Get started with the Java EE 8 Security API, Part 3

Securely access user credentials with IdentityStore

Authenticate and authorize users with the new IdentityStore API


Content series:

This content is part # of 4 in the series: Get started with the Java EE 8 Security API, Part 3

Stay tuned for additional content in this series.

This content is part of the series:Get started with the Java EE 8 Security API, Part 3

Stay tuned for additional content in this series.

The first article in this series presented a high-level introduction to basic features and components of the new Java™ EE Security API (JSR 375), including the new IdentityStore interface. In this article you’ll learn how to use IdentityStore to securely store and access user credential data in your Java web applications.

The new IdentityStore abstraction is one of three headline features in the Java EE Security API specification release. An identity store is a database that stores user identity data such as user name, group membership, and other information used to verify a caller's credentials. While IdentityStore is designed to be used with any authentication mechanism, it is especially well suited to integrating with Java EE 8's HttpAuthenticationMechanism, which I introduced in Part 2.

Installing Soteria

We’ll use the Java EE 8 Security API reference implementation, Soteria, to explore IdentityStore. You can get Soteria in one of two ways.

1. Explicitly specify Soteria in your POM

Use the following Maven coordinates to specify Soteria in your POM:

Listing 1. Maven coordinates for the Soteria project

2. Use built-in Java EE 8 coordinates

Java EE 8-compliant servers will have their own implementation of the new Java EE 8 Security API, or they’ll rely on Sotoria’s implementation. In either you only need the Java EE 8 coordinates:

Listing 2. Java EE 8 Maven coordinates

Interfaces, classes, and annotations related to IdentityStore are located in the package.

How IdentityStore works

Similar to the JAAS LoginModule interface, IdentityStore is an abstraction used to interact with identity stores and authenticate users and retrieve group memberships. IdentityStore is designed to work well with HttpAuthenticationMechanism but you may use any authentication mechanism you wish. You also have your choice of whether to use containers, but using a container with the IdentityStore mechanism is recommended for most scenarios. Combining IdentityStore with a container lets you control the identity stores in a portable, standard way.


Instances of IdentityStore are managed with the IdentityStoreHandler, which provides mechanisms for querying all available identity stores. An instance of the handler type is made available for injection via CDI, as shown in Listing 3. This will be used wherever authentication needs to happen. (See Part 1 for an overview of CDI in the Java EE Security API.)

Listing 3. Inject the identity store handler
private IdentityStoreHandler idStoreHandler;

The IdentityStoreHandler interface has one method, validate(), which accepts a credential instance. Implementations of this method will typically invoke the validate() and getCallerGroups() methods associated with one or more IdentityStore implementations, then return an aggregated result. I'll explain more about this feature later in the tutorial.

The Java EE Security API comes with a default implementation of the IdentityStoreHandler interface, which should suffice in most cases. You also have the option to replace the default with a custom implementation.

The default implementation of IdentityStoreHandler authenticates against multiple IdentityStores. It iterates over a list of stores, and returns an aggregated result in the form of a CredentialValidationResult instance. This object can be very simple or more complex. At its simplest, it delivers a status value of NOT_VALIDATED, INVALID, or VALID. In many cases, you will want some combination of these additional values:

  • CallerPrincipal, with or without the caller's groups
  • The caller's name or LDAP-distinguished name
  • The caller's unique identifier from the identity store

For now we will focus on defaults, but later in the article I will show you how to setup your own lightweight identity store by implementing the IdentityStore interface.

Built-in identity stores

The Java EE Security API comes with built-in IdentityStore implementations for LDAP and RDBMS. Like other features in the new Security API, these are easily invoked with annotations.

Calling a built-in RDBMS integration

External databases are accessible via a DataSource bound to JNDI. You’ll use the @DataBaseIdentityStoreDefinition annotation to activate an external database. Once activated, you’ll configure connection details by passing values to the annotation.

Calling a built-in LDAP integration

You’ll use the @LdapIdentityStoreDefinition annotation to call and configure an LDAP IdentityStore bean. After you’ve called the bean, you can pass in the configuration details required to connect to an external LDAP server.

Note that these implementations are application-scoped CDI beans and are based on the @DataStoreDefinition annotation already available in Java EE 7.

How to configure a built-in RDBMS identity store

The simplest built-in identity store is the database store, which is configured via the @DataBaseIdentityStoreDefinition annotation. Listing 4 shows a sample configuration for a built-in database store.

