Solving the Authentication Handler Credential Validation Problem

Status: DRAFT
Created: 27. September 2013
Author: fmeschbe
JIRA: Implement solution to the Authentication Handler Credential Validation Problem, AbstractSlingRepository#login violates JCR spec
References: –
Updated: –


There does not currently exist a good and transparent way for an Authentication Handler to signal to the ResourceResovlerFactory, that the identity of a user has been established and validated and that no further checks are required. For example an SSO authentication handler will get the identity of a user provided by the SSO handler or an OAuth 2 authentication handler proves the identity of the user by with the help of the OAuth 2 provider.


A new predefined property of the AuthenticationInfo map is defined which can be set by the authentication handler to indicate that the user's identity has been verified and can be guaranteed:

public interface ResourceResolverFactory {
     * Name of the authentication information property used to indicate that the
     * identity of the user indicated by the {@link #USER} property has already
     * been validated by other means such as OAuth2, OpenID or similar SSO
     * functionality. As a consequence password-less access to a
     * {@link ResourceResolver} should be granted.
     * <p>
     * The non-empty string value of this property identifies the party having
     * validated the user's identity. It may be used by implementations of this
     * and the {@link ResourceProviderFactory} interfaces in log messages.
     * <p>
     * The type of this property, if present, is <code>String</code>.
     * @since 2.4 (bundle version 2.5.0)
    String IDENTIFIED = "user.identified";

ResourceProviderFactory services creating ResourceProvider instances by establishing connections to the actual data store will leverage this flag to implement a pre-authentication style of access.


Authentication Handler

Implementations will just set the ResourceResolverFactory.IDENTIFIED property in the Authentication Info map to the name of the authentication handler indicating the identity has been validated.

This replaces mechanisms used today such has implementing a LoginModule service validating a custom javax.jcr.Credentials instance.

JCR Resource Provider

The JCR Resource Provider will check for the property and create a Subject used for establishing the session's owner:

if (authenticationInfo.get("user.identified") != null) {

    // pre-identified user access
    final String userName = (String) authenticationInfo.get(ResourceResolverFactory.USER);
    final String identifier = (String) authenticationInfo.get("user.identified");"getResourceProviderInternal: Logging in user {} identified by {}", userName, identifier);
    Session tmp = null;
    try {
        tmp = session = repository.loginAdministrative(workspace);
        Authorizable auth = ((JackrabbitSession) tmp).getUserManager().getAuthorizable(userName);
        Subject s = new Subject();
        session = Subject.doAs(s, new PrivilegedExceptionAction<Session>() {
            public Session run() throws Exception {
                return repository.login(workspace);
    } catch (PrivilegedActionException pae) {
        throw pae.getCause();
    } finally {
        if (tmp != null) {

Considerations for creating the Subject:

  • Should the full Subject be created ? That is a subject which contains the user's Principal as well as the full set of Principal instances representing the set of groups of which the user is a member.
  • Should only a simple Subject be created as in the example above ? That is only the user's Principal is contained and the repository implementation must then complete the set of Principals by the principals for the groups.
  • Should a dummy Subject be created which only contains a simple Principal instance indicating the user's name (as opposed to the actual Principal instance representing the actual repository principal) ?
  • Should a new session be retrieved for each such access or should a long-running session be used which needs to be occasionally refreshed ?
  • Should mappings from user name to Subject be cached ? And how is that cache refreshed ?
  • We must guard the use of the user.identified property somehow to prevent use of this feature by code to get access to other user's data (privilege escalation).

Preventing Privilege Escalation

As noted above we must make sure that no casual user can retrieve a ResourceResolver adding just a user.identified property and thus escalate his own privileges.

One approach to mitigate this problem would be to leverage the ServiceUserMapper service which is also used in the context of the service authentication mechanism: a sub service name user.identified is defined and each consumer of this mechanism must have a user mapping for this subservice to the mock user *.

This way, the JCR Resource Provider sketched above would add this check:

if (authenticationInfo.get("user.identified") != null) {

    if (!"*".equals(serviceUserMapper.getServiceUserID(callingBundle, "user.identified"))) {"Missing privilege to use pre-authenticated login");
        throw new LoginException();


Abstract Sling Repository

The Abstract Sling Repository implementation will need to fix the "null Credentials" problem: Due to a misunderstanding the Abstract Sling Repository assumes anonymous access to the repository if the Credentials to the login method is null or missing. While this has been implemented like this in Jackrabbit it is actually not foreseen by the specification. Rather missing or null Credentials indicate access to the repository using pre-authentication where the Subject identifies the owner of the Session to create.

So the Abstract Sling Repository implementation of the login(String, String) method must be fixed along these lines:

if (credentials == null) {
    if (Subject.getSubject(AccessController.getContext()) != null) {
        return getRepository().login(null, workspace);
    } else {
        // TODO: getAnonCredentials(this.anonUser) should not be used for anonymous access
        return getRepository().login(new GuestCredentials(), workspace);
} else {
    return getRepository().login(credentials, workspace);
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  1. sounds very promising. this would allow us finally make full usage of the pre-auth setup in jackrabbit across the whole stack.

    one one thing that is not correct IMO: the specification defines that an anonymous session should be obtained by using
    the "GuestCredentials" that have been introduced by JSR 283.

    the following code therefore seems wrong to me and i don't think that the anonymous user should have other credentials
    than the GuestCredentials. in particular the anonymous user should not have a password:


    instead i would write this as

    getRepository().login(new GuestCredentials())

    1. Thanks for your feedback (wink)

      Re. GuestCredentials: Agreed, we should probably fix that, too. Updated the code.

  2. Thanks Angela and Felix for driving this the AbstraSlingRepository problem is tracked in

  3. I had some ideas on the list about using SlingRepository.loginService() in preauthenticated auth handlers (plus that "user.identified" username) as a way to do the login. Then by configuring the service user mapping (whitelisted) you can restrict which service/auth handler can do that. Then loginAdministrative() usages can be removed from auth handlers, as well as all other broad trust mechanisms (trusted credentials attribute, null login?, etc.). This might already be covered by this proposal, but I am not 100% sure.