A realm is defined on a web or application server. It contains a collection of users, which may or may not be assigned to a group, that are controlled by the same authentication policy. Managing users on the Application Server is discussed in Managing Users and Groups on the Application Server.
An application will often prompt a user for their user name and password before allowing access to a protected resource. After the user has entered their user name and password, that information is passed to the server, which either authenticates the user and sends the protected resource, or does not authenticate the user, in which case access to the protected resource is denied. This type of user authentication is discussed in Specifying an Authentication Mechanism.
In some applications, authorized users are assigned to roles. In this situation, the role assigned to the user in the application must be mapped to a group defined on the application server. Figure 28–6 shows this. More information on mapping roles to users and groups can be found in Setting Up Security Roles.
The following sections provide more information on realms, users, groups, and roles.
For a web application, a realm is a complete database of users and groups that identify valid users of a web application (or a set of web applications) and are controlled by the same authentication policy.
The Java EE server authentication service can govern users in multiple realms. In this release of the Application Server, the file, admin-realm, and certificate realms come preconfigured for the Application Server.
When using the file realm, the server authentication service verifies user identity by checking the file realm. This realm is used for the authentication of all clients except for web browser clients that use the HTTPS protocol and certificates.
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. To verify the identity of a user in the certificate realm, the authentication service verifies an X.509 certificate. For step-by-step instructions for creating this type of certificate, see Working with Digital Certificates. The common name field of the X.509 certificate is used as the principal name.
The admin-realm is also a FileRealm and stores administrator user credentials locally in a file named admin-keyfile. You can use the Admin Console to manage users in this realm in the same way you manage users in the file realm. For more information, see Managing Users and Groups on the Application Server.
A user is an individual (or application program) identity that has been defined in the Application Server. In a web application, a user can have a set of roles associated with that identity, which entitles them to access all resources protected by those roles. Users can be associated with a group.
A Java EE user is similar to an operating system user. Typically, both types of users represent people. However, these two types of users are not the same. The Java EE server authentication service has no knowledge of the user name and password you provide when you log on to the operating system. The Java EE server authentication service is not connected to the security mechanism of the operating system. The two security services manage users that belong to different realms.
A group is a set of authenticated users, classified by common traits, defined in the Application Server.
A Java EE user of the file realm can belong to an Application Server group. (A user in the certificate realm cannot.) An Application Server group is a category of users classified by common traits, such as job title or customer profile. For example, most customers 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.
An Application Server group has a different scope from a role. An Application Server group is designated for the entire Application Server, whereas a role is associated only with a specific application in the Application Server.
A role is an abstract name for the permission to access a particular set of resources in an application. A role can be compared to a key that can open a lock. Many people might have a copy of the key. The lock doesn’t care who you are, only that you have the right key.
The following terminology is also used to describe the security requirements of the Java EE platform:
Principal: A principal is an entity that can be authenticated by an authentication protocol in a security service that is deployed in an enterprise. A principal is identified using a principal name and authenticated using authentication data.
Security policy domain (also known as security domain or realm): A security policy domain is a scope over which a common security policy is defined and enforced by the security administrator of the security service.
Security attributes: A set of security attributes is associated with every principal. The security attributes have many uses, for example, access to protected resources and auditing of users. Security attributes can be associated with a principal by an authentication protocol.
Credential: A credential contains or references information (security attributes) used to authenticate a principal for Java EE product services. A principal acquires a credential upon authentication, or from another principal that allows its credential to be used.