Java Platform, Enterprise Edition (Java EE) 8
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Overview of the Identity Store Interfaces

The Identity Store Interfaces are described in the following sections:

The IdentityStore Interface

The IdentityStore interface defines an SPI for interacting with identity stores, which are directories or databases containing user account information. An implementation of the IdentityStore interface can validate users' credentials, provide information about the groups they belong to, or both. Most often, an IdentityStore implementation will interact with an external identity store — an LDAP server, for example — to perform the actual credential validation and group lookups, but an IdentityStore may also manage user account data itself.

There are two built-in implementations of IdentityStore: an LDAP identity store, and a Database identity store. These identity stores delegate to external stores that must already exist; the IdentityStore implementations do not provide or manage the external store. They are configured with the parameters necessary to communicate with an external store using the following annotations:

  • LdapIdentityStoreDefinition — configures an identity store with the parameters necessary to communicate with an external LDAP server, validate user credentials, and/or lookup user groups.

  • DatabaseIdentityStoreDefinition — configures an identity store with the parameters necessary to connect to an external database, validate user credentials, and/or lookup user groups. You must supply a PasswordHash implementation when configuring a Database Identity Store. See The PasswordHash Interface.

An application can provide its own custom identity store, or use the built-in LDAP or database identity stores. For examples of both types, see:

An implementation of IdentityStore must be a CDI bean to be recognized and deployed at runtime, and is assumed to be normal scoped. IdentityStores are primarily intended for use by implementations of HttpAuthenticationMechanisms, but this is not a requirement. They can be used by other types of authentication mechanisms as well, or by containers.

Multiple implementations of IdentityStore may be present. If so, they are invoked under the control of an IdentityStoreHandler.


Authentication mechanisms do not interact with IdentityStore directly; instead, they call an IdentityStoreHandler. An implementation of the IdentityStoreHandler interface provides a single method, validate(Credential), which, when invoked, iterates over the available IdentityStores and returns an aggregated result. An IdentityStoreHandler must also be a CDI bean, and is assumed to be normal scoped. At runtime, an authentication mechanism injects the IdentityStoreHandler and invokes on it. The IdentityStoreHandler, in turn, looks up the available IdentityStores and invokes on them to determine the aggregate result.

There is a built-in IdentityStoreHandler that implements a standard algorithm defined by JSR-375. The JSR-375 specification provides a full description of the algorithm, but it can be roughly summarized as follows:

  • Iterate over the available validating IdentityStores, in priority order, until the provided Credential is validated or there are no more IdentityStores.

  • If the Credential was validated, iterate over the available group-providing IdentityStores, in priority order, aggregating the groups returned by each store.

  • Return the validated caller and group information.

An application may also supply its own IdentityStoreHandler, which can use any desired algorithm to select and invoke on IdentityStores, and return an aggregated (or non-aggregated) result.

IdentityStore Interface Methods

The IdentityStore interface itself has four methods:

  • validate(Credential) — validate a Credential, and return the result of that validation.

  • getCallerGroups(CredentialValidationResult) — return the groups associated with the caller indicated by the supplied CredentialValidationResult, which represents the result of a previous, successful validation.

  • validationTypes() — returns a Set of validation types (one or more of VALIDATE, PROVIDE_GROUPS) that indicate the operations supported by this instance of the IdentityStore.

  • priority() — returns a positive integer representing the self-declared priority of this IdentityStore. Lower values represent higher priority.

Because getCallerGroups() is a sensitive operation — it can return information about arbitrary users, and does not require that the caller provide the user’s credential or proof of identity — the caller should have the IdentityStorePermission("getGroups") permission. Enforcement of this check is incumbent on the implementation of the getCallerGroups() method; the built-in IdentityStores do check for this permission, if a SecurityManager is configured, and the built-in IdentityStoreHandler invokes the getCallerGroups() method in the context of a PrivilegedAction block.

The PasswordHash Interface

Unlike some types of identity stores, for example LDAP directories, databases can store and retrieve user passwords, but can’t verify them natively. Therefore, the built-in Database identity store must verify user passwords itself. Most often, this involves generating a hash of the user’s password for comparison with a hash value stored in the database.

In order to provide maximum flexibility and interoperability, the Database identity store does not implement any specific password hashing algorithms. Instead, it defines the PasswordHash interface, and expects the application to provide an implementation of PasswordHash that can verify passwords from the specific store the application will use. The PasswordHash implementation must be made available as a dependent-scoped bean, and is configured by providing the fully-qualified name of the desired type as the hashAlgorithm value on a DatabaseIdentityStoreDefinition.

