Security Namespace Configuration

2.1. Introduction

Namespace configuration has been available since version 2.0 of the Spring framework. It allows you to supplement the traditional Spring beans application context syntax with elements from additional XML schema. You can find more information in the Spring Reference Documentation. A namespace element can be used simply to allow a more concise way of configuring an individual bean or, more powerfully, to define an alternative configuration syntax which more closely matches the problem domain and hides the underlying complexity from the user. A simple element may conceal the fact that multiple beans and processing steps are being added to the application context. For example, adding the following element from the security namespace to an application context will start up an embedded LDAP server for testing use within the application:

  <security:ldap-server />

This is much simpler than wiring up the equivalent Apache Directory Server beans. The most common alternative configuration requirements are supported by attributes on the ldap-server element and the user is isolated from worrying about which beans they need to be set on and what the bean property names are. [1]. Use of a good XML editor while editing the application context file should provide information on the attributes and elements that are available. We would recommend that you try out the SpringSource Tool Suite as it has special features for working with the Spring portfolio namespaces.

To start using the security namespace in your application context, all you need to do is add the schema declaration to your application context file:

<beans xmlns=""

In many of the examples you will see (and in the sample) applications, we will often use "security" as the default namespace rather than "beans", which means we can omit the prefix on all the security namespace elements, making the context easier to read. You may also want to do this if you have your application context divided up into separate files and have most of your security configuration in one of them. Your security application context file would then start like this

<beans:beans xmlns=""

We'll assume this syntax is being used from now on in this chapter.

2.1.1. Design of the Namespace

The namespace is designed to capture the most common uses of the framework and provide a simplified and concise syntax for enabling them within an application. The design is largely based around the large-scale dependencies within the framework, and can be divided up into the following areas:

  • Web/HTTP Security - the most complex part. Sets up the filters and related service beans used to apply the framework authentication mechanisms, to secure URLs, render login and error pages and much more.

  • Business Object (Method) Security - options for securing the service layer.

  • AuthenticationManager - handles authentication requests from other parts of the framework. A default instance will be registered internally by the namespace.

  • AccessDecisionManager - provides access decisions for web and method security. A default one will be registered, but you can also choose to use a custom one, declared using normal Spring bean syntax.

  • AuthenticationProviders - mechanisms against which the authentication manager authenticates users. The namespace provides supports for several standard options and also a means of adding custom beans declared using a traditional syntax.

  • UserDetailsService - closely related to authentication providers, but often also required by other beans.

We'll see how these work together in the following sections.

2.2. Getting Started with Security Namespace Configuration

In this section, we'll look at how you can build up a namespace configuration to use some of the main features of the framework. Let's assume you initially want to get up and running as quickly as possible and add authentication support and access control to an existing web application, with a few test logins. Then we'll look at how to change over to authenticating against a database or other security information repository. In later sections we'll introduce more advanced namespace configuration options.

2.2.1. web.xml Configuration

The first thing you need to do is add the following filter declaration to your web.xml file:


This provides a hook into the Spring Security web infrastructure. DelegatingFilterProxy is a Spring Framework class which delegates to a filter implementation which is defined as a Spring bean in your application context. In this case, the bean is named "springSecurityFilterChain", which is an internal infrastructure bean created by the namespace to handle web security. Note that you should not use this bean name yourself. Once you've added this to your web.xml, you're ready to start editing your application context file. Web security services are configured using the <http> element.

2.2.2. A Minimal <http> Configuration

All you need to enable web security to begin with is

  <http auto-config='true'>
    <intercept-url pattern="/**" access="ROLE_USER" />

Which says that we want all URLs within our application to be secured, requiring the role ROLE_USER to access them.


You can use multiple <intercept-url> elements to define different access requirements for different sets of URLs, but they will be evaluated in the order listed and the first match will be used. So you must put the most specific matches at the top.

