At some point, you're going to need to understand how your
Subversion client communicates with its server. Subversion's
networking layer is abstracted, meaning that Subversion clients
exhibit the same general behaviors no matter what sort of server
they are operating against. Whether speaking the HTTP protocol
http://) with the Apache HTTP Server or
speaking the custom Subversion protocol
svn://) with svnserve,
the basic network model is the same. In this section, we'll
explain the basics of that network model, including how
Subversion manages authentication and authorization
The Subversion client spends most of its time managing working copies. When it needs information from a remote repository, however, it makes a network request, and the server responds with an appropriate answer. The details of the network protocol are hidden from the user—the client attempts to access a URL, and depending on the URL scheme, a particular protocol is used to contact the server (see the section called “Addressing the Repository”).
svn --version to see which
URL schemes and protocols the client knows how to use.
When the server process receives a client request, it often demands that the client identify itself. It issues an authentication challenge to the client, and the client responds by providing credentials back to the server. Once authentication is complete, the server responds with the original information that the client asked for. Notice that this system is different from systems such as CVS, where the client preemptively offers credentials (“logs in”) to the server before ever making a request. In Subversion, the server “pulls” credentials by challenging the client at the appropriate moment, rather than the client “pushing” them. This makes certain operations more elegant. For example, if a server is configured to allow anyone in the world to read a repository, the server will never issue an authentication challenge when a client attempts to svn checkout.
If the particular network requests issued by the client
result in a new revision being created in the repository
(e.g., svn commit), Subversion uses the
authenticated username associated with those requests as the
author of the revision. That is, the authenticated user's
name is stored as the value of the
svn:author property on the new revision
(see the section called “Subversion's Reserved Properties”). If the
client was not authenticated (i.e., if the server never issued
an authentication challenge), the revision's
svn:author property is empty.
Many Subversion servers are configured to require authentication. Sometimes anonymous read operations are allowed, while write operations must be authenticated. In other cases, reads and writes alike require authentication. Subversion's different server options understand different authentication protocols, but from the user's point of view, authentication typically boils down to usernames and passwords. Subversion clients offer several different ways to retrieve and store a user's authentication credentials, from interactive prompting for usernames and passwords to encrypted and non-encrypted on-disk data caches.
The security-conscious reader will suspect immediately that there is reason for concern here. “Caching passwords on disk? That's terrible! You should never do that!” Don't worry—it's not as bad as it sounds. The following sections discuss the various types of credential caches that Subversion uses, when it uses them, and how to disable that functionality in whole or in part.
Subversion offers a remedy for the annoyance caused when users are forced to type their usernames and passwords over and over again. By default, whenever the command-line client successfully responds to a server's authentication challenge, credentials are cached on disk and keyed on a combination of the server's hostname, port, and authentication realm. This cache will then be automatically consulted in the future, avoiding the need for the user to re-type his or her authentication credentials. If seemingly suitable credentials are not present in the cache, or if the cached credentials ultimately fail to authenticate, the client will, by default, fall back to prompting the user for the necessary information.
The Subversion developers recognize that on-disk caches of authentication credentials can be a security risk. To offset this, Subversion works with available mechanisms provided by the operating system and environment to try to minimize the risk of leaking this information.
On Windows, the Subversion client stores passwords in the
%APPDATA%/Subversion/auth/directory. On Windows 2000 and later, the standard Windows cryptography services are used to encrypt the password on disk. Because the encryption key is managed by Windows and is tied to the user's own login credentials, only the user can decrypt the cached password. (Note that if the user's Windows account password is reset by an administrator, all of the cached passwords become undecipherable. The Subversion client will behave as though they don't exist, prompting for passwords when required.)
Similarly, on Mac OS X, the Subversion client stores all repository passwords in the login keyring (managed by the Keychain service), which is protected by the user's account password. User preference settings can impose additional policies, such as requiring that the user's account password be entered each time the Subversion password is used.
For other Unix-like operating systems, no single standard “keychain” service exists. However, the Subversion client knows how to store passwords securely using the “GNOME Keyring”, “KDE Wallet”, and “GnuPG Agent” services. Also, before storing unencrypted passwords in the
~/.subversion/auth/caching area, the Subversion client will ask the user for permission to do so. Note that the
auth/caching area is still permission-protected so that only the user (owner) can read data from it, not the world at large. The operating system's own file permissions protect the passwords from other non-administrative users on the same system, provided they have no direct physical access to the storage media of the home directory, or backups thereof.
Of course, for the truly paranoid, none of these mechanisms meets the test of perfection. So for those folks willing to sacrifice convenience for the ultimate in security, Subversion provides various ways of disabling its credentials caching system altogether.
