Java Dynamic Management Kit 5.0 Tutorial

Context Checking

Context checking is a more advanced security mechanism that can perform selective filtering of incoming requests. The context is an arbitrary object provided by the client and used by the server to decide whether or not to allow the request.

Filtering and context checking are performed in between the communicator server and the MBean server. The mechanism relies on two objects called the MBeanServerForwarder and the MBeanServerChecker.

Filter Mechanism

The MBeanServerForwarder allows for the principle of stackable MBean servers. An MBeanServerForwarder implements the MBeanServer interface and one extra method called setMBeanServer. Its function is to receive requests and forward them to the designated MBean server.

The setMBeanServer method of a communicator server object enables you to specify the MBean server that fulfills its requests. By chaining one or more MBeanServerForwarder objects between a communicator server and the actual MBean server, the agent application creates a stack of objects that can process the requests before they reach the MBean server.

The MBeanServerChecker is an extension of the forwarder that forces each request to call a –checker method. By extending the MBeanServerChecker class and providing an implementation of the checker methods, you can define a policy for filtering requests before they reach the MBean server. Table 13–1 shows the checker methods that apply to groups of MBeanServer methods.

Table 13–1 Filter Method Granularity for Context Checking

Filter Method 

MBean Server Operations Filtered 


Every method of the MBeanServer interface


All forms of the create and registerMBean methods


The unregisterMBean method


All forms of the instantiate method


The invoke method that handles all operation invocations


Both addNotificationListener and removeNotificationListener


Both queryMBeans and queryNames


All methods that access but do not change the state of the agent: getAttribute, getAttributes, getObjectInstance, isRegistered, getMBeanCount, getDefaultDomain, getMBeanInfo, and isInstanceOf


The setAttribute and setAttributes methods

As a request passes through a stack of MBean servers, the checker methods are called to determine if the request is allowed. In order to identify the manager that issued a request, the checker can access the operation context of the request.

The operation context, or just context, is an object defined by the manager which seeks access through a context checker. It usually contains some description of the manager's identity. The only restriction on the context object is that it must implement the OperationContext interface. The context object is passed from the connector client to the connector server and is then associated with the execution of a request. Conceptually, this object is stored in the user accessible context of the thread that executes the request.

All methods in the MBeanServerChecker class can access the context object by calling the protected getOperationContext method. The methods of the context checker then implement some policy to filter requests based on the context object, the nature of the request, and the data provided in the request, such as the attribute or operation name.

Figure 13–1 shows the paths of two requests through a stack of MBean server implementations, one of which is stopped by the context checker because it does not provide the correct context.

Figure 13–1 Context Checking in Stackable MBean Servers

Using a context checker in stackable MBean servers

Only connectors fully support the context mechanism. Their connector clients expose the methods that allow the manager to specify the context object. Existing protocol adaptors have no way to specify a context. Their requests can be filtered and checked, but their context object will always be null.

This functionality can still be used to implement a filtering policy, but without a context object, straightforward manager identification is not possible. However, a proprietary protocol adaptor could define some mapping to determine a context object that could be accepted by the filters.

Context Implementation

An agent wanting to implement context checking first needs to extend the MBeanServerChecker class. This class retrieves the context object and dtermines whether any given operation is allowed.

Example 13–3 Implementation of the Context Checker


import com.sun.jdmk.MBeanServerChecker;
import com.sun.jdmk.OperationContext;

public class ContextChecker extends MBeanServerChecker {

    // Constructor
    public ContextChecker(MBeanServer mbs) {

    // Implementation of the abstract methods of the
    // MBeanServerChecker class: for each of the specific
    // checks, we just print out a trace of being called.

    protected void checkWrite( String methodName,
                               ObjectName objectName) {
        System.out.println("checkWrite(\"" + methodName +
                           "\", " + objectName + ")");

    protected void checkQuery( String methodName,
                               ObjectName name,
                               QueryExp query) {
        System.out.println("checkQuery(\"" + methodName +
                           "\", " + name + ", " + query + ")");


     * This is where we implement the check that requires every
     * operation to be called with an OperationContext whose
     * toString() method returns the string "nice".
    protected void checkAny( String methodName,
                             ObjectName objectName ) {

        System.out.println("checkAny(\"" + methodName + "\", " +
        OperationContext context = getOperationContext();
        System.out.println("  OperationContext: " + context);

        if (context == null || !context.toString().equals("nice")) {
            RuntimeException ex =
                new SecurityException("  Bad context: " + context);
            throw ex;


The agent application then instantiates its context checkers and stacks them between the communicator servers and the MBean server. Each communicator server has its own stack, although filters and context checkers can be shared. The agent performs the stacking inside a synchronized block because other threads can try to do stacking simultaneously.

Example 13–4 Stacking MBean Server and Context Checkers

// Create MBeanServer
MBeanServer server = MBeanServerFactory.createMBeanServer();

/* Create context checker.  The argument to the constructor is
 * our MBean server to which all requests will be forwarded
ContextChecker contextChecker = new ContextChecker( server );

[...] // Create HTTP connector server

/* Add the context checker to this HTTP connector server.
 * We point it at the context checker which already points
 * to the actual MBean server.
 * It is good policy to check that we are not sidetracking
 * an existing stack of MBean servers before setting ours.
synchronized (http) {
    if (http.getMBeanServer() != server) {
        System.err.println("After registering connector MBean, " +
           "http.getMBeanServer() != " + "our MBeanServer");

Finally, the manager operation defines a context object class and then provides a context object instance through its connector client.

Example 13–5 Setting the Context in the Connector Client

/* In this example, the agent checks the OperationContext of
   each operation by examining its toString() method, so we
   define a simple implementation of OperationContext whose
   toString() is a constant string supplied in the constructor
class StringOperationContext
          implements OperationContext, Cloneable {

    private String s;

    StringOperationContext(String s) {
        this.s = s;

    public String toString() {
        return s;

    public Object clone() throws CloneNotSupportedException {
        return super.clone();


// the contextName must be provided on the command line
OperationContext context =
    new StringOperationContext(contextName);


// The context is set for all requests issued through
// the connector client; it can be changed at any time

Running the Example With Context Checking

The ContextClient and ContextAgent applications in the examplesDir/Context directory also demonstrate the use of stackable MBean servers and context checking through the HTTP connector.

If you have not done so already, compile all files in this directory with the javac command. For example, on the Solaris platform with the Korn shell, type:

$ cd examplesDir/Context/
$ javac -classpath classpath *.java
To Run the Example With Context Checking
  1. If the agent and client applications are not already running from the previous example, type the following commands in separate windows:

    $ java -classpath classpath ContextAgent

    $ java -classpath classpath ContextClient

    The classpath should include the current directory (.) for both applications because they rely on classes that were compiled in this directory.

  2. Press Enter in the client application to trigger another set of requests.

    The agent window displays the output of the ContextChecker class. We can see that the checkAny method verifies the “nice” context of every request and that the other checkers just print out their names, providing a trace of the request.

  3. Stop both applications by pressing Control-C in each of the windows.

  4. Restart both applications, but specify a different context string for the client:

    $ java -classpath classpath ContextAgent

    $ java -classpath classpath ContextClient -context BadToTheBone

    This time the context is not recognized. The agent raises a java.lang.SecurityException that is propagated to the client, which then exits.

  5. Press Control-C in the agent window to stop the ContextAgent application.