Sun GlassFish Enterprise Server 2.1 Administration Guide

Understanding Users, Groups, Roles, and Realms

The Enterprise Server enforces its authentication and authorization policies upon the following entities:

Note –

Users and groups are designated for the entire Enterprise Server, whereas each application defines its own roles. When the application is being packaged and deployed, the application specifies mappings between users/groups and roles, as illustrated in the following figure.

Figure 9–1 Role Mapping

Figure shows how users are assigned to groups, how users
and groups are assigned to roles, and how applications use groups and roles.


A user is an individual (or application program) identity that has been defined in the Enterprise Server. A user can be associated with a group. The Enterprise Server authentication service can govern users in multiple realms.


A Java EE group (or simply group) is a category of users classified by common traits, such as job title or customer profile. For example, users of an e-commerce application might belong to the customer group, but the big spenders would belong to the preferred group. Categorizing users into groups makes it easier to control the access of large numbers of users.


A role defines which applications and what parts of each application users can access and what they can do. In other words, roles determine users' authorization levels.

For example, in a personnel application all employees might have access to phone numbers and email addresses, but only managers would have access to salary information. The application might define at least two roles: employee and manager; only users in the manager role are allowed to view salary information.

A role is different from a user group in that a role defines a function in an application, while a group is a set of users who are related in some way. For example, in the personnel application there might be groups such as full-time, part-time, and on-leave, but users in all these groups would still be in the employee role.

Roles are defined in application deployment descriptors. In contrast, groups are defined for an entire server and realm. The application developer or deployer maps roles to one or more groups for each application in its deployment descriptor.


A realm, also called a security policy domain or security domain, is a scope over which the server defines and enforces a common security policy. In practical terms, a realm is a repository where the server stores user and group information.

The Enterprise Server comes preconfigured with three realms: file (the initial default realm), certificate, and admin-realm. It is possible to also set up ldap, JDBC, solaris, or custom realms. Applications can specify the realm to use in their deployment descriptor. If they do not specify a realm, the Enterprise Server uses its default realm.

In the file realm, the server stores user credentials locally in a file named keyfile. You can use the Admin Console to manage users in the file realm.

In the certificate realm, the server stores user credentials in a certificate database. When using the certificate realm, the server uses certificates with the HTTPS protocol to authenticate Web clients. For more information about certificates, see Introduction to Certificates and SSL.

The admin-realm is also a FileRealm and stores administrator user credentials locally in a file named admin-keyfile. Use the Admin Console to manage users in this realm in the same way you manage users in the file realm.

In the ldap realm the server gets user credentials from a Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) server such as the Directory Server. LDAP is a protocol for enabling anyone to locate organizations, individuals, and other resources such as files and devices in a network, whether on the public Internet or on a corporate intranet. Consult your LDAP server documentation for information on managing users and groups in the ldap realm.

In the JDBC realm, the server gets user credentials from a database. The Enterprise Server uses the database information and the enabled JDBC realm option in the configuration file. For digest authentication, a JDBC realm should be created with jdbcDigestRealm as the JAAS context.

In the solaris realm the server gets user credentials from the Solaris operating system. This realm is supported on the Solaris 9 OS and later. Consult your Solaris documentation for information on managing users and groups in the solaris realm.

A custom realm is any other repository of user credentials, such as a relational database or third-party component. For more information, see the Admin Console online help.

ProcedureTo Configure a JDBC Realm for a Web, EJB Application

The Enterprise Server enables you to specify a user's credentials in the JDBC realm instead of in the connection pool. Using the JDBC realm instead of the connection pool prevents other applications from browsing the database tables for the user's credentials. A user's credentials are the user's name and password.

Note –

By default, storage of passwords as clear text is not supported in the JDBC realm. Under normal circumstances, passwords should not be stored as clear text.

  1. Create the database tables in which to store the users' credentials for the realm.

    How to create the database tables depends on the database that you are using.

  2. Add the users' credentials to the database tables that you created in Step 1.

    How to add users' credentials to the database tables depends on the database that you are using.

  3. Create a JDBC realm.

    Use the Admin Console GUI for this purpose. For instructions for creating a JDBC realm, see the online help for the Admin Console GUI.

  4. Specify the realm that you created in Step 3 as the realm for the application.

    To specify the realm, modify the appropriate deployment descriptor for your application:

    • For an enterprise application in an Enterprise Archive (EAR) file, modify the sun-application.xml file.

    • For a web application in a Web Application Archive (WAR) file, modify the web.xml file.

    • For an enterprise bean in an EJB JAR file, modify the sun-ejb-jar.xml file.

    For more information about how to specify a realm, see How to Set a Realm for an Application or Module in Sun GlassFish Enterprise Server 2.1 Developer’s Guide.

  5. Assign a security role to users in the realm.

    To assign a security role to a user, add a security-role-mapping element to the deployment descriptor that you modified in Step 4.

    The following example shows a security-role-mapping element that assigns the security role Employee to user Calvin.