Listing 4. Configuring an RDBMS identity store
   dataSourceLookup = "${'java:global/permissions_db'}",
   callerQuery = "#{'select password from caller where name = ?'}",
   groupsQuery = "select group_name from caller_groups where caller_name = ?",
   hashAlgorithm = PasswordHash.class,
   priority = 10
public class ApplicationConfig { ... }

The configuration options in Listing 4 should be familiar if you’ve ever configured a database definition. One thing you should note is the priority setting of 10. This value is used in cases where multiple identity stores have been implemented. It’s used to determine the order of iteration, which I will discuss in more detail soon.

There are nine possible parameters you can use to configure your database. You can review them in the Javadoc for DatabaseIdentityStoreDefinition.

How to configure a built-in LDAP identity store

The LDAP configuration has far more configuration options than the RDBMS option. If you are experienced with LDAP configuration semantics, the configuration options will be familiar to you. Listing 5 shows a subset of the options for configuring an LDAP identity store.

Listing 5. Configuration for an LDAP identity store
   url = "ldap://localhost:33389/",
   callerBaseDn = "ou=caller,dc=jsr375,dc=net",
   groupSearchBase = "ou=group,dc=jsr375,dc=net"
@DeclareRoles({ "admin", "user", "demo" })
public class AdminServlet extends HttpServlet { ... }

See the LdapIdentityStoreDefinition Javadoc to view the 24 possible parameters for configuring an LDAP identity store.

Develop a custom identity store

If neither of the built-in identity stores satisfies your requirements, then you might use the IdentityStore interface to develop a custom solution. The IdentityStore interface comes with four methods and all have default implementations. Listing 6 shows the signature for each of these methods.

Listing 6. IdentityStore's four methods
default CredentialValidationResult validate(Credential)
default Set<String> getCallerGroups(CredentialValidationResult) 
default int priority()
default Set<ValidationType> validationTypes()

All methods in the IdentityStore interface are marked default, so it isn’t obligatory to provide implementations. Two key methods are called by default, and a third is used for cases where you've configured multiple identity stores:

  • validate() determines if the given Credential is valid and returns a CredentialValidationResult.
  • getCallerGroups() returns a Set of group names that the caller is associated with and aggregates them with groups already listed in the CredentialValidationResult instance.
  • getPriority() comes into play when more than one IdentityStore is defined. The lower the value the higher the priority. Equal priorities have undefined behavior.
  • validationTypes() returns a set of ValidationTypes which determine which method/s (validate() and/or getCallerGroups()) have been implemented.

An invocation of the validate() method determines if the given Credential is valid and returns a CredentialValidationResult. Various methods on the returned CredentialValidationResult instance provide details about the caller's LDAP-distinguished name, unique identity store ID, result status, identity store ID, Principal, and group membership.

Implementing validate() and getCallerGroups()

The validate() and getCallerGroups() methods are used to validate a caller's Credential or get their group information. Either or both methods can be used by a data store implementation. The methods that are actually implemented are declared by the validationTypes() method.

This feature allows you the flexibility to specify one identity store to perform authentication, while another is tasked with authorization. The validationTypes() method returns a set of ValidationTypes, which can contain VALIDATE or PROVIDE_GROUPS or both. The VALIDATE constant signifies that the validate() method has been implemented, and PROVIDE_GROUPS signifies that the getCallerGroups() method has been implemented. If both are returned then both methods have been implemented.

Handling multiple identity stores

The IdentityStoreHandler is used in scenarios that require handling multiple IdentityStore implementations. It provides one method called validate(), which has the same signature as the method of the same name on the IdentityStore implementation. The idea is to allow multiple identity stores to effectively operate as a single IdentityStore.

The validate() method on the IdentityStoreHandler performs a query of the identity stores using the following logic:

  1. Call the validate() method of the identity stores in accordance with the capabilities declared by the validationTypes() method. Methods are called in the order determined by the getPriority() method.
    • If a VALID status result is returned, then no further identity stores need be interrogated. In that case logic jumps to Step 2.
    • If the status is INVALID, then this status is remembered for later use and the IdentityStoreHandler continues interrogating the remaining identity stores.
  2. If only an INVALID status is returned then INVALID is return; otherwise NOT_VALIDATED is returned.
  3. If a VALID result is returned and the identity store declares the PROVIDE_GROUPS validation type, then the IdentityStoreHandler will start collecting the caller group membership, which it does by aggregating the caller groups returned in the CredentialValidationResult object.
    • All IdentityStores that declare only the PROVIDE_GROUPS validation type are interrogated by calling the getCallerGroups() method. The returned list of group names is aggregated with the set of accumulated groups.
  4. Once all IdentityStores have been interrogated, a CredentialValidationResult is constructed with a VALID status and the list of caller groups, and is returned.

Interrogation in practice

Now let's look at a scenario that requires interrogating multiple identity stores. In this scenario, IdentityStore 1 connects to an RDBMS, while IdentityStore 2 and IdentityStore 3 connect to an LDAP container.