To add some users, you can define a set of test data directly in the namespace:

      <user name="jimi" password="jimispassword" authorities="ROLE_USER, ROLE_ADMIN" />
      <user name="bob" password="bobspassword" authorities="ROLE_USER" />

The configuration above defines two users, their passwords and their roles within the application (which will be used for access control). It is also possible to load user information from a standard properties file using the properties attribute on user-service. See the section on in-memory authentication for more details. Using the <authentication-provider> element means that the user information will be used by the authentication manager to process authentication requests.

At this point you should be able to start up your application and you will be required to log in to proceed. Try it out, or try experimenting with the "tutorial" sample application that comes with the project. The above configuration actually adds quite a few services to the application because we have used the auto-config attribute. For example, form login processing and "remember-me" services are automatically enabled. What does auto-config Include?

The auto-config attribute, as we have used it above, is just a shorthand syntax for:

    <intercept-url pattern="/**" access="ROLE_USER" />
    <form-login />
    <anonymous />
    <http-basic />
    <logout />
    <remember-me />

These other elements are responsible for setting up form-login, anonymous authentication, basic authentication, logout handling and remember-me services respectively. They each have attributes which can be used to alter their behaviour.

auto-config Requires a UserDetailsService

An error can occur when using auto-config without a UserDetailsService in your application context (for example, if you are using LDAP authentication). This is because remember-me is automatically enabled when auto-config="true" and it requires an authentication mechanism which uses a UserDetailsService to function (see the Remember-me chapter for more details). If you have an error caused by a missing UserDetailsService then try removing the auto-config setting (and any remember-me setting you might have). Form and Basic Login Options

You might be wondering where the login form came from when you were prompted to log in, since we made no mention of any HTML files or JSPs. In fact, since we didn't explicitly set a URL for the login page, Spring Security generates one automatically, based on the features that are enabled and using standard values for the URL which processes the submitted login, the default target URL the user will be sent to and so on. However, the namespace offers plenty of suppport to allow you to customize these options. For example, if you want to supply your own login page, you could use:

  <http auto-config='true'>
    <intercept-url pattern="/login.jsp*" filters="none"/>  
    <intercept-url pattern="/**" access="ROLE_USER" />
    <form-login login-page='/login.jsp'/>

Note that you can still use auto-config. The form-login element just overrides the default settings. Also note that we've added an extra intercept-url element to say that any requests for the login page should be excluded from processing by the security filters. Otherwise the request would be matched by the pattern /** and it wouldn't be possible to access the login page itself! If you want to use basic authentication instead of form login, then change the configuration to

  <http auto-config='true'>
    <intercept-url pattern="/**" access="ROLE_USER" />
    <http-basic />

Basic authentication will then take precedence and will be used to prompt for a login when a user attempts to access a protected resource. Form login is still available in this configuration if you wish to use it, for example through a login form embedded in another web page. Setting a Default Post-Login Destination

If a form login isn't prompted by an attempt to access a protected resource, the default-target-url option comes into play. This is the URL the user will be taken to after logging in, and defaults to "/". You can also configure things so that they user always ends up at this page (regardless of whether the login was "on-demand" or they explicitly chose to log in) by setting the always-use-default-target attribute to "true". This is useful if your application always requires that the user starts at a "home" page, for example:

    <intercept-url pattern='/login.htm*' filters='none'/>  
    <intercept-url pattern='/**' access='ROLE_USER' />
    <form-login login-page='/login.htm' default-target-url='/home.htm' always-use-default-target='true' />

2.2.3. Using other Authentication Providers

In practice you will need a more scalable source of user information than a few names added to the application context file. Most likely you will want to store your user information in something like a database or an LDAP server. LDAP namespace configuration is dealt with in the LDAP chapter, so we won't cover it here. If you have a custom implementation of Spring Security's UserDetailsService, called "myUserDetailsService" in your application context, then you can authenticate against this using

  <authentication-provider user-service-ref='myUserDetailsService'/>

If you want to use a database, then you can use

    <jdbc-user-service data-source-ref="securityDataSource"/>

Where "securityDataSource" is the name of a DataSource bean in the application context, pointing at a database containing the standard Spring Security user data tables. Alternatively, you could configure a Spring Security JdbcDaoImpl bean and point at that using the user-service-ref attribute:

