The content and ideas in this blog entry are taken from my upcoming McGraw Hill Osborne book JavaServer Faces: The Complete Reference, which I am co-authoring with Chris Schalk. In the book, we have a chapter on Securing JavaServer Faces applications. This excerpt shows how the extensible design of JavaServer Faces can be used to allow JAAS to provide authentication to a JSF Web application. JAAS Authorization with JSF is also covered in the book, but not in this excerpt.


We will conclude this chapter by showing how to enhance the example application by leveraging the standard security infrastructure of the Java platform. From its inception, the Java platform has treated security as a first class concern. Indeed, one of the first benefits of Java was to securely bring dynamic behavior to web deployed applications. Over the years, the implementation and API to security has evolved, but the core principals have improved and become steadily more secure. Therefore, choosing to build your application managed security on top of the standard Java security features is a very safe bet.

A term often applied to Java security is JAAS, which is short for Java Authentication and Authorization Service. JAAS started out as an optional package in JDK 1.3 but has become a core part of the Java platform as of JDK 1.4. As the name implies, JAAS covers the first two of the three main aspects of security: authentication and authorization. Let's explore one way to integrate JAAS style authentication and authorization into the application

Using JAAS Authentication in the example application

While it would certainly be possible to call into the JAAS layer directly from the example application logic, for example, from the UserRegistry bean, a more re-usable solution is to encapsulate theJAAS interface in a custom ActionListener. This approach de-couples the security completely from your application and takes advantage of the intended use of the ActionListener extension hook.

The mechanics of providing such an ActionListener are described in Chapter 11, but let's review briefly here. The first step is to modify the faces-config.xml file for the example reusable component library so that it includes the action-listener declaration, as shown here.


Then, leverage the decorator pattern, as described in Chapter 10, to delegate most of the work to the "real" ActionListener by providing a constructor that saves a reference to it. Following the constructor, the processAction( ) method must be implemented, as described below.

private ActionListener parent = null;
public JAASActionListener(ActionListener parent) {
  this.parent = parent;

public void processAction(ActionEvent event)
  throws AbortProcessingException {
  FacesContext context = FacesContext.getCurrentInstance();
  UIOutput comp = null;
  String userid = null, password = null;
  JAASHelper jaasHelper = new JAASHelper();
  // Check to see if they are on the login page.
  boolean onLoginPage = (-1 != context.getViewRoot().getViewId().
      lastIndexOf("login")) ? true : false;
  if (onLoginPage) {
    if (null != (comp = (UIOutput) 
      context.getViewRoot().findComponent("form:userid"))) {
      userid = (String) comp.getValue();
    if (null != (comp = (UIOutput) 
      context.getViewRoot().findComponent("form:password"))) {
      password = (String) comp.getValue();
    // If JAAS authentication failed
    if (!jaasHelper.authenticate(userid, password)) {
          handleNavigation(context, null, "login");
    else {
      // Subject must not be null, since authentication succeeded
      assert(null != jaasHelper.getSubject());
      // Put the authenticated subject in the session.

The first thing to note is that part of the usage contract for JAASActionListener is the requirement that the username and password components be nested inside a UIForm named "form", and be named "userid" and "password" respectively. This expedient measure allows the JAASActionListener to easily extract the user-provided values for username and password so that they can be passed on to the JAASHelper class. The second thing to note about the usage contract is the requirement that the application provide a navigation rule for the outcome "login" that causes the user to be directed to the login page if the authentication failed. In the failure case, processAction( ) is not called until after redirecting to the "login" outcome using NavigationHandler. If authentication succeeded, the Subject is stored in the session for later access. The is the Java class that represents the user to the runtime. (We'll cover Subject in greater detail in the section on JAAS authentication.) Finally, the parent processAction( ) method is called to do the normal action handling. Note that this causes the existing application managed authentication, as described in Chapter 9, to take place. A production quality implementation would probably remove the application managed authentication in favor of using JAAS, rather than just supplementing it, as we have done here.

Let's examine the JAASHelper class.

public class JAASHelper {
  LoginContext loginContext = null;

  public JAASHelper() {
  public boolean authenticate(String userid, String password) {
    boolean result = false;
    try {
      loginContext = new LoginContext("FileLogin", 
          new LoginCallback(userid, password));
      result = true;
    catch (LoginException e) {
      // A production quality implementation would log this message
      result = false;
    return result;
  public Subject getSubject () {
    Subject result = null;
    if (null != loginContext) {
      result = loginContext.getSubject();
    return result;
  public static class LoginCallback implements CallbackHandler {
    private String userName = null;
    private String password = null;
    public LoginCallback(String userName, String password) {
      this.userName = userName;
      this.password = password;
    public void handle(Callback[] callbacks) {
      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];

The authenticate( ) method uses the class to perform the login. The login( ) method of this class will throw a LoginException if the login fails for any reason. This exception is caught by authenticate( ) and it responds by setting result to false. false. If no exception is thrown, result is set to true. authenticate( ) ends by returning the value of result.

The two arguments to the LoginContext constructor are the most important part of this example. The first, the literal string "FileLogin", refers to an implementation of the interface. This interface is implemented by a provider of a particular implementation of authentication technology, for example JNDI, LDAP, or database. In this example, we use a free software implementation called "tagish" that provides a simple file based authentication scheme. The implementation comes from John Gardner and can be found at Providing a LoginModule implementation is beyond the scope of this chapter, but we must illustrate how to use one, once it has been provided. This is the beauty of JAAS, the authentication technology itself is separated from the rest of the system. In other words, if you want to plug in LDAP, do it by providing a custom LoginModule.

The JVM is made aware of the existence of a LoginModule implementation either through a -D flag, or via a modification to the JAVA_HOME/jre/lib/ file. In our case, we use the former option: D:/Projects/example/chapterCode/ch14/example/src/resources/tagish.loginNote the use of forward slashes instead of the standard Windows backslashes. Also note the "==" instead of just one "=". The format of this file is prescribed by JAAS:

  com.tagish.auth.FileLogin required

The FileLogin identifier must match the argument to the LoginContext constructor. The first element inside the FileLogin declaration is the fully qualified class name of the class implementing LoginModule. In our application, we have bundled tagish.jar, which contains this class, into the WEB-INF/lib directory of the application. The required flag tells the system that the login must succeed, and whether it succeeds or fails, the login must still proceed down the LoginModule chain. Other valid values for this flag are requisite, sufficient, and optional and are described in the javadocs for the class The pwdFile argument is an implementation specific parameter to the code in tagish.jar that tells it where to find its password file. The format of this file is also implementation specific and for the example app looks like this:

username:MD5 Hash Of Password:group*
The specific file for the example follows:
# Passwords for com.tagish.auth.FileLogin


Obviously, a simple MD5 hash of the password is not at all secure and a production quality implementation would use an actual encryption algorithm. For the purposes of security, MD5 is just as secure as Base64 encoding, described earlier in the chapter, which is to say, not at all secure. A handy MD5 hash calculator can be found at Note that user jake is a member of the user and manager groups, while all the other users are simply members of the user group. Groups will come into play in the next section.

The second argument to the LoginContext constructor is an implementation of the interface. The LoginCallback implementation saves the username and password ultimately originating from the userid and password components in its constructor and uses standard boilerplate code to propagate them to the JAAS system.

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