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JavaDB End-to-End Security

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JavaDB, as an open source and pure-Java relational database, provides several features that make it suitable for embedded and network server modes, including JavaDB mechanisms to make it secure on several levels. If you are going to build an application using JavaDB and security is important, then this article is for you.

These are the steps that we should follow to make JavaDB work with an acceptable level of security:

  1. Apply encryption to secure database files physically.
  2. Apply authentication for connections to restrict access to our server.
  3. Apply SQL authorization for internal permission management over database objects.
  4. Secure the environment using Java security manager.

Before we dig into each of these subjects, you need to have JavaDB installed in your environment. For authentication purposes, we will use OpenDS, which is a pure Java, open source LDAP server.

I will talk about each of the above items and in the same time give you detailed instructions to address it using JavaDB-provided features.

Database Encryption

First, let's see what we have when we create a database in JavaDB. A JavaDB database is usually a directory containing some data files, transaction logs, and a database configuration file, service.properties. The JavaDB database directory is portable and anyone can copy a JavaDB database and boot it up using another JavaDB instance and take a look into its data. But there are some mechanisms that protect our database from any kind of external unauthorized access. A JavaDB database can be encrypted on hard disk and thus not be usable until decrypted. Decryption is only possible using a single key or password, which is provided during database creation.

Let's see how we can encrypt our database and then how we can connect to this encrypted database. As I mentioned earlier, encryption happens during database creation time.

You may already know that we can create a database by supplying extra attributes in a JDBC connection string. To demonstrate our steps, I will use IJ, which is the JavaDB command-line tool for database administration and development. Start the JavaDB network server, and then run the ij CLI and execute the following commands one after another. I should say that during this article we will use the NetworkServerControl script to start and stop the network server. You can start the network server by passing a start as a command-line argument to start JavaDB.

ij version 10.2
ij> DRIVER 'org.apache.derby.jdbc.ClientDriver';
ij> CONNECT 'jdbc:derby://;create=true;dataEncryption=true;bootPassword=a@Simple_More_Than_16_Char_Password;encryptionAlgorithm=Blowfish/CBC/NoPadding;user=tquist';


The first command, DRIVER, tells ij which driver it should use, and the second command creates an encrypted database. Our database owner is tquist; it is not mandatory to specify a user, but we specify it because in the next few steps we will talk about database ownership.

You can see three attributes inside the connection string with which you may not be familiar:

  • dataEncryption: This attribute simply tells the network server to create an encrypted database.

  • bootPassword: This is the password that will be used to encrypt the key that the JavaDB engine uses to encrypt the data files. Password length must comply with algorithm key length, and in our case it must have 16 characters or more because Blowfish is a 128-bit encryption algorithm.

  • encryptionAlgorithm: This determines which algorithm and configuration should be used to encrypt the database.

Now we have an encrypted database and we need to connect to this database from our Java application, what does the code that connects to this encrypted database look like? It is quite simple: you just need to include the bootPassword attribute in your connection string. Something like this:

Connection connection =
DriverManager.getConnection ("jdbc:derby://;bootPassword=a@Simple_More_Than_16_Char_Password");

That's it; you have a connection to your encrypted database. Beware that once you boot a database (i.e., you've made a first connection with a boot password) it will be open for connections even without bootPassword. So shut down the database as soon as you have finished your work with it. The following code snippet shows how you can shut down a database from within your application.

   boolean cantShutdown = false;
try {
} catch (SQLException se) {
if ( se.getSQLState().equals("XJ015") ) {
cantShutdown = true;
if (!cantShutdown ) {
//Your database did not shutdown properly
} else {
//Your database is shutdown

If you try to connect to database without the bootPassword attribute, you will get an error message. Using encryption, you protect your database against any external unauthorized access by anyone who does not know the bootpassword.

Connection Authentication

As a second concern, I am going to talk about connection authentication. A JavaDB database or server is open for connections with full access to all database server resources. A database developer can configure it to authenticate users that are trying to connect to a database on the server. Until you try to configure it to your specific needs, JavaDB is a zero-administration RDBMS. But configuring JavaDB to perform authentication is very simple and nearly a zero-cost configuration.

The JavaDB network server is configurable using a standard properties file, named derby.properties, that can simply be placed inside the JavaDB bin directory. There are dozens of configuration parameters we can put in this properties file, but for now we are just going to use a few of them.

JavaDB can authenticate users in three ways in addition to its default no-authorization behavior:

  • Built-in
  • External LDAP
  • Application-defined

Each of the above mechanisms has its own strengths and weaknesses; in the next few paragraphs you will see how easily you can configure JavaDB to perform authentication against an external LDAP like OpenDS.