  <authentication-provider user-service-ref='myUserDetailsService'/>
  <beans:bean id="myUserDetailsService" class="">
    <beans:property name="dataSource" ref="dataSource"/>

You can also use standard AuthenticationProvider beans by adding the <custom-authentication-provider> element within the bean definition. See Section 2.6, “The Default Authentication Manager” for more on this. Adding a Password Encoder

Often your password data will be encoded using a hashing algorithm. This is supported by the <password-encoder> element. With SHA encoded passwords, the original authentication provider configuration would look like this:

  <password-encoder hash="sha"/>
    <user name="jimi" password="d7e6351eaa13189a5a3641bab846c8e8c69ba39f" authorities="ROLE_USER, ROLE_ADMIN" />
    <user name="bob" password="4e7421b1b8765d8f9406d87e7cc6aa784c4ab97f" authorities="ROLE_USER" />

When using hashed passwords, it's also a good idea to use a salt value to protect against dictionary attacks and Spring Security supports this too. Ideally you would want to use a randomly generated salt value for each user, but you can use any property of the UserDetails object which is loaded by your UserDetailsService. For example, to use the username property, you would use

<password-encoder hash="sha">
  <salt-source user-property="username"/>

You can use a custom password encoder bean by using the ref attribute of password-encoder. This should contain the name of a bean in the application context which is an instance of Spring Security's PasswordEncoder interface.

2.3. Advanced Web Features

2.3.1. Remember-Me Authentication

See the separate Remember-Me chapter for information on remember-me namespace configuration.

2.3.2. Adding HTTP/HTTPS Channel Security

If your application supports both HTTP and HTTPS, and you require that particular URLs can only be accessed over HTTPS, then this is directly supported using the requires-channel attribute on <intercept-url>:

    <intercept-url pattern="/secure/**" access="ROLE_USER" requires-channel="https"/>
    <intercept-url pattern="/**" access="ROLE_USER" requires-channel="any"/>  

With this configuration in place, if a user attempts to access anything matching the "/secure/**" pattern using HTTP, they will first be redirected to an HTTPS URL. The available options are "http", "https" or "any". Using the value "any" means that either HTTP or HTTPS can be used.

If your application uses non-standard ports for HTTP and/or HTTPS, you can specify a list of port mappings as follows:

      <port-mapping http="9080" https="9443"/>

You can find a more in-depth discussion of channel security in Chapter 7, Channel Security.

2.3.3. Concurrent Session Control

If you wish to place constraints on a single user's ability to log in to your application, Spring Security supports this out of the box with the following simple additions. First you need to add the following listener to your web.xml file to keep Spring Security updated about session lifecycle events:


Then add the following line to your application context:

    <concurrent-session-control max-sessions="1" />

This will prevent a user from logging in multiple times - a second login will cause the first to be invalidated. Often you would prefer to prevent a second login, in which case you can use

    <concurrent-session-control max-sessions="1" exception-if-maximum-exceeded="true"/>

The second login will then be rejected.

2.3.4. OpenID Login

The namespace supports OpenID login either instead of, or in addition to normal form-based login, with a simple change:

    <intercept-url pattern="/**" access="ROLE_USER" />
    <openid-login />

You should then register yourself with an OpenID provider (such as, and add the user information to your in-memory <user-service>:

  <user name="" password="notused" authorities="ROLE_USER" />

You should be able to login using the site to authenticate.

2.3.5. Adding in Your Own Filters

If you've used Spring Security before, you'll know that the framework maintains a chain of filters in order to apply its services. You may want to add your own filters to the stack at particular locations or use a Spring Security filter for which there isn't currently a namespace configuration option (CAS, for example). Or you might want to use a customized version of a standard namespace filter, such as the AuthenticationProcessingFilter which is created by the <form-login> element, taking advantage of some of the extra configuration options which are available by using defining the bean directly. How can you do this with namespace configuration, since the filter chain is not directly exposed?

