Tutorial: Secure Azure SQL Database connection from App Service using a managed identity

App Service provides a highly scalable, self-patching web hosting service in Azure. It also provides a managed identity for your app, which is a turn-key solution for securing access to Azure SQL Database and other Azure services. Managed identities in App Service make your app more secure by eliminating secrets from your app, such as credentials in the connection strings. In this tutorial, you will add managed identity to the sample ASP.NET web app you built in Tutorial: Build an ASP.NET app in Azure with SQL Database. When you're finished, your sample app will connect to SQL Database securely without the need of username and passwords.


This scenario is currently supported by .NET Framework 4.6 and above, but not by .NET Core 2.1. .NET Core 2.2 does support the scenario, but is not yet included in the default images in App Service.

What you learn how to:

  • Enable managed identities
  • Grant SQL Database access to the managed identity
  • Configure application code to authenticate with SQL Database using Azure Active Directory authentication
  • Grant minimal privileges to the managed identity in SQL Database


Azure Active Directory authentication is different from Integrated Windows authentication in on-premises Active Directory (AD DS). AD DS and Azure Active Directory use completely different authentication protocols. For more information, see Azure AD Domain Services documentation.

If you don't have an Azure subscription, create a free account before you begin.


This article continues where you left off in Tutorial: Build an ASP.NET app in Azure with SQL Database. If you haven't already, follow that tutorial first. Alternatively, you can adapt the steps for your own ASP.NET app with SQL Database.

Open Azure Cloud Shell

Azure Cloud Shell is an interactive shell environment hosted in Azure and used through your browser. Azure Cloud Shell allows you to use either bash or PowerShell shells to run a variety of tools to work with Azure services. Azure Cloud Shell comes pre-installed with the commands to allow you to run the content of this article without having to install anything on your local environment.

To run any code contained in this article on Azure Cloud Shell, open a Cloud Shell session, use the Copy button on a code block to copy the code, and paste it into the Cloud Shell session with Ctrl+Shift+V on Windows and Linux, or Cmd+Shift+V on macOS. Pasted text is not automatically executed, so press Enter to run code.

You can launch Azure Cloud Shell with:

Option Example/Link
Select Try It in the upper-right corner of a code block. This doesn't automatically copy text to Cloud Shell. Example of Try It for Azure Cloud Shell
Open Azure Cloud Shell in your browser.
Select the Cloud Shell button on the menu in the upper-right corner of the Azure portal. Cloud Shell button in the Azure portal

Enable managed identities

To enable a managed identity for your Azure app, use the az webapp identity assign command in the Cloud Shell. In the following command, replace <app name>.

az webapp identity assign --resource-group myResourceGroup --name <app name>

Here's an example of the output after the identity is created in Azure Active Directory:

  "additionalProperties": {},
  "principalId": "21dfa71c-9e6f-4d17-9e90-1d28801c9735",
  "tenantId": "72f988bf-86f1-41af-91ab-2d7cd011db47",
  "type": "SystemAssigned"

You'll use the value of principalId in the next step. If you want to see the details of the new identity in Azure Active Directory, run the following optional command with the value of principalId:

az ad sp show --id <principalid>

Grant database access to identity

Next, you grant database access to your app's managed identity, using the az sql server ad-admin create command in the Cloud Shell. In the following command, replace <server_name> and <principalid_from_last_step>. Type an administrator name for <admin_user>.

az sql server ad-admin create --resource-group myResourceGroup --server-name <server_name> --display-name <admin_user> --object-id <principalid_from_last_step>

The managed identity now has access to your Azure SQL Database server.


For simplicity, this step configures the Azure AD managed identity as the SQL Database administrator. The method has the following limitations:

  • The app's administrative access doesn't follow security best practices.
  • Since the managed identity is app specific, you can't use the same managed identity to connect to SQL Database from another app.
  • The managed identity can't sign in to the SQL Database interactively, so it's impossible to grant access to managed identities of additional apps.

To improve security and to administrate Azure AD accounts in SQL Database, follow the steps at Grant minimal privileges to identity.

