This week Microsoft announced that ADFS 2.0 was GA. For those that have used PingFederate for some time, I thought I'd normalize the terminology that Ping Identity and Microsoft use to describe similar concepts when enabling identity federation. I make no claims  (no pun intended) that one set of terms is better than the other, just that we all need to make sure that we can speak the same language.

ADFS terminology centers on the notion of an STS, Security Tokens and Claims.

STS (Security Token Service)

Microsoft asserts that an STS is a Security Token Service that issues/validates Security Tokens that contain Claims about a Subject.

PingFederate and ADFS are both implementations of an STS.

Further, the STS can play different roles. An IP-STS (Identity-Provider STS) is an STS that authenticates a subject, and issues a security token on behalf of that subject, while an RP-STS (Relying-Party STS) validates that security token and returns the claims contained within the security token.

PingFederate in IdP mode is an implementation of an IP-STS.

PingFederate in SP mode is an implementation of an RP-STS.

Lastly the STS can be used with different clients - a Passive STS interacts with a browser while an Active STS interacts with a client, web service or web application.

PingFederate in regular Web SSO mode (where you are using one of the SAML1, SAML 2 or WS-Federation Web SSO protocols) is an implementation of a Passive STS.

PingFederate in STS mode (where you using the WS-Trust protocol to support security token processing on behalf of a client or application) is an implementation of an Active STS.

It is this last definition that can cause some confusion when comparing ADFS and PingFederate as Ping has historically had a much narrower definition of the term STS. This is as a result of the STS term being specifically defined as an entity in the WS-Trust specification and that we then mapped directly into our product.

When PingFederate is enabled as an IdP for Web SSO; it's a Passive IP-STS.

When PingFederate is enabled as an SP for Web SSO; it's a Passive RP-STS.

When PingFederete is enabled as an STS (using WS-Trust) to issue a SAML token on behalf of a client or application; it's an Active IP-STS.

When PingFederete is enabled as an STS (using WS-Trust) to validate a SAML token one behalf of a client or application; it's an Active RP-STS.

Still with me? Lets keep going.

Security Tokens

When security tokens are discussed in the context of ADFS and its support of WS-Federation and WS-Trust, Microsoft is actually talking about SAML Tokens. Further confusing matters is that Microsoft has been fond of saying 'we support SAML' when they actually mean SAML Tokens carried in WS-Federation/WS-Trust messages rather than the SAML 1.1/2.0 Web SSO protocols.

Ping always specifies the type of security token that is being processed, whether it is a SAML Token, Kerberos Ticket, X.509 Certificate, Password, SMSession Cookie, OpenToken, etc.


Microsoft defines a 'claim' as a statement about a user that is used for authorization purposes in an application. These claims are conveyed in security tokens, which as I described above are quite often actually SAML Tokens. When using WS-Federation and SAML 1.1/2.0, the 'claims' themselves are actually included in the AttributeStatement of a SAML Token as Attribute name/value pairs.

PingFederate 'attributes' are equivalent to 'claims' .

Microsoft defines a 'claims aware application' as an application that uses claims to make authorization decisions. Generally these claims have been made available to the application via ADFS.  PingFederate's design philosophy has always been to integrate with applications by passing user attribute information into and out of web applications. This attribute information is, at a minimum, a user identifier.

Every application ever integrated with PingFederate is a 'claims aware application'.

Lastly Microsoft defines 'claims transformation' as the ability for ADFS to transform existing claims and import claims from other identity data sources. Ping has historically called this attribute mapping., which involves performing a user lookup against an identity store and mapping user attributes dynamically.

PingFederate 'attribute mapping' is equivalent to 'claims transformation' .

I am sure there are others, but I believe I have captured the major terminology differences. Look for some follow up posts that highlight some of the other differences between PingFederate and ADFS 2.0.


While your post is a direct comparison of MS to Ping, I would think that you could substitute the word Ping for Oracle, RSA, etc and everything would still hold true.

Thanks Patrick, for this very clear and easy-to-read untangling. While of course James is right that the foregoing could substitute many other organizations for 'Ping', that doesn't take anything away from the clarity.

Thanks Patrick for clear differentiation a between ADFS and Ping terminology. Waiting for follow up posts on same topic

Thanks for the clarity Patrick. This does help a lot.
As a follow-up can I we also get a comparison of capabilities that can help customers make decisions on choosing any/both of these products.

Useful Post!! Once correction, Microsoft's ADFSv2 does support SAML 2.0 Protocol.

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