Connecting Tomcat to a Kerberized HDP Cluster

At some point you might require to connect your dashboard, data ingestion service or similar to a secured and kerberized HDP cluster. Most Java based webcontainers do support Kerberos for both client and server side communication. Kerberos does require very thoughtful configuration but rewards it’s users with an almost completely transparent authentication implementation that simply works. Steps described in this post should enable you to connect your application with a secured HDP cluster. For further support read the links listed at the end of this writing. A sample project is provided on github for hands-on exercises.

Setup the Environment

You can build a quick test environment using a custom vagrant environment, download the latest HDP Sandbox, or use a Docker image (very basic setup). In all cases this article helps you in kerberizing your environment with a local installed KDC. Once kerberized you will also have to install Tomcat of course. This uses CentOS 7 with Tomcat 7 with config files being located under /etc/tomcat and webapps under /var/lib/tomcat/webapps:

Since Ambari already runs on port 8080 I changed the port to 8099 for this demo.

A Sample WebApp (WebHDFS)

As a sample web application connecting to the cluster we are going to use a basic HDFS implemention that let’s it’s users define a path to browse the file system. This is the code we need for that:

The web.xml contains the following resource description:

Once deployed and with a none secured cluster the result of opening  http://one.hdp:8099/hdp-web/webhdfs?path=/user in your browser the result should look like this:


The result will look very different once the cluster is secured using Kerberos:


Configuring Tomcat for Kerberos

In a next step to make the web application work with the secured cluster we will have to configure Tomcat for Kerberos authentication. If configured correctly this would be enough to make our web application work again. There is no need to make any changes on the code. It is worth mentioning that in this scenario of course the actions performed on the cluster will always be executed by the Tomcat user. Of course this is only sufficient for simple scenarios, but in general a proxy user setup would be advised. Please see my post about a secure HDFS client for that.

Creating a Tomcat Principal

Here Tomcat will to the authentication with the cluster transparently to the applications being deployed on the webserver. As, if you followed the steps in mentioned early to kerberize the cluster, the KDC does not have any credentials stored for a tomcat user, we first need to create a tomcat principal in the KDC. Additionally as we obviously can not type in the password every time the service wants to authenticate, we need to download a so called keytab, which is basically an encrypted file containing the password of the user. The file needs to be properly secured using stand measures like POSIX access rights. The steps required are as following:

With the steps above we create the tomcat principal in the KDC with a random generated password. Next we download the keytab and place it under /etc/tomcat in that way, that only the tomcat user is able to read it.

All is left now is to configure Tomcat to use the created principal to authenticate requests against the secured cluster.

Configure JAAS and GSS-API

The most common approach to this is to use Java’s Authentication and Authorization Service (JAAS) which is a pluggable authentication mechanism just like PAM. This does not require the import of additional packages as JAAS is build in since JDK 1.4. In order to use JAAS for authentication in requires a login configuration file describing the type of method being used and it’s parameters applicable. For the Tomcat service we will create the jaas.conf  file under /etc/tomcat/jaas.conf  enabling GSS-API for Kerberos.

GSS-API was designed as a common service being able to access different security services. The GSS-API/Kerberos subsystem allows a Java application to authenticate to Kerberos once, and then use the acquired security credentials to access a whole array of services securely, including directory services.

Will have to make this configuration known to the Tomcat services, so it is aware of the security context to use. Adding the following Java options to the runtime creation of the service is enough to accomplish a kerberized security context. File /etc/tomcat/tomcat.conf :

Restarting tomcat will make the sample application work with the secured cluster.

There are a few ways to validate the authentication is working and Tomcat is configured correctly. For once you need to check if Tomcat was started with the right options. So please check by for example using the status command of systemctl:

Authentication attempts are logged at the KDC, so if everything works as expected you would see the tomcat user appear in the logs:

Further Readings

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