The order of the filters is always strictly enforced when using the namespace. Each Spring Security filter implements the Spring Ordered interface and the filters created by the namespace are sorted during initialization. The standard Spring Security filters each have an alias in the namespace. The filters, aliases and namespace elements/attributes which create the filters are shown in Table 2.1, “Standard Filter Aliases and Ordering”.

Table 2.1. Standard Filter Aliases and Ordering

AliasFilter ClassNamespace Element or Attribute
CONCURRENT_SESSION_FILTERConcurrentSessionFilter http/concurrent-session-control
LOGOUT_FILTER LogoutFilterhttp/logout
X509_FILTER X509PreAuthenticatedProcessigFilterhttp/x509
PRE_AUTH_FILTER AstractPreAuthenticatedProcessingFilter SubclassesN/A
AUTHENTICATION_PROCESSING_FILTER AuthenticationProcessingFilterhttp/form-login
BASIC_PROCESSING_FILTER BasicProcessingFilterhttp/http-basic
REMEMBER_ME_FILTER RememberMeProcessingFilterhttp/remember-me
ANONYMOUS_FILTER AnonymousProcessingFilterhttp/anonymous
EXCEPTION_TRANSLATION_FILTER ExceptionTranslationFilterhttp
NTLM_FILTER NtlmProcessingFilterN/A
FILTER_SECURITY_INTERCEPTOR FilterSecurityInterceptorhttp
SWITCH_USER_FILTER SwitchUserProcessingFilterN/A

You can add your own filter to the stack, using the custom-filter element and one of these names to specify the position your filter should appear at:

  <beans:bean id="myFilter" class="com.mycompany.MySpecialAuthenticationFilter">
    <custom-filter position="AUTHENTICATION_PROCESSING_FILTER"/>

You can also use the after or before attribtues if you want your filter to be inserted before or after another filter in the stack. The names "FIRST" and "LAST" can be used with the position attribute to indicate that you want your filter to appear before or after the entire stack, respectively.

Avoiding filter position conflicts

If you are inserting a custom filter which may occupy the same position as one of the standard filters created by the namespace then it's important that you don't include the namespace versions by mistake. Avoid using the auto-config attribute and remove any elements which create filters whose functionality you want to replace.

Note that you can't replace filters which are created by the use of the <http> element itself - HttpSessionContextIntegrationFilter, ExceptionTranslationFilter or FilterSecurityInterceptor.

If you're replacing a namespace filter which requires an authentication entry point (i.e. where the authentication process is triggered by an attempt by an unauthenticated user to access to a secured resource), you will need to add a custom entry point bean too. Setting a Custom AuthenticationEntryPoint

If you aren't using form login, OpenID or basic authentication through the namespace, you may want to define an authentication filter and entry point using a traditional bean syntax and link them into the namespace, as we've just seen. The corresponding AuthenticationEntryPoint can be set using the entry-point-ref attribute on the <http> element.

The CAS sample application is a good example of the use of custom beans with the namespace, including this syntax. If you aren't familiar with authentication entry points, they are discussed in the technical overview chapter.

2.3.6. Session Fixation Attack Protection

Session fixation attacks are a potential risk where it is possible for a malicious attacker to create a session by accessing a site, then persuade another user to log in with the same session (by sending them a link containing the session identifier as a parameter, for example). Spring Security protects against this automatically by creating a new session when a user logs in. If you don't require this protection, or it conflicts with some other requirement, you can control the behaviour using the session-fixation-protection attribute on <http>, which has three options

  • migrateSession - creates a new session and copies the existing session attributes to the new session. This is the default.

  • none - Don't do anything. The original session will be retained.

  • newSession - Create a new "clean" session, without copying the existing session data.

2.4. Method Security

Spring Security 2.0 has improved support substantially for adding security to your service layer methods. If you are using Java 5 or greater, then support for JSR-250 security annotations is provided, as well as the framework's native @Secured annotation. You can apply security to a single bean, using the intercept-methods element to decorate the bean declaration, or you can secure multiple beans across the entire service layer using the AspectJ style pointcuts.

