6.2.4 Access Control, Stage 1: Connection Verification

When you attempt to connect to a MySQL server, the server accepts or rejects the connection based on your identity and whether you can verify your identity by supplying the correct password. If not, the server denies access to you completely. Otherwise, the server accepts the connection, and then enters Stage 2 and waits for requests.

Your identity is based on two pieces of information:

Identity checking is performed using the three user table scope columns (Host, User, and Password). The server accepts the connection only if the Host and User columns in some user table row match the client host name and user name and the client supplies the password specified in that row. The rules for permissible Host and User values are given in Section 6.2.3, “Specifying Account Names”.

If the User column value is nonblank, the user name in an incoming connection must match exactly. If the User value is blank, it matches any user name. If the user table row that matches an incoming connection has a blank user name, the user is considered to be an anonymous user with no name, not a user with the name that the client actually specified. This means that a blank user name is used for all further access checking for the duration of the connection (that is, during Stage 2).

The Password column can be blank. This is not a wildcard and does not mean that any password matches. It means that the user must connect without specifying a password.

Nonblank Password values in the user table represent encrypted passwords. MySQL does not store passwords in plaintext form for anyone to see. Rather, the password supplied by a user who is attempting to connect is encrypted (using the PASSWORD() function). The encrypted password then is used during the connection process when checking whether the password is correct. This is done without the encrypted password ever traveling over the connection. See Section 6.3.1, “User Names and Passwords”.

From MySQL's point of view, the encrypted password is the real password, so you should never give anyone access to it. In particular, do not give nonadministrative users read access to tables in the mysql database.

The following table shows how various combinations of Host and User values in the user table apply to incoming connections.

Host ValueUser ValuePermissible Connections
'thomas.loc.gov''fred'fred, connecting from thomas.loc.gov
'thomas.loc.gov'''Any user, connecting from thomas.loc.gov
'%''fred'fred, connecting from any host
'%'''Any user, connecting from any host
'%.loc.gov''fred'fred, connecting from any host in the loc.gov domain
'x.y.%''fred'fred, connecting from x.y.net, x.y.com, x.y.edu, and so on; this is probably not useful
'144.155.166.177''fred'fred, connecting from the host with IP address 144.155.166.177
'144.155.166.%''fred'fred, connecting from any host in the 144.155.166 class C subnet
'144.155.166.0/255.255.255.0''fred'Same as previous example

It is possible for the client host name and user name of an incoming connection to match more than one row in the user table. The preceding set of examples demonstrates this: Several of the entries shown match a connection from thomas.loc.gov by fred.

When multiple matches are possible, the server must determine which of them to use. It resolves this issue as follows:

The server uses sorting rules that order rows with the most-specific Host values first. Literal host names and IP addresses are the most specific. (The specificity of a literal IP address is not affected by whether it has a netmask, so 192.168.1.13 and 192.168.1.0/255.255.255.0 are considered equally specific.) The pattern '%' means any host and is least specific. The empty string '' also means any host but sorts after '%'. Rows with the same Host value are ordered with the most-specific User values first (a blank User value means any user and is least specific). For rows with equally-specific Host and User values, the order is indeterminate.

To see how this works, suppose that the user table looks like this:

+-----------+----------+-
| Host      | User     | ...
+-----------+----------+-
| %         | root     | ...
| %         | jeffrey  | ...
| localhost | root     | ...
| localhost |          | ...
+-----------+----------+-

When the server reads the table into memory, it sorts the rows using the rules just described. The result after sorting looks like this:

+-----------+----------+-
| Host      | User     | ...
+-----------+----------+-
| localhost | root     | ...
| localhost |          | ...
| %         | jeffrey  | ...
| %         | root     | ...
+-----------+----------+-

When a client attempts to connect, the server looks through the sorted rows and uses the first match found. For a connection from localhost by jeffrey, two of the rows from the table match: the one with Host and User values of 'localhost' and '', and the one with values of '%' and 'jeffrey'. The 'localhost' row appears first in sorted order, so that is the one the server uses.

Here is another example. Suppose that the user table looks like this:

+----------------+----------+-
| Host           | User     | ...
+----------------+----------+-
| %              | jeffrey  | ...
| thomas.loc.gov |          | ...
+----------------+----------+-

The sorted table looks like this:

+----------------+----------+-
| Host           | User     | ...
+----------------+----------+-
| thomas.loc.gov |          | ...
| %              | jeffrey  | ...
+----------------+----------+-

A connection by jeffrey from thomas.loc.gov is matched by the first row, whereas a connection by jeffrey from any host is matched by the second.

Note

It is a common misconception to think that, for a given user name, all rows that explicitly name that user are used first when the server attempts to find a match for the connection. This is not true. The preceding example illustrates this, where a connection from thomas.loc.gov by jeffrey is first matched not by the row containing 'jeffrey' as the User column value, but by the row with no user name. As a result, jeffrey is authenticated as an anonymous user, even though he specified a user name when connecting.

If you are able to connect to the server, but your privileges are not what you expect, you probably are being authenticated as some other account. To find out what account the server used to authenticate you, use the CURRENT_USER() function. (See Section 12.13, “Information Functions”.) It returns a value in user_name@host_name format that indicates the User and Host values from the matching user table row. Suppose that jeffrey connects and issues the following query:

mysql> SELECT CURRENT_USER();
+----------------+
| CURRENT_USER() |
+----------------+
| @localhost     |
+----------------+

The result shown here indicates that the matching user table row had a blank User column value. In other words, the server is treating jeffrey as an anonymous user.

Another way to diagnose authentication problems is to print out the user table and sort it by hand to see where the first match is being made.