates the entire user management lifecycle including provisioning, de-provisioning, and management of user identities, while JIT only automates the account creation process.
  • SCIM requires pre-provisioning. Admins have to create user accounts before they’re used. With JIT, user accounts are created on demand.

Can you support both SCIM and JIT?

Yes, you can use both SCIM and JIT provisioning depending on what your customers prefer. JIT provisioning is popular among small organizations to automatically give access to their few employees. At the enterprise level, most organizations prefer SCIM provisioning as it becomes extremely important to keep user authorization changes in sync across the hundreds of apps they use.

Is SCIM the same as JIT?

No, SCIM and JIT are not the same. JIT automates account creation while SCIM automates user provisioning, deprovisioning, and management. JIT Is a concept or strategy, while SCIM is a fully-fledged protocol.

Next steps

Getting enterprise-ready means supporting enterprise features like JIT and SCIM provisioning from Day 1.

With WorkOS, you can add both using a single API-based integration. You can add JIT via WorkOS’ SSO product, and use WorkOS’ Directory Sync to add SCIM provisioning with just a few lines of code.

  • Get started fast: With SDKs for every popular platform, and Slack-based support, you can implement Directory Sync in minutes rather than weeks.
  • Events-based processing: While webhooks are also supported, WorkOS’ Events API means every SCIM request is processed in order, and in real-time. You’ll never miss a provisioning request again.
  • Pricing that makes sense: Unlike competitors who price by monthly active users, WorkOS charges a flat rate for each company you onboard - whether they’re syncing 10 or 10,000 users with your app.

https://workos.com/directory-sync

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