2.4.1. The <global-method-security> Element

This element is used to enable annotation-based security in your application (by setting the appropriate attributes on the element), and also to group together security pointcut declarations which will be applied across your entire application context. You should only declare one <global-method-security> element. The following declaration would enable support for both Spring Security's @Secured, and JSR-250 annotations:

  <global-method-security secured-annotations="enabled" jsr250-annotations="enabled"/>

Adding an annotation to a method (on an class or interface) would then limit the access to that method accordingly. Spring Security's native annotation support defines a set of attributes for the method. These will be passed to the AccessDecisionManager for it to make the actual decision. This example is taken from the tutorial sample, which is a good starting point if you want to use method security in your application:

  public interface BankService {
    public Account readAccount(Long id);
    public Account[] findAccounts();
    public Account post(Account account, double amount);
  } Adding Security Pointcuts using protect-pointcut

The use of protect-pointcut is particularly powerful, as it allows you to apply security to many beans with only a simple declaration. Consider the following example:

    <protect-pointcut expression="execution(* com.mycompany.*Service.*(..))" access="ROLE_USER"/>


This will protect all methods on beans declared in the application context whose classes are in the com.mycompany package and whose class names end in "Service". Only users with the ROLE_USER role will be able to invoke these methods. As with URL matching, the most specific matches must come first in the list of pointcuts, as the first matching expression will be used.

2.4.2. The intercept-methods Bean Decorator

This alternative syntax allows you to specify security for a specific bean by adding this element within the bean itself.

<bean:bean id="target" class="com.mycompany.myapp.MyBean">
        <protect method="set*" access="ROLE_ADMIN" />
        <protect method="get*" access="ROLE_ADMIN,ROLE_USER" />
        <protect method="doSomething" access="ROLE_USER" />

This allows you to configure security attributes for individual methods on the bean or simple wildcarded patterns.

2.5. The Default AccessDecisionManager

This section assumes you have some knowledge of the underlying architecture for access-control within Spring Security. If you don't you can skip it and come back to it later, as this section is only really relevant for people who need to do some customization in order to use more than simple role based security.

When you use a namespace configuration, a default instance of AccessDecisionManager is automatically registered for you and will be used for making access decisions for method invocations and web URL access, based on the access attributes you specify in your intercept-url and protect-pointcut declarations (and in annotations if you are using annotation secured methods).

The default strategy is to use an AffirmativeBased AccessDecisionManager with a RoleVoter and an AuthenticatedVoter.

2.5.1. Customizing the AccessDecisionManager

If you need to use a more complicated access control strategy then it is easy to set an alternative for both method and web security.

For method security, you do this by setting the access-decision-manager-ref attribute on global-method-securityto the Id of the appropriate AccessDecisionManager bean in the application context:

  <global-method-security access-decision-manager-ref="myAccessDecisionManagerBean">

The syntax for web security is the same, but on the http element:

  <http access-decision-manager-ref="myAccessDecisionManagerBean">

2.6. The Default Authentication Manager

We've touched on the idea that the namespace configuration automatically registers an authentication manager bean for you. This is an instance of Spring Security's ProviderManager class, which you may already be familiar with if you've used the framework before. You can't use a custom AuthenticationProvider if you are using either HTTP or method security through the namespace, but this should not be a problem as you have full control over the AuthenticationProviders that are used.

You may want to register additional AuthenticationProvider beans with the ProviderManager and you can do this using the <custom-authentication-provider> element within the bean. For example:

  <bean id="casAuthenticationProvider" 
    <security:custom-authentication-provider />

Another common requirement is that another bean in the context may require a reference to the AuthenticationManager. There is a special element which lets you register an alias for the AuthenticationManager and you can then use this name elsewhere in your application context.

  <security:authentication-manager alias="authenticationManager"/>

  <bean id="customizedFormLoginFilter" class="">
     <security:custom-filter position="AUTHENTICATION_PROCESSING_FILTER "/>
     <property name="authenticationManager" ref="authenticationManager"/>

[1] You can find out more about the use of the ldap-server element in the chapter on LDAP.