Authentication, Authorization and Access Control
Authentication is any process by which you verify that someone is who they claim they are. Authorization is any process by which someone is allowed to be where they want to go, or to have information that they want to have.
|Related Modules||Related Directives|
If you have information on your web site that is sensitive or intended for only a small group of people, the techniques in this article will help you make sure that the people that see those pages are the people that you wanted to see them.
This article covers the "standard" way of protecting parts of your web site that most of you are going to use.
The directives discussed in this article will need to go
either in your main server configuration file (typically in a
<Directory> section), or
in per-directory configuration files (
If you plan to use
.htaccess files, you will
need to have a server configuration that permits putting
authentication directives in these files. This is done with the
AllowOverride directive, which
specifies which directives, if any, may be put in per-directory
Since we're talking here about authentication, you will need
AllowOverride directive like the
Or, if you are just going to put the directives directly in your main server configuration file, you will of course need to have write permission to that file.
And you'll need to know a little bit about the directory structure of your server, in order to know where some files are kept. This should not be terribly difficult, and I'll try to make this clear when we come to that point.
Here's the basics of password protecting a directory on your server.
You'll need to create a password file. This file should be
placed somewhere not accessible from the web. This is so that
folks cannot download the password file. For example, if your
documents are served out of
might want to put the password file(s) in
To create the file, use the
htpasswd utility that
came with Apache. This will be located in the
of wherever you installed Apache. To create the file, type:
htpasswd -c /usr/local/apache/passwd/passwords rbowen
htpasswd will ask you for the password, and
then ask you to type it again to confirm it:
# htpasswd -c /usr/local/apache/passwd/passwords rbowen
New password: mypassword
Re-type new password: mypassword
Adding password for user rbowen
htpasswd is not in your path, of course
you'll have to type the full path to the file to get it to run.
On my server, it's located at
Next, you'll need to configure the server to request a
password and tell the server which users are allowed access.
You can do this either by editing the
file or using an
.htaccess file. For example, if
you wish to protect the directory
/usr/local/apache/htdocs/secret, you can use the
following directives, either placed in the file
httpd.conf inside a <Directory
AuthName "Restricted Files"
Require user rbowen
Let's examine each of those directives individually. The
AuthType directive selects
that method that is used to authenticate the user. The most
common method is
Basic, and this is the method
mod_auth. It is important to be aware,
however, that Basic authentication sends the password from the client to
the server unencrypted. This method should therefore not be used for
highly sensitive data. Apache supports one other authentication method:
AuthType Digest. This method is implemented by
mod_auth_digest and is much more secure. Only the most recent
versions of clients are known to support Digest authentication.
AuthName directive sets
the Realm to be used in the authentication. The realm serves
two major functions. First, the client often presents this information to
the user as part of the password dialog box. Second, it is used by the
client to determine what password to send for a given authenticated
So, for example, once a client has authenticated in the
"Restricted Files" area, it will automatically
retry the same password for any area on the same server that is
marked with the
"Restricted Files" Realm.
Therefore, you can prevent a user from being prompted more than
once for a password by letting multiple restricted areas share
the same realm. Of course, for security reasons, the client
will always need to ask again for the password whenever the
hostname of the server changes.
directive sets the path to the password file that we just
htpasswd. If you have a large number
of users, it can be quite slow to search through a plain text
file to authenticate the user on each request. Apache also has
the ability to store user information in fast database files.
mod_auth_dbm module provides the
AuthDBMUserFile directive. These
files can be created and manipulated with the
dbmmanage program. Many
other types of authentication options are available from third
party modules in the Apache Modules
directive provides the authorization part of the process by
setting the user that is allowed to access this region of the
server. In the next section, we discuss various ways to use the
The directives above only let one person (specifically
someone with a username of
rbowen) into the
directory. In most cases, you'll want to let more than one
person in. This is where the
AuthGroupFile comes in.
If you want to let more than one person in, you'll need to create a group file that associates group names with a list of users in that group. The format of this file is pretty simple, and you can create it with your favorite editor. The contents of the file will look like this:
GroupName: rbowen dpitts sungo rshersey
That's just a list of the members of the group in a long line separated by spaces.
To add a user to your already existing password file, type:
htpasswd /usr/local/apache/passwd/passwords dpitts
You'll get the same response as before, but it will be
appended to the existing file, rather than creating a new file.
-c that makes it create a new password
Now, you need to modify your
.htaccess file to
look like the following:
AuthName "By Invitation Only"
Require group GroupName
Now, anyone that is listed in the group
and has an entry in the
password file, will be let in, if
they type the correct password.
There's another way to let multiple users in that is less specific. Rather than creating a group file, you can just use the following directive:
Using that rather than the
Require user rbowen
line will allow anyone in that is listed in the password file,
and who correctly enters their password. You can even emulate
the group behavior here, by just keeping a separate password
file for each group. The advantage of this approach is that
Apache only has to check one file, rather than two. The
disadvantage is that you have to maintain a bunch of password
files, and remember to reference the right one in the
Because of the way that Basic authentication is specified, your username and password must be verified every time you request a document from the server. This is even if you're reloading the same page, and for every image on the page (if they come from a protected directory). As you can imagine, this slows things down a little. The amount that it slows things down is proportional to the size of the password file, because it has to open up that file, and go down the list of users until it gets to your name. And it has to do this every time a page is loaded.
A consequence of this is that there's a practical limit to how many users you can put in one password file. This limit will vary depending on the performance of your particular server machine, but you can expect to see slowdowns once you get above a few hundred entries, and may wish to consider a different authentication method at that time.
Authentication by username and password is only part of the story. Frequently you want to let people in based on something other than who they are. Something such as where they are coming from.
Deny directives let
you allow and deny access based on the host name, or host
address, of the machine requesting a document. The
Order directive goes
hand-in-hand with these two, and tells Apache in which order to
apply the filters.
The usage of these directives is:
Allow from address
where address is an IP address (or a partial IP address) or a fully qualified domain name (or a partial domain name); you may provide multiple addresses or domain names, if desired.
For example, if you have someone spamming your message board, and you want to keep them out, you could do the following:
Deny from 10.252.46.165
Visitors coming from that address will not be able to see the content covered by this directive. If, instead, you have a machine name, rather than an IP address, you can use that.
Deny from host.example.com
And, if you'd like to block access from an entire domain, you can specify just part of an address or domain name:
Deny from 192.168.205
Deny from phishers.example.com moreidiots.example
Deny from ke
Deny from all
Allow from dev.example.com
Listing just the
directive would not do what you want, because it will let folks from that
host in, in addition to letting everyone in. What you want is to let
only those folks in.