Modify connection string

Modify the connection you set previously for your app, using the az webapp config appsettings set command in the Cloud Shell. In the following command, replace <app name> with the name of your app, and replace <server_name> and <db_name> with the ones for your SQL Database.

az webapp config connection-string set --resource-group myResourceGroup --name <app name> --settings MyDbConnection='Server=tcp:<server_name>.database.windows.net,1433;Database=<db_name>;' --connection-string-type SQLAzure

Modify ASP.NET code

In Visual Studio, open the Package Manager Console and add the NuGet package Microsoft.Azure.Services.AppAuthentication:

Install-Package Microsoft.Azure.Services.AppAuthentication -Version 1.1.0-preview

Open Models\MyDatabaseContext.cs and add the following using statements to the top of the file:

using System.Data.SqlClient;
using Microsoft.Azure.Services.AppAuthentication;
using System.Web.Configuration;

In the MyDatabaseContext class, add the following constructor:

public MyDatabaseContext(SqlConnection conn) : base(conn, true)
    conn.ConnectionString = WebConfigurationManager.ConnectionStrings["MyDbConnection"].ConnectionString;
    // DataSource != LocalDB means app is running in Azure with the SQLDB connection string you configured
    if(conn.DataSource != "(localdb)\\MSSQLLocalDB")
        conn.AccessToken = (new AzureServiceTokenProvider()).GetAccessTokenAsync("https://database.windows.net/").Result;


This constructor configures a custom SqlConnection object to use an access token for Azure SQL Database from App Service. With the access token, your App Service app authenticates with Azure SQL Database with its managed identity. For more information, see Obtaining tokens for Azure resources. The if statement lets you continue to test your app locally with LocalDB.


SqlConnection.AccessToken is currently supported only in .NET Framework 4.6 and above, as well as .NET Core 2.2, not in .NET Core 2.1.

To use this new constructor, open Controllers\TodosController.cs and find the line private MyDatabaseContext db = new MyDatabaseContext();. The existing code uses the default MyDatabaseContext controller to create a database using the standard connection string, which had username and password in clear text before you changed it.

Replace the entire line with the following code:

private MyDatabaseContext db = new MyDatabaseContext(new System.Data.SqlClient.SqlConnection());

Publish your changes

All that's left now is to publish your changes to Azure.

In the Solution Explorer, right-click your DotNetAppSqlDb project and select Publish.

Publish from Solution Explorer

In the publish page, click Publish. When the new webpage shows your to-do list, your app is connecting to the database using the managed identity.

Azure app after Code First Migration

You should now be able to edit the to-do list as before.

Clean up resources

In the preceding steps, you created Azure resources in a resource group. If you don't expect to need these resources in the future, delete the resource group by running the following command in the Cloud Shell:

az group delete --name myResourceGroup

This command may take a minute to run.

Grant minimal privileges to identity

During the earlier steps, you probably noticed your managed identity is connected to SQL Server as the Azure AD administrator. To grant minimal privileges to your managed identity, you need to sign in to the Azure SQL Database server as the Azure AD administrator, and then add an Azure Active Directory group that contains the managed identity.

Add managed identity to an Azure Active Directory group

In the Cloud Shell, add the managed identity for your app into a new Azure Active Directory group called myAzureSQLDBAccessGroup, shown in the following script:

groupid=$(az ad group create --display-name myAzureSQLDBAccessGroup --mail-nickname myAzureSQLDBAccessGroup --query objectId --output tsv)
msiobjectid=$(az webapp identity show --resource-group <group_name> --name <app_name> --query principalId --output tsv)
az ad group member add --group $groupid --member-id $msiobjectid
az ad group member list -g $groupid

If you want to see the full JSON output for each command, drop the parameters --query objectId --output tsv.

Reconfigure Azure AD administrator

Previously, you assigned the managed identity as the Azure AD administrator for your SQL Database. You can't use this identity for interactive sign-in (to add database users), so you need to use your real Azure AD user. To add your Azure AD user, follow the steps at Provision an Azure Active Directory administrator for your Azure SQL Database Server.


Once added, don't remove this Azure AD administrator for your SQL Database unless you want to disable Azure AD access to the SQL Database completely (from all Azure AD accounts).

Grant permissions to Azure Active Directory group

In the Cloud Shell, sign in to SQL Database by using the SQLCMD command. Replace <server_name> with your SQL Database server name, <db_name> with the database name your app uses, and <AADuser_name> and <AADpassword> with your Azure AD user's credentials.

sqlcmd -S <server_name>.database.windows.net -d <db_name> -U <AADuser_name> -P "<AADpassword>" -G -l 30

In the SQL prompt for the database you want, run the following commands to add the Azure Active Directory group you created earlier and grant the permissions your app needs. For example,

ALTER ROLE db_datareader ADD MEMBER [myAzureSQLDBAccessGroup];
ALTER ROLE db_datawriter ADD MEMBER [myAzureSQLDBAccessGroup];
ALTER ROLE db_ddladmin ADD MEMBER [myAzureSQLDBAccessGroup];

Type EXIT to return to the Cloud Shell prompt.

Next steps

What you learned:

  • Enable managed identities
  • Grant SQL Database access to the managed identity
  • Configure application code to authenticate with SQL Database using Azure Active Directory authentication
  • Grant minimal privileges to the managed identity in SQL Database

Advance to the next tutorial to learn how to map a custom DNS name to your web app.