Monthly Downloads: 2,440
Programming language: Elixir
License: MIT License
Tags: Cryptography    
Latest version: v1.4.0

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Cipher is currently being phased out and is no longer under activate maintenence. We suggest you use an alternative for URL signing and validation such as JWT or something else.

For more information on why this decision was taken, feel free to refer to this issue.


Build Status Hex Version Hex Version

Elixir crypto library to encrypt/decrypt arbitrary binaries. It uses Erlang Crypto, so it's not a big deal. Mostly a collection of helpers wrapping it.

This library allows us to use a crypted key to validate signed requests, with a cipher compatible with this one. This way it can be used from Python, Ruby or Elixir apps.

Cipher is only meant for that. Not for security. For applications that need any level of security I would recommend using a good implementation of JWT.


Just add {:cipher, ">= 1.4.0"} to your mix.exs.

Then add your keys to config.exs, they are needed to compile Cipher:

config :cipher, keyphrase: "testiekeyphraseforcipher",
                ivphrase: "testieivphraseforcipher",
                magic_token: "magictoken"

You can provide different keys at runtime by using Application.put_env/3.

Then you may use any of the given helpers:

Encrypt/Decrypt binaries

Now you can use bare encrypt/1 and decrypt/1:

|> Cipher.encrypt  # "KSHHdx0uyveYGY5PHqLAKw%3D%3D"
|> Cipher.decrypt  # "secret"

Decryption errors

When you decrypt non-valid strings you can get two kinds of errors:

  • {:error, "Could not decode string 'yourstring'..."} if your string was tampered or wrongly transferred.
  • {:error, "Could not decrypt string 'yourstring'..."} if your string was encrypted using different keys. Maybe some edge cases of tampering too.

Cipher/Parse JSON

cipher/1 and parse/1. Just as encrypt/1 and decrypt/1 but for JSON.

%{"hola": " qué tal クソ"}
|> Cipher.cipher  # "qW0Voj3h4nglx4NPy8aLXVY5ze5V3OBu5IoaQTMUUbU%3D"
|> Cipher.parse  #  {:ok, %{"hola" => " qué tal クソ"}}

Sign/Validate a URL

Here you use sign_url/2 and validate_signed_url/1.

sign_url will add a signature parameter to the end of the query string. It's a crypted hash based on the given path.

|> Cipher.sign_url  # "/bla/bla?p1=1&p2=2&signature=4B6WOiuD9N39K7p%2BnqNIljGh5F%2F%2BnHRQGZC9ih%2Bh%2BHGZc8Tz0KdRJXC%2B5M%2B8%2BHZ2mAXPh3jQcSRieTq4dGm5Ng%3D%3D"

validate_signed_url must be given an url with the signature parameter on the query string just as sign_url returned it. It will pop it, and validate that it corresponds with the rest of the URL.

|> Cipher.validate_signed_url  # {:ok, %{"md5" => "86e359da7ab4886f3525ac2b9c5edc5b  613146"}}

Any changes to the signed URL "/bla/bla?p1=1&p2=2" will return {:error, reason} when validated.

|> Cipher.validate_signed_url  # {:error, "Checksum did not match given base '/bla/bla?p1=1&p2=3'."}

Denied params

You can choose to sign a URL but then add some parameters to the query string that may not be signed, such as a cachebuster.

For that you can use sign_url/2, which accepts a payload to be included on the crypted signature. If you add a deny list, then any parameter on that list will be rejected.

signed = "/bla/bla?p1=1&p2=2" |> Cipher.sign_url(deny: ["p1"])

"#{signed}&cachebuster=123456789" |> Cipher.validate_signed_url
#   {:ok,
#   %{"deny" => ["p1"],
#     "md5" => "86e359da7ab4886f3525ac2b9c5edc5b  837505"}}

|> Cipher.validate_signed_url  # {:error, "Parameter 'p1=parm' is not allowed by given signature. Denials: [\"p1\"]"}

Concealed params

Note you can use sign_url/2 to pass any data within the signature itself, just as you do with the deny list. Any payload will be returned by validate_signed_url/1.

signed = "/bla/bla?p1=1" |> Cipher.sign_url(mydata: "yes, any data")
signed |> Cipher.validate_signed_url
#  {:ok,
#   %{"md5" => "eacac4224aef3bfabee309ee2f95c1e8  176303",
#     "mydata" => "yes, any data"}}

If you want to pass cipher data on your URLs you could also use straight cipher/1 and parse/1.

