Troubleshooting and Managing ADFS 3.0

The infamous words “It’s not working”, “I can’t login”, or “The page cannot be displayed.  I’d be willing to say a fair few of us have heard these lines on more then one occasion.

Like my post that I published on preparing for an O365 migration, I thought that it would be good to put something equally as helpful together to guide you the reader on where to start when troubleshooting an ADFS issue.  These little critters pop up frequently enough that they deserve their own special post, I have taken everything I have seen on other posts and my own experiences and have put them all here in one place.

Some of the links that I have put in this blog post refer to ADFS 2.0, I have put these in intentionally as the content is still relevant for 3.0 and the steps are much the same.

ADFS is used in combination with Office 365 to create a scenario in which federated identities are used, this is also known as single sign-on.  Unlike cloud identities or synchronised identities, federated identities authenticate against an on-premises Active Directory through an ADFS server infrastructure instead of Windows Azure Active directory.  This means that ends users log into Office 365 using their on-premises credentials.

ADFS provides a robust environment that requires few frequent maintenance tasks, however there is still a requirement to perform certain tasks on an as needed basis.  This guide will provide the information and instructions for performing these tasks, it will also include a troubleshooting section for some of the more common issues that arise with an ADFS implementation.

Managing ADFS Components

ADFS is made up of two primary components:

Federation Service

The Federation Service functions as a security token service and routes authentication requests from external user accounts in partner organisations and clients on the Internet.

Web Application Proxy

The Web Application Proxy (WAP) functions as a proxy for the Federation Service in a perimeter network.

Managing the Federation Server

ADFS Management Console   

The AD FS administration tool (adfs.msc) is supplied as a Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in. The administration tool is used to add account and resource partners, map partner claims, add and configure account stores, and identify and configure federation-aware Web applications

  1. Go to Start, type in AD FS and click to open the ADFS management console.
  2. adfsconsole2. The AD FS Management console will open. The following figure shows the main components of the AD FS Management console.
  3. adfsconsole2

Changing the primary Federation Server

The first server that is installed in the federation farm is automatically the primary federation server.  Any subsequent federation servers that are added to the farm will poll the primary federation server for configuration changes every 5 minutes by default.  If changes are found these will be replicated to a local instance of the configuration database, this is stored in the Windows Internal Database unless SQL has been specified.

If the primary federation server fails and there are multiple federation servers in a farm although these other servers will remain operational, changes to the ADFS configuration will not be able to be made until the primary federation server has been restored or another federation server has been promoted as the primary server.

To promote a secondary federation server to primary, run the following commands from the secondary federation server:

Set-AdfsSyncProperties –Role PrimaryComputer

Once the new primary federation server has been set, any other secondary federation servers need to be configured to sync with the primary federation server.  Run the following command on the remaining member servers:

Set-AdfsSyncProperties -Role SecondaryComputer -PrimaryComputerName {FQDN of the Primary Federation Server}

ADFS Certificate Management

Token-Signing Certificate

ADFS uses a token-signing certificate to digitally sign the token that is created when the system makes an authentication request.  This token is then sent back to the source of the request, which is referred to as the relaying party.  Once an ADFS trust is created between two environments, the token-signing certificate is exchanged.

By default, ADFS uses a self-signed certificate which comes with a validity period of one year.  ADFS by default is configured to automatically generate a new certificate when it is close to expiring.  This behaviour is controlled through the AutoCertificateRollover attribute.  To verify the current ADFS property settings, run the following command:

Get-ADFSProperties | Select AutoCertificateRollOver

It is imperative that the token-signing certificate is regularly checked to ensure that it does not expire, or that there are not any issues with the auto certificate rollover service.

SSL Certificate

ADFS requires a certificate for standard Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) server authentication on each federation server in the farm.  The same certificate should be used on each federation server in the farm, and both the certificate and the private should be available.  The SSL certificate is used for securing communications between federation servers, clients, web application proxy and federation server proxy computers.

SSL certificates that have been imported can be viewed via the Certificates snap-in for the MMC.  It is imperative that the SSL certificate used in ADFS operations is valid and does not expire.

  1. Open MMC, and add the certificate snap-in
  2. Select Local Computer under the snap-in options
  3. Open Personal, this will show all of the SSL certificates that have been imported on the server.

Troubleshooting ADFS

Whilst ADFS is a robust identity management solution, there times when things can go wrong.  Please see below for a breakdown on the most common issues that occur with an ADFS deployment and ways to troubleshoot and resolve them.

