A new and easy way to use AAD authentication with Azure SQL


I blogged in the past about connecting to Azure SQL using AAD authentication. By using Azure managed identity, our application can connect to Azure SQL without the need to secure any kind of credential.

However, so far it was the responsibility of the application to acquire an access token from AAD and attach it to the SQL connection. On top of that, token caching and renewal was another aspect application developers needed to keep in mind to avoid unnecessary network requests. Even though .NET libraries helped achieving this, it was custom code that needed to be maintained.

Let’s have a look at a new, code-free way of achieving the same result.

Native support in Microsoft.Data.SqlClient

In June 2021, Microsoft released version 3.0 of Microsoft.Data.SqlClient, the official SQL Server driver for .NET.

This release supports more scenarios around AAD authentication as it now leverages Azure.Identity. What this means is that instead of having custom code to acquire tokens, cache them, and renew them, these operations are now handled internally by the driver.

Consumers can configure which underlying Azure.Identity credential is used through the connection string, via the Authentication keyword.

Authentication keyword value Underlying Azure.Identity credential used Typical scenario Sources
Active Directory Managed Identity ManagedIdentityCredential App running on Azure Managed identity
Active Directory Default DefaultAzureCredential Local development Environment variables, managed identity, VS Code, Visual Studio, Azure CLI

Leveraging AAD authentication could not get any simpler!

public async Task Main(string[] args)
    var connectionString = "Data Source=<my-azure-sql-instance>.database.windows.net; Initial Catalog=<my-database>; Authentication=Active Directory Default";

    for (var i = 0; i < 10; i++)
        await using var connection = new SqlConnection(connectionString);
        var count = await connection.QuerySingleAsync<int>("SELECT COUNT(0) FROM [dbo].[MyTable]");

        Console.WriteLine($"There are {count} items in the table");

Silly example, I know 😇. The point is that by running this program, a single token will be acquired during the first query, and the nine others will use the token cached internally.

Potential drawbacks

I find this solution fantastic, and I’ve been using it in a couple of applications with no issues. However, I think it’s worth mentioning that it’s not perfect, and you might want to analyse whether it’s the right approach for you.

The first effect of using this method is that since the driver orchestrates Azure.Identity itself, we lose some flexibility. It’s not possible anymore for an application to specify a specific list of credentials via ChainedTokenCredential. I personally don’t think this is a big issue, but some applications might have stricter requirements.

The second thing to be aware of is that since v3 is a new major version, it’s coming with breaking changes. One of them is for columns that are mapped to properties of type byte[], if the column value is NULL, the driver will return DBNull.Value instead of an empty byte array.

This change might impact EF Core as there’s been a report of applications breaking after updating to Microsoft.Data.SqlClient v3.0, see https://github.com/dotnet/efcore/issues/25074. At the time of writing, the EF Core team plans on fixing this for the 6.0 release, but will potentially issue a patch if it’s not too tricky to fix.


In this post, we saw how we can free our applications of several token-related concerns by leveraging the new supported scenarios around AAD authentication in Microsoft.Data.SqlClient. We also emphasised that a proper analysis should be conducted before jumping on this new version as we lose some flexibility, and some breaking changes might cause issues.

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