Documentation Contents

Http Authentication


The HTTP protocol handler implements a number of authentication schemes. Sun's implementation of Java SE Version 6 supports the following: Each of these schemes is described in more detail below, but they are typically used by application code in much the same way. The class is used to enable authentication and to provide access to a store of usernames and passwords which are then used in the respective authentication schemes.

Generally, all authentication schemes work with both proxies and servers. Some (basic and digest) can be used simultaneously with proxies and servers. See below for how to distinguish between proxy and server authentication.

How to use the Authenticator class

Authenticator is an abstract class which is extended by applications and once installed, is invoked to obtain usernames and passwords for authentication interactions.


Application code must override the getPasswordAuthentication() method. Note, the method is not abstract, and the default implementation does nothing. The following is a minimal example:
    class MyAuthenticator extends Authenticator {

        public PasswordAuthentication getPasswordAuthentication () {
            return new PasswordAuthentication ("user", "pass1".toCharArray());

This simple example returns the username "user" and the password "pass1" for every HTTP authentication interaction. A more realistic example would use the other methods of to get more information about the HTTP request that needs to be authenticated. Any of the following methods may be called by the implementation of getPasswordAuthentication() in order to decide how to handle each request for credentials.

Enabling authentication

Having defined a suitable authenticator implementation class, authentication is enabled by calling
        Authenticator.setDefault (authinstance);

where authinstance is an instance of the declared implementation class. If this is not called, then authentication is disabled, and server authentication errors will be returned to user code via IOException objects. Once installed, the http implementation will try to authenticate automatically where possible (via cached credentials, or credentials that can be acquired from the system). If the correct credentials are not available then the user's authenticator is invoked to provide them.

Controlling which authentication scheme is used

When a server needs a client to authenticate, it may propose a number of schemes to the client (for example digest and ntlm) and the client may choose from among them. Normally, applications do not care which scheme is used to and the implementation automatically chooses the strongest (most secure) protocol transparently.

If the user needs to ensure that a particular scheme is used, then the following system property can be set to modify the default behavior.


-D is specified if the property is being set on the command line. "http.auth.preference" is the property name, and scheme is the name of the scheme to use. If the server does not include this scheme in its list of proposed schemes, then the default choice is made.

Details of each authentication scheme

Http Basic

Basic authentication is a simple and not very secure authentication scheme which is defined in RFC 2317. The username and password are encoded in base 64 and are therefore easily obtainable by anyone who has access to the packet data. The security of basic authentication can be improved when used with HTTPS, thus encrypting the request and response.

The getRequestingPrompt() method returns the Basic authentication realm as provided by the server.

Http digest

Digest is a relatively secure scheme based on cryptographic hashes of the username and password, using the MD5 hash algorithm. Digest also provides the ability for the server to prove to the client that it also knows the shared secret (password). This behavior is normally disabled, because not all servers support it. This can be switched on with the following system properties:

The getRequestingPrompt() method returns the Digest authentication realm as provided by the server.


NTLM is a scheme defined by Microsoft. It is more secure scheme than Basic, but less secure than Digest. NTLM can be used with proxies or servers, but not with both at the same time. If a proxy is being used, then it cannot be used for server authentication. This is because the protocol actually authenticates the TCP connection rather than the individual HTTP interactions.

On Microsoft Windows platforms, NTLM authentication attempts to acquire the user credentials from the system without prompting the user's authenticator object. If these credentials are not accepted by the server then the user's authenticator will be called.

Because the Authenticator class was defined prior to NTLM being supported, it was not possible to add support in the API for the NTLM domain field. There are three options for specifying the domain:

  1. Do not specify it. In some environments, the domain is not actually required and the application need not specify it.
  2. The domain name can be encoded within the username by prefixing the domain name followed by a back-slash '\' before the username. With this method, existing applications that use the Authenticator class do not need to be modified, so long as users are made aware that this notation must be used.
  3. If a domain name is not specified as in method 2) and the system property "http.auth.ntlm.domain" is defined, then the value of this property will be used as the domain name.

Http Negotiate (SPNEGO)

Negotiate is a scheme which potentially allows any GSS authentication mechanism to be used as a HTTP authentication protocol. Currently, the scheme only supports Kerberos and NTLM. NTLM has already been described above, so this section only describes how to set up Kerberos for Http authentication.