Enable additional logging

Additional logging provides more information about the interactions of the ADFS farm which will assist in any troubleshooting activities.  To enable additional logging, please follow the steps outlines below:

  1. Check the current log level for ADFS by running this command:


  1. Confirm that the SuccessAudits and FailureAudits have not been configured and add these into the logging results:

Set-AdfsProperties -LogLevel ((Get-AdfsProperties).LogLevel+’SuccessAudits’,’FailureAudits’)

  1. To ensure that the audit results are visible in the event logs, enable application generated auditing:

# Verify

. $env:\systemroot\system32\AUDITPOL.exe /GET /SUBCATEGORY:”Application Generated”

# Configure

. $env:\systemroot\system32\AUDITPOL.exe /SET /SUBCATEGORY:”Application Generated” /FAILURE:ENABLE /SUCCESS:ENABLE

When an ADFS request is processed, there will be more information available in the application log which will assist in the troubleshooting process.

ADFS Diagnostics Module (Section taken from TechNet)

The ADFS diagnostics module contains commandlets to gather configuration information of an ADFS server, as well as commandlets to perform health checks to detect configuration issues based on common root causes, for example duplicate SPN’s, Certs, etc.

The tool can be downloaded from the TechNet Script Centre:

Some examples of the types of commands that can be used:

Get information about the system 


Get information about the AD FS farm deployment 


Perform health checks 

Test-AdfsServerHealth | ft Name,Result  -AutoSize

“There was a problem accessing the site.”, “The page cannot be displayed” Internal Authentication works, external does not.

Typically this issue occurs when the proxy server is unable to establish a secure communication with the ADFS server.  If authentication is working internally, but externally users are unable to authenticate, start by checking the following on the proxy server:

  1. The system clock – make sure that the time on the proxy and adfs server are the same.
  2. Service account – verify that the service account which is used by the proxy server to obtain its configuration information from the ADFS server has not been deleted, the password reset or the password has expired.
  3. Name resolution – verify by performing an NSLOOKUP on the proxy server that it is able to correctly resolve the ADFS service name and that the IP address of the ADFS server is correct.

“There was a problem accessing the site.”, “The page cannot be displayed” Both internal and external users are unable to authenticate.

Start by checking the following on the ADFS Servers, in addition to checking the points above on the Proxy Server.

  1. Certificate Expiration Date – Open the ADFS management console and browse to certificates in the left window.  If the token-signing or token-decrypting certificates have expired, refer to this link for more information:
  2. SSL Certificate Expiration Date – Open MMC, and add the certificates snap-in.  Follow the prompts to add the certificate store for the local computer and once loaded select Personal from the left navigation pane, from here you should be able to see the SSL cert and check its expiration date.
  3. ADFS & Azure AD in Sync – Confirm that the ADFS server and Azure AD are in sync, by verifying that the certificate thumbprints for each match.  Refer to this link for more information:
  4. Verify the health of the Azure AD trust – If the ADFS farm was configured using Azure AD Connect, the application can check for the current health of the AD FS and Azure ADtrust and take appropriate actions if required to repair the trust. Refer to this link for more information:
  5. Authenticate on ADFS server – After verifying that the certificates are all valid and have not expired, and that the trust is setup correctly, test authentication on the ADFS server – browse to: https://ADFS-ServiceName/adfs/ls/idpinitiatedsignon.htm.If authentication succeeds on the ADFS server, move onto trying an internal workstation, followed by an external machine if that is successful.
  6. Check Event Viewer – If authentication is still proving to be troublesome, begin reviewing the ADFS logs in the event viewer, sometimes the application and or system logs will yield results also.  If there are errors present, you can correlate the event ID’s here:

“There was a problem accessing the site.”, “The page cannot be displayed” External users are able to authenticate but internal users are unable to authenticate.

The steps for troubleshooting this particular scenario are pretty much a rinse and repeat of the steps above, with a couple of extra ones detailed below:

  1. Run Tracert – From an internal workstation, open a command prompt and run a tracert to the internal IP address of the ADFS Server.  This should provide a good indication as to where there may be an issue with communication to the ADFS server.
  2. Install Fiddler – Download and install Fiddler on a workstation that is on the internal network.  Open Fiddler and run a packet trace on the open session to determine what is happening when the request to authenticate is sent to the ADFS server.  It should be possible to see the request from the workstation hit the ADFS server, and the ADFS server then respond to the request.
  3. NSLOOKUP – Open a command prompt on the internal workstation and perform an NSLOOKUP to verify that it is able to correctly resolve the ADFS service name and that the IP address of the ADFS server is correct.

I hope to keep updating this post with more ways to troubleshoot ADFS, in the meantime if you have anything that I should add to this post please write it in the comments!





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