Device Identity

This page describes how devices are represented and identified throughout Hono and its APIs.

The main purpose of Hono is to provide a uniform API for applications to interact with devices, regardless of the particular communication protocol the devices natively use. In order to do so, Hono uses a unique logical identifier to refer to each device individually.

Hono does not make any assumptions about the format of a device identifier (or device-id for short). It basically is a string which is defined at the time a device is being provisioned. Once created, the device can be referred to by this identifier when using Hono’s APIs until the device is being removed from the system.


Hono supports the logical partitioning of devices into groups called tenants. Each tenant has a unique identifier, a string called the tenant-id, and can be used to provide a logical grouping of devices belonging e.g. to the same application scope or organizational unit. Each device can thus be uniquely identified by the tuple (tenant-id, device-id). This tuple is broadly used throughout Hono’s APIs when addressing a particular device.

Device Registration

Hono components use the Device Registration API to access device registration information. The API defines the assert Registration operation for verifying a device’s registration status.

In many real world scenarios there will already be a component in place which keeps track of devices and which supports the particular provisioning process being used to bring devices into life. In such cases it makes sense to simply implement the Device Registration API as a facade on top of the existing component.

In addition to that, Hono defines a Device Registry Management API, which can be implemented to take advantage of standardized operations for managing devices and credentials. This API is optional because Hono components do not require it during runtime.

Hono comes with a MongoDB and a JDBC based implementation of both APIs. The JDBC based implementation supports PostgreSQL and H2 out of the box. It can also be configured with an H2 based in-memory database which can be used for demonstration or testing purposes.

Device Authentication

Devices connect to protocol adapters in order to publish telemetry data or events. Downstream applications consuming this data often take particular actions based on the content of the messages. Such actions may include simply updating some statistics, e.g. tracking the average room temperature, but may also trigger more serious activities like shutting down a power plant. It is therefore important that applications can rely on the fact that the messages they process have in fact been produced by the device indicated by a message’s source address.

Hono relies on protocol adapters to establish a device’s identity before it is allowed to publish downstream data or receive commands. Conceptually, Hono distinguishes between two identities

  1. an identity associated with the authentication credentials (termed the authentication identity or auth-id), and
  2. an identity to act as (the device identity or device-id).

A device therefore presents an auth-id as part of its credentials during the authentication process which is then resolved to a device identity by the protocol adapter on successful verification of the credentials.

In order to support the protocol adapters in the process of verifying credentials presented by a device, the Credentials API provides means to look up secrets on record for the device and use this information to verify the credentials.

The Credentials API supports registration of multiple sets of credentials for each device. A set of credentials consists of an auth-id and some sort of secret information. The particular type of secret determines the kind of information kept. Please refer to the Standard Credential Types defined in the Credentials API for details. Based on this approach, a device may be authenticated using different types of secrets, e.g. a hashed password or a client certificate, depending on the capabilities of the device and/or protocol adapter.

Once the protocol adapter has resolved the device-id for a device, it uses this identity when referring to the device in all subsequent API invocations, e.g. when forwarding telemetry messages downstream.

Every device connecting to Hono needs to be registered in the scope of a single tenant as described above already. The Device Registration and Credentials APIs therefore require a tenant identifier to be passed in to their operations. Consequently, the first step a protocol adapter needs to take when authenticating a device is determining the tenant that the device belongs to.

The means used by a device to indicate the tenant that it belongs to vary according to the type of credentials and authentication mechanism being used.

Username/Password based Authentication

The MQTT, HTTP and AMQP protocol adapters support authentication of devices with a username/password based mechanism. In this case, a protocol adapter verifies that the password presented by the device during connection establishment matches the password that is on record for the device in the device registry.

During connection establishment the device presents a username and a password to the protocol adapter. For example, a device that belongs to tenant example-tenant and for which hashed-password credentials with an auth-id of device-1 have been registered, would present a username of device-1@example-tenant when authenticating to a protocol adapter.

The protocol adapter then extracts the tenant identifier from the username and invokes the Credentials API’s get Credentials operation in order to retrieve the hashed-password type credentials that are on record for the device.

Pre-Shared Key based Authentication

The CoAP protocol adapter supports authentication of devices using a pre-shared key (PSK) as part of a DTLS handshake. In this case, the protocol adapter verifies that the PSK used by the device to generate the DTLS session’s pre-master secret is the same as the key contained in the credentials that are on record for the device in the device registry.

During the DTLS handshake the device provides a psk_identity to the protocol adapter. For example, a device that belongs to tenant example-tenant and for which psk credentials with an auth-id of device-1 have been registered, would present a PSK identity of device-1@example-tenant during the DTLS handshake.

The protocol adapter then extracts the tenant identifier from the PSK identity and invokes the Credentials API’s get Credentials operation in order to retrieve the psk type credentials that are on record for the device. The psk contained in the credentials are then used by the protocol adapter to generate the pre-master secret of the DTLS session being negotiated with the client. If both, the device and the protocol adapter use the same key for doing so, the DTLS handshake will succeed and the device has been authenticated successfully.

Client Certificate based Authentication

Devices can also use an X.509 (client) certificate to authenticate to protocol adapters. In this case, the protocol adapter tries to verify that a valid chain of certificates can be established starting with the client certificate presented by the device up to one of the trusted root certificates configured for the device’s tenant.

During connection establishment with the device, the protocol adapter tries to determine the tenant to which the device belongs and retrieve the tenant’s configuration information using the Tenant API. The adapter then uses the trust anchors that have been configured for the tenant to verify the client certificate.

The protocol adapter tries to look up the device’s tenant configuration using the Tenant API’s get Tenant Information operation. The adapter first invokes the operation using the issuer DN from the device’s client certificate. If that fails and if the device has included the Server Name Indication extension during the TLS handshake, the adapter extracts the first label of the first host name conveyed in the SNI extension and invokes the get Tenant Information operation with the extracted value as the tenant identifier. For example, a host name of would result in a tenant identifier of my-tenant being used in the look-up.


Labels in host names may only consist of letters, digits and hyphens. In order to be able to refer to tenants which have an identifier that consists of other characters as well, the Device Registry Management API supports registering an alias for a tenant which can be used as an alternate identifier when looking up tenant configuration information.

Based on that, a tenant with identifier unsupported_id that has been registered using alias my-tenant, can be referred to by a device by means of including a host name like in the SNI extension.

After having verified the client certificate using the trust anchor(s), the protocol adapter extracts the client certificate’s subject DN and invokes the Credentials API’s get Credentials operation in order to retrieve the x509-cert type credentials that are on record for the device.