3.4. Subject Authentication

Subject Authentication requires a JAAS login. The login process consists of the following points:
  1. An application instantiates a LoginContext and passes in the name of the login configuration and a CallbackHandler to populate the Callback objects, as required by the configuration LoginModules.
  2. The LoginContext consults a Configuration to load all the LoginModules included in the named login configuration. If no such named configuration exists the other configuration is used as a default.
  3. The application invokes the LoginContext.login method.
  4. The login method invokes all the loaded LoginModules. As each LoginModule attempts to authenticate the subject, it invokes the handle method on the associated CallbackHandler to obtain the information required for the authentication process. The required information is passed to the handle method in the form of an array of Callback objects. Upon success, the LoginModules associate relevant principals and credentials with the subject.
  5. The LoginContext returns the authentication status to the application. Success is represented by a return from the login method. Failure is represented through a LoginException being thrown by the login method.
  6. If authentication succeeds, the application retrieves the authenticated subject using the LoginContext.getSubject method.
  7. After the scope of the subject authentication is complete, all principals and related information associated with the subject by the login method can be removed by invoking the LoginContext.logout method.
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 {
    lc.login();
    Subject subject = lc.getSubject();
} catch(LoginException e) {
    System.out.println("authentication failed");
    e.printStackTrace();
}
                        
// Perform work as authenticated Subject
// ...

// Scope of work complete, logout to remove authentication info
try {
    lc.logout();
} catch(LoginException e) {
    System.out.println("logout failed");
    e.printStackTrace();
}
                        
// 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];
                nc.setName(username);
            } else if (callbacks[i] instanceof PasswordCallback) {
                PasswordCallback pc = (PasswordCallback)callbacks[i];
                pc.setPassword(password);
            } 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 user name/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:
  • The LoginContext creates each configured LoginModule using its public no-arg constructor.
  • Each LoginModule is initialized with a call to its initialize method. The Subject argument is guaranteed to be non-null. The signature of the initialize method is: public void initialize(Subject subject, CallbackHandler callbackHandler, Map sharedState, Map options)
  • The login method is called to start the authentication process. For example, a method implementation might prompt the user for a user name and password and then verify the information against data stored in a naming service such as NIS or LDAP. Alternative implementations might interface to smart cards and biometric devices, or simply extract user information from the underlying operating system. The validation of user identity by each LoginModule is considered phase 1 of JAAS authentication. The signature of the login method is boolean login() throws LoginException . A LoginException indicates failure. A return value of true indicates that the method succeeded, whereas a return value of false indicates that the login module should be ignored.
  • If the LoginContext's overall authentication succeeds, commit is invoked on each LoginModule. If phase 1 succeeds for a LoginModule, then the commit method continues with phase 2 and associates the relevant principals, public credentials, and/or private credentials with the subject. If phase 1 fails for a LoginModule, then commit removes any previously stored authentication state, such as user names or passwords. The signature of the commit method is: boolean commit() throws LoginException . Failure to complete the commit phase is indicated by throwing a LoginException. A return of true indicates that the method succeeded, whereas a return of false indicates that the login module should be ignored.
  • If the LoginContext's overall authentication fails, then the abort method is invoked on each LoginModule. The abort method removes or destroys any authentication state created by the login or initialize methods. The signature of the abort method is boolean abort() throws LoginException . Failure to complete the abort phase is indicated by throwing a LoginException. A return of true indicates that the method succeeded, whereas a return of false indicates that the login module should be ignored.
  • To remove the authentication state after a successful login, the application invokes logout on the LoginContext. This in turn results in a logout method invocation on each LoginModule. The logout method removes the principals and credentials originally associated with the subject during the commit operation. Credentials should be destroyed upon removal. The signature of the logout method is: boolean logout() throws LoginException . Failure to complete the logout process is indicated by throwing a LoginException. A return of true indicates that the method succeeded, whereas a return of false indicates that the login module should be ignored.
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 send the authentication information 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 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.