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Basic and Digest authentication for a RESTful Service with Spring Security 3.1, part 6

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Basic and Digest authentication for a RESTful Service with Spring Security 3.1, part 6

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This is the sixth of a series of articles about setting up a secure RESTful Web Service using Spring 3.1 and Spring Security 3.1. A previous article introduced security in the context of a RESTful service, using form-based authentication. This article will focus on configuration of Basic and Digest authentication and on configuring both protocols for the same URI mapping of the API, using Spring Security 3.1.

The REST with Spring series:

Configuration of Basic Authentication

In part 3 of the series, the Spring Security configuration was done using form based authentication, which is not really ideal for a RESTful service. To start setting up basic authentication, first we remove the old custom entry point and filter from the main <http> security element:

<http create-session="stateless">
   <intercept-url pattern="/api/admin/**" access="ROLE_ADMIN" />
   <http-basic />

Note how support for basic authentication has been added with a single configuration line – <http-basic /> – which handles the creation and wiring of both the BasicAuthenticationFilter and the BasicAuthenticationEntryPoint.

Satisfying the stateless constraint – getting rid of sessions

One of the main constraints of the RESTful architectural style is that the client-server communication is fully stateless, as the original dissertation reads:

    5.1.3 Stateless

We next add a constraint to the client-server interaction: communication must be stateless in nature, as in the client-stateless-server (CSS) style of Section 3.4.3 (Figure 5-3), such that each request from client to server must contain all of the information necessary to understand the request, and cannot take advantage of any stored context on the server. Session state is therefore kept entirely on the client.

The concept of Session on the server is one with a long history in Spring Security, and removing it entirely has been difficult until now, especially when configuration was done by using the namespace. However, Spring Security 3.1 augments the namespace configuration with a new stateless option for session creation, which effectively guarantees that no session will be created or used by Spring. What this new option does is completely removes all session related filters from the security filter chain, ensuring that authentication is performed for each request.

Configuration of Digest Authentication

Starting with the previous configuration, the filter and entry point necessary to set up digest authentication will be defined as beans. Then, the digest entry point will override the one created by <http-basic> behind the scenes. Finally, the custom digest filter will be introduced in the security filter chain using the after semantics of the security namespace to position it directly after the basic authentication filter.

<http create-session="stateless" entry-point-ref="digestEntryPoint">
   <intercept-url pattern="/api/admin/**" access="ROLE_ADMIN" />
   <http-basic />
   <custom-filter ref="digestFilter" after="BASIC_AUTH_FILTER" />
<beans:bean id="digestFilter" class=
   <beans:property name="userDetailsService" ref="userService" />
   <beans:property name="authenticationEntryPoint" ref="digestEntryPoint" />
<beans:bean id="digestEntryPoint" class=
   <beans:property name="realmName" value="Contacts Realm via Digest Authentication"/>
   <beans:property name="key" value="acegi" />

      <user-service id="userService">
         <user name="eparaschiv" password="eparaschiv" authorities="ROLE_ADMIN" />
         <user name="user" password="user" authorities="ROLE_USER" />

Unfortunately there is no support in the security namespace to automatically configure the digest authentication the way basic authentication can be configured with <http-basic>. Because of that, the necessary beans had to be defined and wired manually into the security configuration.

Supporting both authentication protocols in the same RESTful service

Basic or Digest authentication alone can be easily implemented in Spring Security 3.x; it is supporting both of them for the same RESTful web service, on the same URI mappings that introduces a new level of complexity into the configuration and testing of the service.

Anonymous request

With both basic and digest filters in the security chain, the way a anonymous request – a request containing no authentication credentials (Authorization HTTP header) – is processed by Spring Security is – the two authentication filters will find no credentials and will continue execution of the filter chain. Then, seeing how the request wasn’t authenticated, an AccessDeniedException is thrown and caught in the ExceptionTranslationFilter, which commences the digest entry point, prompting the client for credentials.

The responsibilities of both the basic and digest filters are very narrow – they will continue to execute the security filter chain if they are unable to identify the type of authentication credentials in the request. It is because of this that Spring Security can have the flexibility to be configured with support for multiple authentication protocols on the same URI.

When a request is made containing the correct authentication credentials – either basic or digest – that protocol will be rightly used. However, for an anonymous request, the client will get prompted only for digest authentication credentials. This is because the digest entry point is configured as the main and single entry point of the Spring Security chain; as such digest authentication can be considered the default.

Request with authentication credentials

A request with credentials for Basic authentication will be identified by the Authorization header starting with the prefix “Basic”. When processing such a request, the credentials will be decoded in the basic authentication filter and the request will be authorized. Similarly, a request with credentials for Digest authentication will use the prefix “Digest”  for it’s Authorization header.

Testing both scenarios

The tests will consume the REST service by creating a new resource after authenticating with either basic or digest:

public void givenAuthenticatedByBasicAuth_whenAResourceIsCreated_then201IsReceived(){
   // Given
   // When
   Response response = given()
    .auth().preemptive().basic( ADMIN_USERNAME, ADMIN_PASSWORD )
    .contentType( HttpConstants.MIME_JSON ).body( new Foo( randomAlphabetic( 6 ) ) )
    .post( this.paths.getFooURL() );
   // Then
   assertThat( response.getStatusCode(), is( 201 ) );
public void givenAuthenticatedByDigestAuth_whenAResourceIsCreated_then201IsReceived(){
   // Given
   // When
   Response response = given()
    .auth().digest( ADMIN_USERNAME, ADMIN_PASSWORD )
    .contentType( HttpConstants.MIME_JSON ).body( new Foo( randomAlphabetic( 6 ) ) )
    .post( this.paths.getFooURL() );
   // Then
   assertThat( response.getStatusCode(), is( 201 ) );

Note that the test using basic authentication adds credentials to the request preemptively, regardless if the server has challenged for authentication or not. This is to ensure that the server doesn’t need to challenge the client for credentials, because if it did, the challenge would be for Digest credentials, since that is the default.


This article covered the configuration and implementation of both Basic and Digest authentication for a RESTful service, using mostly Spring Security 3.0 namespace support as well as some new features added by Spring Security 3.1. In the next articles I will focus on OAuth authentication. In the meantime, check out the github project.

From the REST with Spring series.

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Published at DZone with permission of Eugen Paraschiv, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.


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