How to use gargle for auth in a client package

gargle provides common infrastructure for use with Google APIs. This vignette describes one possible design for using gargle to deal with auth, in a client package that provides a high-level wrapper for a specific API.

There are frequent references to googledrive, which uses the design described here, along with bigrquery (v1.2.0 and higher), gmailr (v1.0.0 and higher), and googlesheets4 (the successor to googlesheets).

Key choices

Getting a token requires several pieces of information and there are stark differences in how much users (need to) know or control about this process. Let’s review them, with an eye towards identifying the responsibilities of the package author versus the user.

User-facing auth

In googledrive, the main user-facing auth function is googledrive::drive_auth(). Here is its definition (at least approximately, remember this is static code):

# googledrive::
drive_auth <- function(email = gargle::gargle_oauth_email(),
                       path = NULL,
                       scopes = "",
                       cache = gargle::gargle_oauth_cache(),
                       use_oob = gargle::gargle_oob_default(),
                       token = NULL) {
  # this catches a common error, where the user passes JSON for an OAuth client
  # to the `path` argument, which only expects a service account token
  gargle::check_is_service_account(path, hint = "drive_auth_configure")

  cred <- gargle::token_fetch(
    scopes = scopes,
    client = drive_oauth_client() %||% <BUILT_IN_DEFAULT_CLIENT>,
    email = email,
    path = path,
    package = "googledrive",
    cache = cache,
    use_oob = use_oob,
    token = token
  if (!inherits(cred, "Token2.0")) {
    # throw an informative error here


drive_auth() is called automatically upon the first need of a token and that can lead to user interaction, but does not necessarily do so. drive_auth() can be called explicitly by the user, but usually that is not necessary. token_fetch() is described in the vignette("how-gargle-gets-tokens"). The internal .auth object maintains googledrive’s auth state and is explained next.

Auth state

A client package can use an internal object of class gargle::AuthState to hold the auth state. In googledrive, the main auth file defines a placeholder .auth object:

.auth <- NULL

The actual initialization happens in .onLoad():

.onLoad <- function(libname, pkgname) {
    gargle::init_AuthState(package = "googledrive", auth_active = TRUE)
  # other stuff

The initialization of .auth is done this way to ensure that we get an instance of the AuthState class using the current, installed version of gargle (vs. the ambient version from whenever gargle was built, perhaps by CRAN).

An AuthState instance has other fields which, in this googledrive example, are not set at this point. The OAuth client and api_key are configurable by the user and, when NULL, downstream functions can fall back to internal credentials. The cred field is populated by the first call to drive_auth() (direct or indirectly via drive_token()).

OAuth client

Most users should present OAuth user credentials to Google APIs. However, most users would love to be spared the fiddly details surrounding this. The OAuth client is one example. (Historically, following the lead of the httr package, we have used the term OAuth app, but we now use the term OAuth client.) The client is a component that most users do not even know about and they are content to use the same client for all work through a wrapper package: possibly, the client built into the package.

There is a field in the .auth auth state to hold the OAuth client. Exported auth helpers, drive_oauth_client() and drive_auth_configure(), retrieve and modify the current client to support users who want to (or must) take that level of control.


# first: download the OAuth client as a JSON file
  path = "/path/to/the/JSON/that/was/downloaded/from/gcp/console.json"

#> <gargle_oauth_client>
#> name: acme-corp-google-client
#> id:
#> secret: <REDACTED>
#> type: installed
#> redirect_uris: http://localhost

Do not “borrow” an OAuth client ID and secret from gargle or any other package; always use credentials associated with your package or provided by your user. Per the Google User Data Policy, your application must accurately represent itself when authenticating to Google API services.

Some APIs and scopes are considered so sensitive that is essentially impossible for a package to provide a built-in OAuth client. Users must get and configure their own client. Among the packages mentioned as examples, this is true of gmailr.

API key

Some Google APIs can be used in an unauthenticated state, if and only if requests include an API key. For example, this is a great way to read a Google Sheet that is world-readable or readable by “anyone with a link” from a Shiny app, thereby designing away the need to manage user credentials on the server.

