Connected: An Internet Encyclopedia
11. Access Authentication

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11. Access Authentication

11. Access Authentication

HTTP provides a simple challenge-response authentication mechanism which may be used by a server to challenge a client request and by a client to provide authentication information. It uses an extensible, case-insensitive token to identify the authentication scheme, followed by a comma-separated list of attribute-value pairs which carry the parameters necessary for achieving authentication via that scheme.

       auth-scheme    = token

       auth-param     = token "=" quoted-string

The 401 (unauthorized) response message is used by an origin server to challenge the authorization of a user agent. This response must include a WWW-Authenticate header field containing at least one challenge applicable to the requested resource.

       challenge      = auth-scheme 1*SP realm *( "," auth-param )

       realm          = "realm" "=" realm-value
       realm-value    = quoted-string

The realm attribute (case-insensitive) is required for all authentication schemes which issue a challenge. The realm value (case-sensitive), in combination with the canonical root URL of the server being accessed, defines the protection space. These realms allow the protected resources on a server to be partitioned into a set of protection spaces, each with its own authentication scheme and/or authorization database. The realm value is a string, generally assigned by the origin server, which may have additional semantics specific to the authentication scheme.

A user agent that wishes to authenticate itself with a server-- usually, but not necessarily, after receiving a 401 response--may do so by including an Authorization header field with the request. The Authorization field value consists of credentials containing the authentication information of the user agent for the realm of the resource being requested.

       credentials    = basic-credentials
                      | ( auth-scheme #auth-param )

The domain over which credentials can be automatically applied by a user agent is determined by the protection space. If a prior request has been authorized, the same credentials may be reused for all other requests within that protection space for a period of time determined by the authentication scheme, parameters, and/or user preference. Unless otherwise defined by the authentication scheme, a single protection space cannot extend outside the scope of its server.

If the server does not wish to accept the credentials sent with a request, it should return a 403 (forbidden) response.

The HTTP protocol does not restrict applications to this simple challenge-response mechanism for access authentication. Additional mechanisms may be used, such as encryption at the transport level or via message encapsulation, and with additional header fields specifying authentication information. However, these additional mechanisms are not defined by this specification.

Proxies must be completely transparent regarding user agent authentication. That is, they must forward the WWW-Authenticate and Authorization headers untouched, and must not cache the response to a request containing Authorization. HTTP/1.0 does not provide a means for a client to be authenticated with a proxy.

Next: 11.1 Basic Authentication Scheme

Connected: An Internet Encyclopedia
11. Access Authentication