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Chapter 2. Introduction to JAAS

2.1. The JAAS Core Classes
2.1.1. The Subject and Principal Classes
2.1.2. Authentication of a Subject

The JBossSX framework is based on the JAAS API. It is important that you understand the basic elements of the JAAS API to understand the implementation details of JBossSX. The following sections provide an introduction to JAAS to prepare you for the JBossSX architecture discussion later in this chapter.

The JAAS 1.0 API consists of a set of Java packages designed for user authentication and authorization. It implements a Java version of the standard Pluggable Authentication Module (PAM) framework and compatibly extends the Java 2 Platform's access control architecture to support user-based authorization. JAAS was first released as an extension package for JDK 1.3 and is bundled with JDK 1.4+. Because the JBossSX framework uses only the authentication capabilities of JAAS to implement the declarative role-based J2EE security model, this introduction focuses on only that topic.

JAAS authentication is performed in a pluggable fashion. This permits Java applications to remain independent from underlying authentication technologies and allows the JBossSX security manager to work in different security infrastructures. Integration with a security infrastructure can be achieved without changing the JBossSX security manager implementation. All that needs to change is the configuration of the authentication stack that JAAS uses.

The JAAS core classes can be broken down into three categories: common, authentication, and authorization. The following list presents only the common and authentication classes because these are the specific classes used to implement the functionality of JBossSX covered in this chapter.

The are the common classes:

These are the authentication 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.

Authentication of a subject requires a JAAS login. The login procedure consists of the following steps:

The LoginContext class provides the basic methods for authenticating subjects and offers a way to develop an application that is independent of the underlying authentication technology. The LoginContext consults a Configuration to determine the authentication services configured for a particular application. LoginModule classes represent the authentication services. Therefore, you can plug different login modules into an application without changing the application itself. The following code shows the steps required by an application to authenticate a subject.

CallbackHandler handler = new MyHandler();
LoginContext lc = new LoginContext("some-config", handler);

try {
    Subject subject = lc.getSubject();
} catch(LoginException e) {
    System.out.println("authentication failed");
// Perform work as authenticated Subject
// ...

// Scope of work complete, logout to remove authentication info
try {
} catch(LoginException e) {
    System.out.println("logout failed");
// A sample MyHandler class
class MyHandler implements CallbackHandler
    public void handle(Callback[] callbacks) throws
        IOException, UnsupportedCallbackException
        for (int i = 0; i < callbacks.length; i++) {
            if (callbacks[i] instanceof NameCallback) {
                NameCallback nc = (NameCallback)callbacks[i];
            } else if (callbacks[i] instanceof PasswordCallback) {
                PasswordCallback pc = (PasswordCallback)callbacks[i];
            } else {
                throw new UnsupportedCallbackException(callbacks[i],
                                                       "Unrecognized Callback");

Developers integrate with an authentication technology by creating an implementation of the LoginModule interface. This allows an administrator to plug different authentication technologies into an application. You can chain together multiple LoginModules to allow for more than one authentication technology to participate in the authentication process. For example, one LoginModule may perform username/password-based authentication, while another may interface to hardware devices such as smart card readers or biometric authenticators.

The life cycle of a LoginModule is driven by the LoginContext object against which the client creates and issues the login method. The process consists of two phases. The steps of the process are as follows:

When a LoginModule must communicate with the user to obtain authentication information, it uses a CallbackHandler object. Applications implement the CallbackHandler interface and pass it to the LoginContext, which forwards it directly to the underlying login modules. Login modules use the CallbackHandler both to gather input from users, such as a password or smart card PIN, and to supply information to users, such as status information. By allowing the application to specify the CallbackHandler, underlying LoginModules remain independent from the different ways applications interact with users. For example, a CallbackHandler's implementation for a GUI application might display a window to solicit user input. On the other hand, a callbackhandler's implementation for a non-GUI environment, such as an application server, might simply obtain credential information by using an application server API. The callbackhandler interface has one method to implement:

void handle(Callback[] callbacks) throws java.io.IOException, UnsupportedCallbackException;

The Callback interface is the last authentication class we will look at. This is a tagging interface for which several default implementations are provided, including the NameCallback and PasswordCallback used in an earlier example. A LoginModule uses a Callback to request information required by the authentication mechanism. LoginModules pass an array of Callbacks directly to the CallbackHandler.handle method during the authentication's login phase. If a callbackhandler does not understand how to use a Callback object passed into the handle method, it throws an UnsupportedCallbackException to abort the login call.