The user can provide their own API key via drive_auth_configure(api_key =) and retrieve that value with drive_api_key(), just as with the OAuth client. The API key is stored in the api_key field of the .auth auth state.


drive_auth_configure(api_key = "123456789")

#> "123456789"

Many users aren’t motivated to take this level of control and appreciate when a package provides a built-in default API key. As with the client, packages should obtain their own API key and not borrow the gargle or tidyverse key.

Some APIs are not usable without a token, in which case a wrapper package may not even expose functionality for managing an API key. Among the packages mentioned as examples, this is true of bigrquery.

Email or Google identity

In contrast to the OAuth client and API key, every user must express which identity they wish to present to the API. This is a familiar concept and users expect to specify this. Since users may have more than one Google account, it’s quite likely that they will want to switch between accounts, even within a single R session, or that they might want to explicitly declare the identity to be used in a specific script or app.

That explains why drive_auth() has the optional email argument that lets users proactively specify their identity. drive_auth() is usually called indirectly upon first need, but a user can also call it proactively in order to specify their target email:

# googledrive::
drive_auth(email = "")

If email is not given, gargle also checks for an option named "gargle_oauth_email". The email is used to look up tokens in the cache and, if no suitable token is found, it is used to pre-configure the OAuth chooser in the browser. Read more in the help for gargle::gargle_oauth_email().


Most users have no concept of scopes. They just know they want to work with, e.g., Google Drive or Google Sheets. A client package can usually pick sensible default scopes, that will support what most users want to do.

Here’s a reminder of the signature of googledrive::drive_auth():

# googledrive::
drive_auth <- function(email = gargle::gargle_oauth_email(),
                       path = NULL,
                       scopes = "",
                       cache = gargle::gargle_oauth_cache(),
                       use_oob = gargle::gargle_oob_default(),
                       token = NULL) { ... }

googledrive ships with a default scope, but a motivated user could call drive_auth() preemptively at the start of the session and request different scopes. For example, if they intend to only read data and want to guard against inadvertent file modification, they might opt for the drive.readonly scope.

# googledrive::
drive_auth(scopes = "")

OAuth cache and Out-of-bound auth

The location of the token cache and whether to prefer out-of-bound auth are two aspects of OAuth where most users are content to go along with sensible default behavior. For those who want to exert control, that can be done in direct calls to drive_auth() or by configuring an option. Read the help for gargle::gargle_oauth_cache() and gargle::gargle_oob_default() and vignette("auth-from-web") for more.

Overview of mechanics

Here’s a concrete outline of how one could set up a client package to get its auth functionality from gargle.

  1. Add gargle to your package’s Imports.
  2. Create a file R/YOURPKG_auth.R.
  3. Create an internal gargle::AuthClass object to hold auth state. Follow the googledrive example above.
  4. Define standard functions for the auth interface between gargle and your package; do this in R/YOURPKG_auth.R. Examples: tidyverse/googledrive/R/drive_auth.R and r-dbi/bigrquery/R/bq_auth.R.
  5. Use gargle’s roxygen helpers to create the docs for your auth functions. This relieves you from writing docs and you inherit standard wording. See previously cited examples for inspiration.
  6. Use the functions YOURPKG_token() and YOURPKG_api_key() (defined in the standard auth interface) to insert a token or API key in your package’s requests.

Getting that first token

I focus on early use, by the naive user, with the OAuth flow. When the user first calls a high-level googledrive function such as drive_find(), a Drive request is ultimately generated with a call to googledrive::request_generate(). Here is its definition, at least approximately:

# googledrive::
request_generate <- function(endpoint = character(),
                             params = list(),
                             key = NULL,
                             token = drive_token()) {
  ept <- drive_endpoint(endpoint)
  if (is.null(ept)) {
    # throw error about unrecognized endpoint

