Introduction to Membership
Since the time this article was written, ASP.NET membership providers have been superseded by ASP.NET Identity. You should update your applications to use the ASP.NET Identity platform instead of the built-in membership providers.
ASP.NET membership gives you a built-in way to validate and store user credentials. ASP.NET membership therefore helps you manage user authentication in your Web sites. You can use ASP.NET membership with ASP.NET Forms authentication or with the ASP.NET login controls to create a complete system for authenticating users.
ASP.NET membership supports facilities for:
Creating new users and passwords.
Storing membership information (user names, passwords, and supporting data) in Microsoft SQL Server, Active Directory, or an alternative data store.
Authenticating users who visit your site. You can authenticate users programmatically, or you can use the ASP.NET login controls to create a complete authentication system that requires little or no code.
Managing passwords, which includes creating, changing, and resetting them . Depending on membership options you choose, the membership system can also provide an automated password-reset system that takes a user-supplied question and response.
Exposing a unique identification for authenticated users that you can use in your own applications and that also integrates with the ASP.NET personalization and role-management (authorization) systems.
Specifying a custom membership provider, which allows you to substitute your own code to manage membership and maintain membership data in a custom data store
Membership, Roles and the User Profile
Although membership is a self-standing feature in ASP.NET for authentication, it can be integrated with ASP.NET role management to provide authorization services for your site. Membership can also be integrated with the user profile to provide application-specific customization that can be tailored to individual users. For details, see Managing Authorization Using Roles and ASP.NET Profile Properties Overview.
How Membership Works
To use membership, you must first configure it for your site. In outline, you follow these steps:
Specify membership options as part of your Web site configuration. By default, membership is enabled. You can also specify what membership provider you want to use. (In practical terms, this means that you are specifying what type of database you want to keep membership information in.) The default provider uses a Microsoft SQL Server database. You can also choose to use Active Directory to store membership information, or you can specify a custom provider. For information on membership configuration options that can be specified in the Web.config file for your ASP.NET application, see Configuring an ASP.NET Application to Use Membership.
Configure your application to use Forms authentication (as distinct from Windows or Passport authentication). You typically specify that some pages or folders in your application are protected and are accessible only to authenticated users.
Define user accounts for membership. You can do this in a variety of ways. You can use the Web Site Administration Tool, which provides a wizard-like interface for creating new users. Alternatively, you can create a "new user" ASP.NET Web page where you collect a user name and password (and optionally an e-mail address), and then use a membership function named CreateUser to create a new user in the membership system.
You can now use membership to authenticate users in your application. Most often, you will provide a login form, which might be a separate page or a special area on your home page. You can create the login form by hand using ASP.NET TextBox controls, or you can use ASP.NET login controls. Because you have configured the application to use Forms authentication, ASP.NET will automatically display the login page if an unauthenticated user requests a protected page.
The ASP.NET login controls (Login, LoginView, LoginStatus, LoginName, and PasswordRecovery) encapsulate virtually all of the logic required to prompt users for credentials and validate the credentials in the membership system.
If you use login controls, they will automatically use the membership system to validate a user. If you have created a login form by hand, you can prompt the user for a user name and password and then call the ValidateUser method to perform the validation. After the user is validated, information about the user can be persisted (for example, with an encrypted cookie if the user's browser accepts cookies) using Forms Authentication. The login controls perform this task automatically. If you have created a login form by hand, you can call methods of the FormsAuthentication class to create the cookie and write it to the user's computer. If a user has forgotten his or her password, the login page can call membership functions that help the user remember the password or create a new one.
Each time the user requests another protected page, ASP.NET Forms authentication checks whether the user is authenticated and then either allows the user to view the page or redirects the user to the login page. By default, the authentication cookie remains valid for the user's session.
After a user has been authenticated, the membership system makes available an object that contains information about the current user. For example, you can get properties of the membership user object to determine the user's name and e-mail address, when the user last logged into your application, and so on.
An important aspect of the membership system is that you never need to explicitly perform any low-level database functions to get or set user information. For example, you create a new user by calling the membership CreateUser method. The membership system handles the details of creating the necessary database records to store the user information. When you call the ValidateUser method to check a user's credentials, the membership system does all the database lookup for you.
Membership Configuration and Management
You configure the membership system in your application's Web.config file. The easiest way to configure and manage membership is with the Web Site Administration Tool, which provides a wizard-based interface. As part of membership configuration, you specify:
What membership provider to use. (This typically also specifies what database to store membership information in.)
Password options such as encryption and whether to support password recovery based on a user-specific question.
Users and passwords. If you are using the Web Site Administration Tool, you can create and manage users directly. Otherwise, you must call membership functions to create and manage users programmatically.