Before we continue, you need to set up and start your OpenDS directory server. OpenDS is a pure Java, open source directory server with many features that could be used to build an enterprise application. The OpenDS installation is straightforward: just launch the QuickSetup JNLP (Java Web Start) installer, and follow the installation steps to set up your directory server.

Having installed OpenDS, I will describe the test data that you will import into your directory server storage to test JavaDB authentication. Our test data is a standard LDIF file, which you can find in the Resources section. You can import it into OpenDS using its shell script, named import-ldif.

>import-ldif --backendID userRoot --ldifFile path/to/secArticle.LDIF

By executing the above command in the OpenDS bin directory, you can import the sample data into your directory server storage. Make sure that OpenDS is not running when you want to import data into its storage; otherwise you will receive an error message indicating that the import utility cannot acquire a lock over storage.

If you browse OpenDS storage using an LDAP browser like LDAP Studio, you will find four entries under dc=example,dc=com. These entries are the users that we will use during next parts of this article. The user names are jhallett, mchrysta, thardy, and tquist; their passwords are the same as their respective user names.

To activate the authentication we need to add a property in the derby.properties file. Create a text file and save it in JavaDB_home/bin as derby.properties, open the file and add the following line to it.


This property alone tells JavaDB to authenticate users who try to connect to JavaDB, but it does not define any source for authenticating users' credentials. Therefore we should define a source that JavaDB should use to authenticate users against. Here is what we should add in order to define a source of authentication:

derby.authentication.ldap.searchAuthDN=cn=Directory Manager


It is not mandatory to add all of the above properties, but it is a good practice to include the last two, since they will limit the search scope for usernames during authentication. An explanation about each of these attributes can be found in the JavaDB documentation.

Now, restart the JavaDB network server and let's try to connect to our secArticle database as in the previous step, to see what we will get when we try it. Open an ij session and execute the following commands.

ij> DRIVER 'org.apache.derby.jdbc.ClientDriver';
ij> CONNECT 'jdbc:derby://;bootPassword=a@Simple_More_Than_16_Char_Password;user= tquist';
ERROR 08004: Connection authentication failure occurred. Reason: userid or password invalid.


Now let's provide a correct username and password; we can use any of the four users that we added to our OpenDS storage in the previous section.

ij> CONNECT 'jdbc:derby://;bootPassword=a@Simple_More_Than_16_Char_Password;user=tquist;password=tquist'; 


This time you should be able to connect to the database without any problem.

SQL Authorization

Now we have authentication present in the deployment; what about authorization? Activating JavaDB SQL authorization is very simple; just open derby.properties and add some entries that ask JavaDB to apply SQL authorization. The lines you need to add are as follows:


These two properties enforce SQL authorization, for any database created from now on. But what about our already-created databases? What we can do to enable SQL authorization in them? Fortunately, we just need to execute a system function to set SQL authorization for an already-created database. Open an IJ session, connect to our sample database, and execute the following command.

ij> CALL SYSCS_UTIL.SYSCS_SET_DATABASE_PROPERTY('derby.database.sqlAuthorization','true');

Now our database has SQL authorization capability, but the network server needs to be restarted before we can use this feature. Restart the network server and continue. Then open an ij session, connect to the database with the tquist user, and create a table.

ij> CONNECT 'jdbc:derby://;bootPassword=a@Simple_More_Than_16_Char_Password; user=tquist;password= tquist';
ij> CREATE TABLE sec_art_table ( name VARCHAR(25) , lastName VARCHAR(25));
0 rows inserted/updated/deleted
ij> disconnect;

Executing the above commands will create a table in the TQUIST schema, with a table owner tquist, who has full privileges over this table. The last command will end the current session.

Now, to check whether our table is safe or not, connect to database with another user and try to insert some data into that table.

ij> CONNECT 'jdbc:derby://;bootPassword=a@Simple_More_Than_16_Char_Password;user= jhallett;password=jhallett';
ij> INSERT INTO TQUIST.sec_art_table values ( ‘John' ,'Connor');
ERROR 28506: User 'JHALLETT' does not have insert permission on table 'TQUIST'.'

The above error indicate that our user has no permission to perform an insert on TQUIST.sec_art_table. In the next code snippet, we connect to the database as the user tquist and grant some permissions to jhallett.

ij> CONNECT 'jdbc:derby://;bootPassword=a@Simple_More_Than_1
6_Char_Password; user=tquist;password= tquist';
ij> grant insert on TQUIST.sec_art_table to jhallett;
0 rows inserted/updated/deleted


Now jhallett has insert privileges on TQUIST.sec_art_table. You can try the inserting statement again to make sure that it works fine. Other implemented and supported privileges can be found in the JavaDB documentation.