In Figure 1 the identity store handler iterates over IdentityStore instances in priority order, calling the validate() method on each instance until it finds a CredentialValidationResult that returns a VALID status. This happens on interrogating IdentityStore 2. The handler stops the iteration and starts the second iteration to collect the caller’s groups.

Figure 1. IdentityStoreHandler’s first interrogation of identity stores
IdentityStoreHandler’s first interrogation of identity stores.
IdentityStoreHandler’s first interrogation of identity stores.

Figure 2 represents the second iteration. The handler calls the getCallerGroups() method on each IdentityStore instance, declaring a validation type of PROVIDE_GROUPS only.

In this scenario, the only identity store fitting that specification is IdentityStore 3. The caller groups returned are combined with the set of group names returned by calling getCallerGroups() on the CredentialValidationResult instance returned by IdentityStore 2.

Figure 2. IdentityStoreHandler’s second interrogation of identity stores
IdentityStoreHandler’s second interrogation of identity stores.
IdentityStoreHandler’s second interrogation of identity stores.

Once all the IdentityStores have been interrogated, a CredentialValidationResult is constructed with a VALID status and the list of caller groups is returned.

This simple example demonstrates how it is possible for a caller to be validated by one IdentityStore, and for a group membership list to be built from another.

Credentials with cookies

Just as you saw with the HttpAuthenticationMechanism in Part 2, it is fairly easy to develop a custom IdentityStore solution using cookies. The RememberMeIdentityStore is similar to the IdentityStore interface, but is intended to be used by the interceptor binding backing the @RememberMe annotation, rather than by an authentication mechanism.

The RememberMeIdentityStore is used to:

  • Generate a "remember me" login token for a caller.
  • Remember the caller associated with the "remember me" login token.
  • Validate the login token if the caller returns, and re-authenticate the caller without requiring additional credentials.

The validate() method is passed the RememberMeCredential and validates it, while the generateLoginToken() method associates a token with the given groups and principal. If no login token is found for the caller, or if the login token has expired, then normal authentication takes place.

Conclusion to Part 3

The IdentityStore interface provides the long-awaited simplification needed to integrate external caller authentication and authorization mechanisms in your Java enterprise applications. IdentityStore ensures portability across containers and servers, and makes it easy to communicate seamlessly with multiple identity stores.

If you don't need to implement a custom identity store, then just one annotation and a few connection details are enough to configure an LDAP container or RDBMS. Any Java EE 8 identity store will back the built-in HttpAuthenticationMechanism, so connecting LDAP logins to web users is extremely simple, requiring only a few annotations.

Stay tuned for the final article in this tutorial series, introducing the new SecurityContext interface.

Test your knowledge

  1. Which of the following are used to configure built-in identity stores? (Select all that apply.)
    1. @LdapIdentityStoreDefinition
    2. @DatabaseIdentityStoreDefinition
    3. @RdbmsIdentityStoreDefinition
    4. @DataBaseIdentityStoreDefinition
    5. @RememberMeIdentityStoreDefinition
  2. Which of the following IdentityStore interface methods have default implementations?
    1. Only priority() and validationTypes().
    2. Only priority() and if not set the default priority is 100.
    3. Only CredentialValidationResult(), priority() and validationTypes().
    4. All four interface methods.
    5. None of the interface methods.
  3. Given multiple IdentityStore implementations, what is the default behaviour of the IdentityStoreHandler when a call to the validate() method returns VALID?
    1. It continues to interrogate the remaining identity stores before commencing with the second pass of the identity stores.
    2. It stops iteration and confirms the caller’s authorization by returning a CredentialValidationResult object.
    3. It restarts the iteration over the identity stores and calls the getCallerGroups() method.
    4. It calls the getCallerGroups() method on that identity store and constructs and returns a CredentialValidationResult object.
    5. None of the above
  4. Which one of the following types are returned by calling the getCallerGroups() method on an IdentityStore instance?
    1. List<String>
    2. Set<String>
    3. Map<Caller, String>
    4. Set<Group>
    5. List<Group>
  5. Which of the following statements about the RememberMeIdentityStore are true?
    1. RememberMeIdentityStore extends IdentityStore.
    2. It is intended to be used by the interceptor binding backing the @RememberMe annotation.
    3. It can be used to re-authenticate the caller without the need to provide additional credentials.
    4. It is one of the three built in IdentityStore types.
    5. If the "remember me" login token has expired, normal authentication takes place.

Check your answers.

Downloadable resources

Related topics


Sign in or register to add and subscribe to comments.

Zone=Java development, Security, Open source
ArticleTitle=Get started with the Java EE 8 Security API, Part 3: Securely access user credentials with IdentityStore