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I was wondering how a site like Stack Exchange manages to have a unified login system for all of their sites. Is the login/user management system kept separate from the sites?

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This is an insight question, so only stackoverflow employee can answer this, probably they must be having a common registration procedure and later a foreign table handling the user access to different stack websites – Mr. Alien Apr 2 '13 at 5:08
All sites uses OpenId. – Johannes Kuhn Apr 2 '13 at 6:59
Manually, in some cases. – Grant Thomas Apr 2 '13 at 8:01
up vote 9 down vote accepted

All sites use OpenID. Accounts are linked through the network on the server side if they use the same OpenID.

Regarding the network login (when you open an SE site while logged into another SE site you get automatically logged in), that is done using with AJAX (or iframing, not sure which). When you log in, Stack Auth sets some cookies as well. When you visit a site, a request is sent to Stack Auth, which realizes that you are logged in on to the network, and you are automatically logged in.

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That's exactly what I was looking for thanks! so basically global authentication is handled by and each site essentially calls it to do user handling? – ChaoticLoki Apr 2 '13 at 8:56
@ChaoticLoki: I think so. There is some internal global auth as well, but in the end it all points to StackAuth. – Manishearth Apr 2 '13 at 11:31

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