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What are Magic Links?

Magic links are a form of passwordless login, increasingly gaining traction as organisations move beyond traditional password*based authentication. Instead of users having to remember and enter their credentials, they're sent a URL embedded with a token via email or, occasionally SMS. Upon clicking this link, the user is authenticated and redirected back to the application, having successfully signed in without needing an actual password.

The appeal of magic links lies in their simplicity and user*friendly nature. They free users from the onerous task of remembering multiple passwords, providing a seamless sign*in experience, a quality that's made them popular across various platforms, including Slack, Tumblr, and many other apps and services.

Magic link authentication involves three straightforward steps:

A user enters their email address on the sign*in page.
If it's a registered email address, the user receives an email with a magic link.
The user opens the email and clicks the magic link, completing the sign*in process.

This process is reminiscent of a password reset flow, where a user receives a secret link that allows them to bypass their password and create a new one. However, with magic links, the user doesn’t need to remember or enter a password to access their account. This streamlines the login process and adds to the user's convenience without imposing any hardware requirements.

Developers can configure whether the link remains valid for set intervals or the duration of the user's session lifecycle.

Magic links offer an assortment of benefits:

User friendly: They are ideal for applications that require infrequent or single session authentication, providing a seamless access path.
Secure: They help prevent password based attacks, including credential stuffing and phishing. By eliminating passwords, magic links reduce the risks associated with poor password practices.
Simplify account creation: Magic links streamline account creation and logins, significantly reducing user friction.
Pairs well with WebAuthn: WebAuthn is a standards based framework for passwordless authentication. Magic links can serve as an alternative layer of authentication for apps that support WebAuthn.

Organisations and end users stand to benefit from implementing magic links. For organisations, these benefits include easy authentication deployment, seamless user onboarding, reduced login troubleshooting, increased app adoption, fewer cart abandonments leading to more conversions, and a decreased attack surface.

For end users, magic links offer the advantages of no hardware dependency, a familiar and intuitive user experience, and high usability across various devices.

Updated on: 17/08/2023

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