The PasswordHash algorithm defines three methods:

  • initialize(Map<String,String> parameters) — initialize the PasswordHash with the supplied Map of parameters. The Database identity store calls this method when initializing, passing the hashAlgorithmParameters value of the DatabaseIdentityStoreDefinition annotation (after conversion to a Map).

  • verify(char[] password, String hashedPassword) — verify a caller-supplied password against the caller’s stored password hash as retrieved from the database. The hashedPassword value should be provided exactly as it was returned from the database.

  • generate(char[] password) — generate a password hash from the supplied password. The value returned should be formatted and encoded exactly it would be stored in the database. While it is useful to generate the hash of a caller-supplied password during verify(), this method is intended primarily for use by applications or IdentityStore implementations that want to support password management/reset capability without having to duplicate the code used to verify passwords.

Note that, while the interface is oriented toward hashing passwords, it can also support alternative approaches, such as two-way encryption of stored passwords.

There is a built-in Pbkdf2PasswordHash implementation that supports, as it’s name suggests, PBKDF2 password hashing. It supports several parameters that control the generation of hash values (key size, iterations, and so on — see the Javadoc), and those parameters are encoded into the resulting hash value, so that hashes can be verified even if the currently configured parameters are different from the parameters in effect when a stored hash was generated.

While it is necessary to write a custom PasswordHash to enable interoperability with a legacy identity store that stores password hashes in a format other than the Pbkdf2PasswordHash format, developers should consider carefully whether Pbkdf2PasswordHash is sufficient for new identity stores, and avoid writing a new PasswordHash implementation without a solid understanding of the cryptographic and other security considerations involved. Some of the considerations specific to password hashing are:

  • The requirements for hashing passwords differ considerably from the requirements for hashing in other contexts. In particular, speed is normally a virtue when generating hashes, but when generating password hashes, slower is better — to slow down brute force attacks against hashed values.

  • The comparison of a generated hash with a stored hash should take constant time, whether it succeeds or fails, in order to avoid giving an attacker clues about the password value based on the timing of failed attempts.

  • A new random salt should be used each time a new password hash value is generated.

The RememberMeIdentityStore Interface

The RememberMeIdentityStore interface represents a special type of identity store. It is not directly related to the IdentityStore interface; that is, it does not implement or extend it. It does, however, perform a similar, albeit specialized, function.

In some cases, an application wants to "remember" a user’s authenticated session for an extended period. For example, a web site may remember you when you visit, and prompt for your password only periodically, perhaps once every two weeks, as long as you don’t explicitly log out.

RememberMe works as follows:

  • When a request from an unauthenicated user is received, the user is authenticated using an HttpAuthenticationMechanism that is provided by the application (this is required — RememberMeIdentityStore can only be used in conjunction with an application-supplied HttpAuthenticationMechanism).

  • After authentication, the configured RememberMeIdentityStore saves information about the user’s authenticated identity, so that it be restored later, and generates a long-lived "remember me" login token that is sent back to the client, perhaps as a cookie.

  • On a subsequent visit to the application, the client presents the login token. The RememberMeIdentityStore then validates the token and returns the stored user identity, which is then established as the user’s authenticated identity. If the token is invalid or expired, it is discarded, the user is authenticated normally again, and a new login token is generated.

The RememberMeIdentityStore interface defines the following methods:

  • generateLoginToken(CallerPrincipal caller, Set<String> groups) — generate a login token for a newly authenticated user, and associate it with the provided caller/group information.

  • removeLoginToken(String token) — remove the (presumably expired or invalid) login token and any associated caller/group information.

  • validate(RememberMeCredential credential) — validate the supplied credential, and, if valid, return the associated caller/group information. (RememberMeCredential is essentially just a holder for a login token).

An implementation of RememberMeIdentityStore must be a CDI bean, and is assumed to be normal scoped. It is configured by adding a RememberMe annotation to an application’s HttpAuthenticationMechanism, which indicates that a RememberMeIdentityStore is in use, and provides related configuration parameters. A container-supplied interceptor then intercepts calls to the HttpAuthenticationMechanism, invokes the RememberMeIdentityStore as necessary before and after calls to the authentication mechanism, and ensures that the user’s identity is correctly set for the session. The JSR-375 specification provides a detailed description of the required interceptor behavior.

Implementations of RememberMeIdentityStore should take care to manage tokens and user identity information securely. For example, login tokens should not contain sensitive user information, like credentials or sensitive attributes, to avoid exposing that information if an attacker were able to gain access to the token — even an encrypted token is potentially vulnerable to an attacker with sufficient time/resources. Similarly, tokens should be encrypted/signed wherever possible, and sent only over secure channels (HTTPS). User identity information managed by a RememberMeIdentityStore should be stored as securely as possible (but does not necessarily need to be reliably persisted — the only impact of a "forgotten" session is that the user will be prompted to log in again).

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