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Getting More Out Of Apache (part 2)
Learn about Apache's authentication, logging and URL rewriting capabilities.

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Security has always been a prime concern so far as the Internet is concerned; barely a week passes without media reports of security breaches at one Web site or another. If this is something you're concerned about (and you should be), you can set up Apache to protect confidential information on your Web site with a simple form of user authentication.

Apache's user authentication mechanism is based on the traditional username-password challenge mechanism. When the Web server receives a request for a directory or file that it knows to be a protected resource (aka "realm"), it responds by sending the client browser an authentication challenge. It is only after receiving a valid username and password back from the client browser that access is granted to the realm.

The concept is simple, and it works well; however, implementing it requires a little more work.

The simplest way to add protection to a specific directory is via the ".htaccess" file. In order to see how this works, create a file named ".htaccess" in the directory you wish to protect. Open the file in your favourite text editor and add the following lines to it:

AuthType Basic
AuthName "Top-Secret Information"
AuthUserFile /usr/local/apache/auth/mfre/users
require valid-user

The first two directives are pretty standard - the AuthType directive specifies the type of authentication (usually "Basic", although there is also a "Digest" type of authentication), while the AuthName directive specifies a name or description for the resource. This description will appear in the client browser when the user attempts to access the protected directory, so you should choose something descriptive.

The AuthUserFile directive specifies the location for the file containing a list of authorized users, together with their passwords. This file should *always* be placed outside the Web server root, in an area not accessible to a browser; if this is not done, anyone can download the file and view the information in it.

Finally, the "require valid-user" statement specifies the kinds of users that have access to this directory - in this case, it means that all valid users (read: users listed in the authorization file) have the ability to view the contents of the directory. You could further restrict the number of people allowed access by specifying user or group names - for example, the statement "require user joe beth" would only allow users "joe" and "beth" access to this area.

You should be aware, however, that the server will only read the ".htaccess" file if it is configured to do so. In order to confirm this, open up your main Apache configuration file, "httpd.conf", and look for the <Directory> tags which reference your Web server root. These tags should look something like this:

<Directory "/usr/local/apache/htdocs">
AllowOverride All


AllowOverride All

directive tells the server that global configuration parameters can be overridden by local ones - the parameters in the per-directory ".htaccess" file.

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