Category Archives: scala

Tutorial: Verifying messages from Facebook using Scala and the Play Framework


I’ve been interested in chat bots for some time and when Facebook launched their API for building bots on their messenger platform I thought I’d play around with it. I have also wanted to look into using Scala with the Play Framework for building a web service, so I decided to combine the two.

Going about building a small messenger bot I realized that there had to be some way to verify that the messages being posted to the webhook I’d set up – and I noticed that there is a “X-Hub-Signature” in the header of the request – while this is not documented in the API docs that I could find, it is documented here.

The HTTP request will contain an X-Hub-Signature header which contains the SHA1 signature of the request payload, using the app secret as the key, and prefixed with sha1=. Your callback endpoint can verify this signature to validate the integrity and origin of the payload
Please note that the calculation is made on the escaped unicode version of the payload, with lower case hex digits. If you just calculate against the decoded bytes, you will end up with a different signature. For example, the string äöå should be escaped to \u00e4\u00f6\u00e5.

Having spent some time figuring out how to set this up, I thought I’d share my results here.

Step 0: How Facebook posts messages to your webhook

Following the tutorial here you can see how to setup a webhook that Facebook will post any messages sent to your page to. What you then need to do is implement a http(s) endpoint that can handle json on the following format being posted to it:

            "text":"hello, world!"

Note that in reality the end-point must be able to handle other types of messages as well, such as a user opting-in, delivery confirmations, etc.

Step 1: Creating the model

While Play does allow you to work directly with json, I think it’s nice to translate it to some Scala classes. Using the implicit readers/formaters provided by the Play framework this is fairly simple.

Just translate the json structure to a set of Scala case classes with field names matching the keys in the json structure.

We will later use this to convert the incoming json to a Scala class.

Step 2: Building a simple verification service

As the documentation states, to verify the request we will use a hash-based message authentication code. The quick version is that we are computing a hash of the message content together with a secret token that we share with Facebook. In this way, we can be sure that the message posted to the webhook actually came from them.

For this tutorial we will implement a very simple SHA1-based verification service. Please note that you should never keep the secret in the source-code, but load it from configuration, an environment variable or some other approach which does not leave it exposed when you check your code into version control.

Now that we have a way to check the incoming bytes it’s time to create a function to verify the request.

Step 3: Constructing a wrapper function to verify requests

While this tutorial only covers verifying incoming messages (i.e. what Facebook calls receiving messages), there are other events as well that might trigger a callback sending data to the webhook you have registered. Therefore it would be neat to implement this as a function which we can then re-use for the other types of callbacks.

The trick here is that we have to parse the message body – and all the examples of stacking actions on-top of each other in the Play documentation assumes that only the last action will actually parse the request. This leads us to adopt a slightly different approach.

We will implement by creating a function which takes a function as a argument (i.e. a higher-order function). In this case the function we accept as an argument will be an action, but this action will only be carried out, i.e. have that function be executed if we successfully validate the request.

Note how we parse the request body as bytes, convert it to a utf8 string (as per the specification), and verify that the signature that our verification service computes is the same as the one sent in the “X-Hub-Signature”.

Since we do parse the body as bytes here we will have to deal with converting the body as bytes to something more useful, such as json, in the next part.

Here is what the code looks like:

Step 4: Receiving messages

Finally we will use what we’ve created above to receive a message, parse it to a Scala class and respond appropriately giving a status 200 if we have successfully parsed the request.

Note that we convert the bytes to json here, and use the json.validate function to convert it to the models we created in part one. 

Wrapping up

Looking at this all together we get about 160 line of code including imports and blank lines. Not to bad. There are probably more elegant ways to solve this problem, but this does seem to get the job done.

As a reward for following this tutorial to the end, here is the entire source in one gist.