When you perform a Subversion operation that requires you to authenticate, by default Subversion tries to cache your authentication credentials on disk in encrypted form. On some systems, Subversion may be unable to encrypt your authentication data. In those situations, Subversion will ask whether you want to cache your credentials to disk in plaintext:
$ svn checkout https://host.example.com:443/svn/private-repo ----------------------------------------------------------------------- ATTENTION! Your password for authentication realm: <https://host.example.com:443> Subversion Repository can only be stored to disk unencrypted! You are advised to configure your system so that Subversion can store passwords encrypted, if possible. See the documentation for details. You can avoid future appearances of this warning by setting the value of the 'store-plaintext-passwords' option to either 'yes' or 'no' in '/tmp/servers'. ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Store password unencrypted (yes/no)?
If you want the convenience of not having to continually
reenter your password for future operations, you can
yes to this prompt. If you're
concerned about caching your Subversion passwords in
plaintext and do not want to be asked about it again and
again, you can disable caching of plaintext passwords either
permanently, or on a server-by-server basis.
When considering how to use Subversion's password caching system, you'll want to consult any governing policies that are in place for your client computer—many companies have strict rules about the ways that their employees' authentication credentials should be stored.
To permanently disable caching of passwords in
plaintext, add the line
no to the
[global] section in
servers configuration file on the
local machine. To disable plaintext password caching for a
particular server, use the same setting in the appropriate
group section in the
configuration file. (See
the section called “Runtime Configuration Options” in
Chapter 7, Customizing Your Subversion Experience for details.)
To disable password caching entirely for any single
Subversion command-line operation, pass
--no-auth-cache option to that command
line. To permanently disable caching entirely, add the
store-passwords = no to your local
machine's Subversion configuration file.
Sometimes users will want to remove specific credentials
from the disk cache. To do this, you need to navigate into
auth/ area and manually delete the
appropriate cache file. Credentials are cached in individual
files; if you look inside each file, you will see keys and
svn:realmstring key describes
the particular server realm that the file is associated
$ ls ~/.subversion/auth/svn.simple/ 5671adf2865e267db74f09ba6f872c28 3893ed123b39500bca8a0b382839198e 5c3c22968347b390f349ff340196ed39 $ cat ~/.subversion/auth/svn.simple/5671adf2865e267db74f09ba6f872c28 K 8 username V 3 joe K 8 password V 4 blah K 15 svn:realmstring V 45 <https://svn.domain.com:443> Joe's repository END
Once you have located the proper cache file, just delete it.
All Subversion command-line operations accept
--password options, which allow you to
specify your username and password, respectively, so that
Subversion isn't forced to prompt you for that information.
This is especially handy if you need to invoke Subversion
from a script and cannot rely on Subversion being able to
locate valid cached credentials for you. These options are
also helpful when Subversion has already cached
authentication credentials for you, but you know they aren't
the ones you want it to use. Perhaps several system users
share a login to the system, but each have distinct
Subversion identities. You can omit
--password option from this pair if
you wish Subversion to use only the provided username, but
still prompt you for that username's password.
One last word about svn's
authentication behavior, specifically regarding the
options. Many client subcommands accept these options, but it
is important to understand that using these options does
not automatically send credentials to the
server. As discussed earlier, the server “pulls”
credentials from the client when it deems necessary; the
client cannot “push” them at will. If a username
and/or password are passed as options, they will be
presented to the server only if the server requests them. These
options are typically used to authenticate as a different user
than Subversion would have chosen by default (such as your
system login name) or when trying to avoid interactive
prompting (such as when calling svn from a
A common mistake is to misconfigure a server so
that it never issues an authentication challenge. When
--password options to the client, they're
surprised to see that they're never used; that is, new
revisions still appear to have been committed
Here is a final summary that describes how a Subversion client behaves when it receives an authentication challenge.
First, the client checks whether the user specified any credentials as command-line options (
--password). If so, the client will try to use those credentials to authenticate against the server.
If no command-line credentials were provided, or the provided ones were invalid, the client looks up the server's hostname, port, and realm in the runtime configuration's
auth/area, to see whether appropriate credentials are cached there. If so, it attempts to use those credentials to authenticate.
Finally, if the previous mechanisms failed to successfully authenticate the user against the server, the client resorts to interactively prompting the user for valid credentials (unless instructed not to do so via the
--non-interactiveoption or its client-specific equivalents).
If the client successfully authenticates by any of these methods, it will attempt to cache the credentials on disk (unless the user has disabled this behavior, as mentioned earlier).