JBoss.org Community Documentation The Subject and Principal Classes

To authorize access to resources, applications first need to authenticate the request's source. The JAAS framework defines the term subject to represent a request's source. The Subject class is the central class in JAAS. A Subject represents information for a single entity, such as a person or service. It encompasses the entity's principals, public credentials, and private credentials. The JAAS APIs use the existing Java 2 java.security.Principal interface to represent a principal, which is essentially just a typed name.

During the authentication process, a subject is populated with associated identities, or principals. A subject may have many principals. For example, a person may have a name principal (John Doe), a social security number principal (123-45-6789), and a username principal (johnd), all of which help distinguish the subject from other subjects. To retrieve the principals associated with a subject, two methods are available:

public Set getPrincipals() {...}
public Set getPrincipals(Class c) {...} 

The first method returns all principals contained in the subject. The second method returns only those principals that are instances of class c or one of its subclasses. An empty set is returned if the subject has no matching principals. Note that the java.security.acl.Group interface is a subinterface of java.security.Principal, so an instance in the principals set may represent a logical grouping of other principals or groups of principals.