Securing Environment

The Java Security manager and policy definition is a mechanism that allows one to define and apply specific policies over execution of specific code and JVM access to some potentially risky resources like sockets, files, etc. By default, when you install the JRE or JDK, there is no restriction and all permissions are granted to standard extensions.

At the JVM level, we can have one default policy implementation which will apply on all users of that JRE. We can also define per-user policy files to apply specific policies for certain users. There are multiple ways that we could apply policies to the JVM, but the most popular one is using policy files that we pass to the java command. A policy file is a plain text file in UTF-8 encoding that follows the standard policy declaration syntax. Discussing policy files and the security manager is outside of this article's scope, so let's jump back to security configuration for the JavaDB environment.

When you are starting the JavaDB network server, you can activate the Java security manager and pass a policy file to the JVM to use when it is running. To achieve this you can either edit the NetworkServerControl shell file (a .bat or .sh file) or directly execute the NetworkServerControl class and pass the required JRE parameter. I, for one, prefer to edit the NetworkServerControl batch file. Look at the NetworkServerControl.bat file and you will find a code block like this:

"%_JAVACMD%" %DERBY_OPTS% -classpath "%CLASSPATH%;%LOCALCLASSPATH%" org.apache.derby.drda.NetworkServerControl %DERBY_ARGS% %DERBY_CMD_LINE_ARGS%
goto end


You just need to change the middle line to:

"%_JAVACMD%" -Djava.security.manager -Djava.security.policy=JavaDB.policy -classpath "%CLASSPATH%;%LOCALCLASSPATH%" org.apache.derby.drda.NetworkServerControl %DERBY_ARGS% %DERBY_CMD_LINE_ARGS%
goto end


As I said, a policy file is a plain text file, so create a text file and save it as JavaDB.policy in the JavaDB bin directory. Now add the following snippet to it.

grant codeBase "file:F:/dev/dbServers/JavaDB-*" {
permission java.io.FilePermission "${derby.system.home}", "read";
permission java.io.FilePermission "${derby.system.home}${/}-", "read, write, delete";
permission java.io.FilePermission "${user.dir}${/}-", "read, write, delete";
permission java.util.PropertyPermission "derby.*", "read";
permission java.util.PropertyPermission "user.dir", "read";
permission java.lang.RuntimePermission "createClassLoader";
permission java.net.SocketPermission "localhost", "accept";
permission java.net.SocketPermission "", "accept, connect,resolve";


In the above policy description. we grant some permissions to all .jar files and classes placed in the lib folder; the permissions are as follows:

  • We grant full access over the JavaDB home directory and its subdirectories; for example, the JavaDB classes have full access to the bin directory, in which our database resides.
  • Read permission for reading the user.dir property and all JavaDB properties.
  • We permit class loader creation, which allows JavaDB to execute queries and load required classes.
  • We allow the codebase to create sockets and accept connections from localhost and loopback IP addresses.

By default, the JavaDB network server will listen on localhost, but we can pass an -h AN_IP_ADDRESS argument to NetworkServerControl in order to configure it to listen on other IP addresses. Now imagine that your JavaDB is open for incoming connections from the internet; you can simply limit incoming connections to your JavaDB network server by providing a list of permitted address in a policy file, as we have done in our sample policy file.


JavaDB, as an open source, pure-Java database, can play an important role in future Java applications, especially for small applications that do not need a huge list of expensive features that are available in commercial RDBMSes. Security is a major concern to the software development industry and JavaDB provides an acceptable set of features to make your small database secure.

Some Questions that You May Face During this Article

What will happen if I grant privilege(s) to a user that does not exist?
Nothing; you will not get an exception or error message. Privilege(s) will be granted to the user because JavaDB does not check your authentication source for a user existence when you grant some privileges to a user.
Who is the database administrator?
The user who creates the database is the database administrator, meaning the user has the ability to grant or revoke privileges of other users on any schema. Each user has full access to its own schema.
Can we use our own algorithm for JavaDB encryption?
Yes, you can use your own algorithm, but it must meet some criteria. Take a look at the Java Cryptography Extension (JCE) and documentation on specifying an alternate encryption algorithm.
What is the derby.system.home variable?
This is an environment variable used to point to the directory in which JavaDB will start. By default, JavaDB will start in its bin directory, so derby.system.home is the JavaDB bin directory by default.

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