Kerberos 5 Configuration

Since the SPNEGO mechanism will call JGSS, which in turns calls the Kerberos V5 login module to do real works. Kerberos 5 configurations are needed. which includes:
            java \
For example, you can provide a file spnegoLogin.conf:
                  required useTicketCache=true;
and run java with:
            java \

Username and Password Retrieval

Just like any other HTTP authentication scheme, the client can provide a customized to feed username and password to the HTTP SPNEGO module if they are needed (i.e. there is no credential cache available). The only authentication information needed to be checked in your Authenticator is the scheme which can be retrieved with getRequestingScheme(). The value should be "Negotiate". This means your Authenticator implementation will look like:
    class MyAuthenticator extends Authenticator {

        public PasswordAuthentication getPasswordAuthentication () {
            if (getRequestingScheme().equalsIgnoreCase("negotiate")) {
                String krb5user;
                char[] krb5pass;
                // get krb5user and krb5pass in your own way
                return (new PasswordAuthentication (krb5user,
            } else {
Attention : According to the specification of, it's designed to get the username and password at the same time, so do not specify principal=xxx in the JAAS config file.

Scheme Preference

The client can still provide system property http.auth.preference to denote that a certain scheme should always be used as long as the server request for it. You can use "SPNEGO" or "Kerberos" for this system property. "SPNEGO" means you prefer to response the Negotiate scheme using the GSS/SPNEGO mechanism; "Kerberos" means you prefer to response the Negotiate scheme using the GSS/Kerberos mechanism. Normally, when authenticating against a Microsoft product, you can use "SPNEGO". The value "Kerberos" also works for Microsoft servers. It's only needed when you encounter a server which knows Negotiate but doesn't know about SPNEGO. If http.auth.preference is not set, the internal order choosen is: Noticed that Kerberos does not appear in this list, since whenever Negotiate is supported, GSS/SPNEGO is always chosen.


If the server has provided more than one authentication schemes (including Negotiate), according to the processing order mentioned in the last section, Java will try to challenge the Negotiate scheme. However, if the protocol cannot be established successfully (e.g. The kerberos configuration is not correct, or the server's hostname is not recorded in the KDC principal DB, or the username and password provided by Authenticator is wrong), then the 2nd strongest scheme will be automatically used. Attention : If http.auth.preference is set to SPNEGO or Kerberos, then we assume you only want to try the Negotiate scheme even if it fails. we won't fallback to any other scheme and your program will result in throwing an IOException saying it receives a 401 or 407 error from the HTTP response.


Suppose you have an IIS Server running on a Windows Server within an Active Directory. A web page on this server is configured to be protected by Integrated Windows Authentication. This means the server will prompt for both Negotiate and NTLM authentication.

You need to prepare these files to get the protected file:

Code listing for


public class RunHttpSpnego {

    static final String kuser = "username"; // your account name
    static final String kpass = "password"; // your password for the account

    static class MyAuthenticator extends Authenticator {
        public PasswordAuthentication getPasswordAuthentication() {
            // I haven't checked getRequestingScheme() here, since for NTLM
            // and Negotiate, the usrname and password are all the same.
            System.err.println("Feeding username and password for " + getRequestingScheme());
            return (new PasswordAuthentication(kuser, kpass.toCharArray()));

    public static void main(String[] args) throws Exception {
        Authenticator.setDefault(new MyAuthenticator());
        URL url = new URL(args[0]);
        InputStream ins = url.openConnection().getInputStream();
        BufferedReader reader = new BufferedReader(new InputStreamReader(ins));
        String str;
        while((str = reader.readLine()) != null)

Code listing for krb5.conf

    default_realm = AD.LOCAL
    AD.LOCAL = {
        kdc =

Code listing for login.conf { required doNotPrompt=false useTicketCache=true;

Then, compile and run:

java \ \ \
    RunHttpSpnego \

You will see:

Feeding username and password for Negotiate
<h1>Hello, You got me!</h1>

In fact, if you are running on a Windows machine as a domain user, or, you are running on a Linux or Solaris machine that has already issued the kinit command and got the credential cache. The class MyAuthenticator will be completely ignored, and the output will be simply

<h1>Hello, You got me!</h1>
which shows the username and password are not consulted. This is the so-called Single Sign-On. Also, You can just run
java RunHttpSpnego \
to see how the fallback is done, in which case you will see
Feeding username and password for ntlm
<h1>Hello, You got me!</h1>

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