  ## modifications specific to googledrive package
  params$key <- key %||% params$key %||%
    drive_api_key() %||% <BUILT_IN_DEFAULT_API_KEY>
  if (!is.null(ept$parameters$supportsAllDrives)) {
    params$supportsAllDrives <- TRUE

  req <- gargle::request_develop(endpoint = ept, params = params)
    path = req$path,
    method = req$method,
    params = req$params,
    body = req$body,
    token = token

googledrive::request_generate() is a thin wrapper around gargle::request_develop() and gargle::request_build() that only implements details specific to googledrive, before delegating to more general functions in gargle. The vignette("request-helper-functions") documents these gargle functions.

googledrive::request_generate() gets a token with drive_token(), which is defined like so:

# googledrive::
drive_token <- function() {
  if (isFALSE(.auth$auth_active)) {
  if (!drive_has_token()) {
  httr::config(token = .auth$cred)

where drive_has_token() in a helper defined as:

# googledrive::
drive_has_token <- function() {
  inherits(.auth$cred, "Token2.0")

By default, auth is active, and, for a fresh start, we won’t have a token stashed in .auth yet. So this will result in a call to drive_auth() to obtain a credential, which is then cached in .auth$cred for the remainder of the session. All subsequent calls to drive_token() will just spit back this token.

Above, we discussed scenarios where an advanced user might call drive_auth() proactively, with non-default arguments, possibly even loading a service token or using alternative flows, like an external account. Any token loaded in that way is stashed in .auth$cred and will be returned by subsequent calls to drive_token().

Multiple gargle-using packages can use a shared token by obtaining a suitably scoped token with one package, then registering that token with the other packages. For example, the default scope requested by googledrive is also sufficient for operations available in googlesheets4. You could use a shared token like so:


drive_auth(email = "") # gets a suitably scoped token
                                           # and stashes for googledrive use

gs4_auth(token = drive_token())            # registers token with googlesheets4

# now work with both packages freely ...

It is important to make sure that the token-requesting package (googledrive, above) is using an OAuth client for which all the necessary APIs and scopes are enabled.

Auth interface

The exported functions like drive_auth(), drive_token(), etc. constitute the auth interface between googledrive and gargle and are centralized in tidyverse/googledrive/R/drive_auth.R. That is a good template for how to use gargle to manage auth in a client package. In addition, the docs for these gargle-backed functions are generated automatically from standard information maintained in the gargle package.


APIs split into two classes: those that can be used, at least partially, without a token and those that cannot. If an API is usable without a token – which is true for the Drive API – such requests must include an API key. Therefore, the auth design for a client package is different for these two types of APIs.

For an API that can be used without a token: drive_deauth() can be used at any time to enter a de-authorized state. It sets auth_active to FALSE and .auth$cred to NULL. In this state, requests are sent out with an API key and no token. This is a great way to eliminate any friction re: auth if there’s no need for it, i.e. if all requests are for resources that are world readable or available to anyone who knows how to ask for it, such as files shared via “Anyone with the link”. The de-authorized state is especially useful in non-interactive settings or where user interaction is indirect, such as via Shiny.

For an API that cannot be used without a token: BigQuery is an example of such an API. bq_deauth() just clears the current token, so that the auth flow starts over the next time a token is needed.

Bring Your Own Client and Key

Advanced users can use their own OAuth client and API key. drive_auth_configure() lives in R/drive_auth.R and it provides the ability to modify the current client and api_key. Recall that drive_oauth_client() and drive_api_key() also exist for targeted, read-only access.

The vignette("get-api-credentials") describes how to get an API key and OAuth client.

Packages that always send a token will omit the API key functionality here.

Changing identities (and more)

One reason for a user to call drive_auth() directly and proactively is to switch from one Google identity to another or to make sure they are presenting themselves with a specific identity. drive_auth() accepts an email argument, which is honored when gargle determines if there is already a suitable token on hand. Here is a sketch of how a user could switch identities during a session, possibly non-interactive:


drive_auth(email = "")
# do stuff with Google Drive here, with Jane Doe's "work" account

drive_auth(email = "")
# do other stuff with Google Drive here, with Jane Doe's "personal" account

drive_auth(path = "/path/to/a/service-account.json")
# do other stuff with Google Drive here, using a service account