Sign/Validate body

The same as signing a complete URL with query string, but for PUT/POST requests, where the signed data is in the body.

Helpers are sign_url_from_body/2 and validate_signed_body/1. They put and validate the signature on the query string, so the body is untouched.

url = "/bla/bla"
body = Poison.encode! %{"hola": " qué tal クソ"}
signed = Cipher.sign_url_from_body(url, body, deny: ["cb"])
# "/bla/bla?signature=HdlsREqEP9hJmP94..."
{:ok, _} = "#{signed}" |> Cipher.validate_signed_body(body)
{:error, _} = "#{signed}&cb=123456" |> Cipher.validate_signed_body(body)
assert {:ok, _} = "#{signed}&other=123456" |> Cipher.validate_signed_body(body)

Mapped body

When the body is to be validated after parse time (as in a simple Plug pipeline, where body can be read only once, and it is read by Plug.Parsers) you should sign it using sign_url_from_mapped_body/2, passing the body as a Map. Like this:

url = "/bla/bla"
raw_body = %{"hola": " qué tal クソ"}
body = raw_body |> Poison.encode! |> Poison.decode!
signed = Cipher.sign_url_from_mapped_body(url, raw_body, deny: ["cb"])
# "/bla/bla?signature=HdlsREqEP9hJmP94..."
{:ok, _} = "#{signed}" |> Cipher.validate_signed_body(body)
{:error, _} = "#{signed}&cb=123456" |> Cipher.validate_signed_body(body)
assert {:ok, _} = "#{signed}&other=123456" |> Cipher.validate_signed_body(body)

Magic Token

This is a master signature. If you put this binary as signature on your url, then it will always validate. This is useful for development, debugging, private network use, etc. You put your chosen magic_token on your config.exs and you are good to go.

|> Cipher.validate_signed_url  # {:ok, %{}}

Use with Plug applications

Cipher provides ValidatePlug, a plug that uses Cipher to validate signatures and halt with 401 when they are not valid. Use it as any other plug:

plug Cipher.ValidatePlug

Options for ValidatePlug

  1. error_callback
  2. test_mode

You can pass an error_callback that will be called right before sending the 401 response. This callback is meant to let the user do things like logging when validation fails. You should not call send_resp or halt over the conn, as that will already be done by the plug.

# ...
plug Cipher.ValidatePlug, error_callback: &MyApp.my_validation_error_logging_callback/2
# ...

def my_validation_error_logging_callback(conn, error) do
  # Do something with the `error` message and the `conn`, just like:
  # right before the plug halts with 401

# ...

You can also pass test_mode as an option (which is false by default). If set to true, it will not halt the Plug pipeline and will simply continue.

This can be useful in conjunction with error_callback where you just log requests whose validation has failed, but continue anyway.

    test_mode: true,
    error_callback: &MyApp.my_validation_error_logging_callback/2


Note that for body signature validations (those required by POST, PUT, etc.) this plug requires that the signature is made using Cipher.sign_url_from_mapped_body. This is due to the way Plug parses the request body. The body can be read only once, and it is already read by the Plug.Parsers plug. By the time it gets to the ValidatePlug it has already been parsed to a Map, so the signature must have been done over the mapped structure of data instead of the plain text encoded body.


  • Add large body signing
  • Separate package for ValidatePlug



  • Add the possibility of giving different keys at runtime by using Application.put_env/3.


  • Adhere closer to the PKCS#7 implementation described in RFC 5652 (pull request #16)


  • Fix incompatibility deciphering previous versions's ciphers


  • Add links to source on generated docs
  • Require ivphrase >= 16 bytes


  • Support Poison 3.x


  • Add test_mode option to ease plug testing


  • Improve error messages


  • Fix some bugs
  • Remove Elixir 1.4 warnings


  • Add denied params, remove ignored ones.


  • Fix plug dependency


  • Add ValidatePlug
  • Add mapped body signing


  • Fix end line character replace on incoming signatures


  • Fix app name on env helper


  • Fix bug when ignoring multiple params




  • First stable release