Chapter 20. Client Authentication

Table of Contents
20.1. The pg_hba.conf file
20.2. Authentication methods
20.2.1. Trust authentication
20.2.2. Password authentication
20.2.3. Kerberos authentication
20.2.4. Ident-based authentication
20.2.5. PAM authentication
20.3. Authentication problems

When a client application connects to the database server, it specifies which PostgreSQL database user name it wants to connect as, much the same way one logs into a Unix computer as a particular user. Within the SQL environment the active database user name determines access privileges to database objects — see Chapter 18 for more information. Therefore, it is essential to restrict which database users can connect.

Note: As explained in Chapter 18, PostgreSQL actually does privilege management in terms of "roles". In this chapter, we consistently use database user to mean "role with the LOGIN privilege".

Authentication is the process by which the database server establishes the identity of the client, and by extension determines whether the client application (or the user who runs the client application) is permitted to connect with the database user name that was requested.

PostgreSQL offers a number of different client authentication methods. The method used to authenticate a particular client connection can be selected on the basis of (client) host address, database, and user.

PostgreSQL database user names are logically separate from user names of the operating system in which the server runs. If all the users of a particular server also have accounts on the server's machine, it makes sense to assign database user names that match their operating system user names. However, a server that accepts remote connections may have many database users who have no local operating system account, and in such cases there need be no connection between database user names and OS user names.

20.1. The pg_hba.conf file

Client authentication is controlled by a configuration file, which traditionally is named pg_hba.conf and is stored in the database cluster's data directory. (HBA stands for host-based authentication.) A default pg_hba.conf file is installed when the data directory is initialized by initdb. It is possible to place the authentication configuration file elsewhere, however; see the hba_file configuration parameter.

The general format of the pg_hba.conf file is a set of records, one per line. Blank lines are ignored, as is any text after the # comment character. A record is made up of a number of fields which are separated by spaces and/or tabs. Fields can contain white space if the field value is quoted. Records cannot be continued across lines.

Each record specifies a connection type, a client IP address range (if relevant for the connection type), a database name, a user name, and the authentication method to be used for connections matching these parameters. The first record with a matching connection type, client address, requested database, and user name is used to perform authentication. There is no "fall-through" or "backup": if one record is chosen and the authentication fails, subsequent records are not considered. If no record matches, access is denied.

A record may have one of the seven formats

local      database  user  auth-method  [auth-option]
host       database  user  CIDR-address  auth-method  [auth-option]
hostssl    database  user  CIDR-address  auth-method  [auth-option]
hostnossl  database  user  CIDR-address  auth-method  [auth-option]
host       database  user  IP-address  IP-mask  auth-method  [auth-option]
hostssl    database  user  IP-address  IP-mask  auth-method  [auth-option]
hostnossl  database  user  IP-address  IP-mask  auth-method  [auth-option]

The meaning of the fields is as follows:


This record matches connection attempts using Unix-domain sockets. Without a record of this type, Unix-domain socket connections are disallowed.


This record matches connection attempts made using TCP/IP. host records match either SSL or non-SSL connection attempts.

Note: Remote TCP/IP connections will not be possible unless the server is started with an appropriate value for the listen_addresses configuration parameter, since the default behavior is to listen for TCP/IP connections only on the local loopback address localhost.


This record matches connection attempts made using TCP/IP, but only when the connection is made with SSL encryption.

To make use of this option the server must be built with SSL support. Furthermore, SSL must be enabled at server start time by setting the ssl configuration parameter (see Section 16.7 for more information).


This record type has the opposite logic to hostssl: it only matches connection attempts made over TCP/IP that do not use SSL.


Specifies which database names this record matches. The value all specifies that it matches all databases. The value sameuser specifies that the record matches if the requested database has the same name as the requested user. The value samerole specifies that the requested user must be a member of the role with the same name as the requested database. (samegroup is an obsolete but still accepted spelling of samerole.) Otherwise, this is the name of a specific PostgreSQL database. Multiple database names can be supplied by separating them with commas. A separate file containing database names can be specified by preceding the file name with @.


Specifies which database user names this record matches. The value all specifies that it matches all users. Otherwise, this is either the name of a specific database user, or a group name preceded by +. (Recall that there is no real distinction between users and groups in PostgreSQL; a + mark really means "match any of the roles that are directly or indirectly members of this role", while a name without a + mark matches only that specific role.) Multiple user names can be supplied by separating them with commas. A separate file containing user names can be specified by preceding the file name with @.


Specifies the client machine IP address range that this record matches. It contains an IP address in standard dotted decimal notation and a CIDR mask length. (IP addresses can only be specified numerically, not as domain or host names.) The mask length indicates the number of high-order bits of the client IP address that must match. Bits to the right of this must be zero in the given IP address. There must not be any white space between the IP address, the /, and the CIDR mask length.

A typical CIDR-address is for a single host, or for a network. To specify a single host, use a CIDR mask of 32 for IPv4 or 128 for IPv6.

An IP address given in IPv4 format will match IPv6 connections that have the corresponding address, for example will match the IPv6 address ::ffff: An entry given in IPv6 format will match only IPv6 connections, even if the represented address is in the IPv4-in-IPv6 range. Note that entries in IPv6 format will be rejected if the system's C library does not have support for IPv6 addresses.

This field only applies to host, hostssl, and hostnossl records.


These fields may be used as an alternative to the CIDR-address notation. Instead of specifying the mask length, the actual mask is specified in a separate column. For example, represents an IPv4 CIDR mask length of 8, and represents a CIDR mask length of 32.

These fields only apply to host, hostssl, and hostnossl records.


Specifies the authentication method to use when connecting via this record. The possible choices are summarized here; details are in Section 20.2.


Allow the connection unconditionally. This method allows anyone that can connect to the PostgreSQL database server to login as any PostgreSQL user they like, without the need for a password. See Section 20.2.1 for details.


Reject the connection unconditionally. This is useful for "filtering out" certain hosts from a group.


Require the client to supply an MD5-encrypted password for authentication. See Section 20.2.2 for details.


Note: This option is recommended only for communicating with pre-7.2 clients.

Require the client to supply a crypt()-encrypted password for authentication. md5 is now recommended over crypt. See Section 20.2.2 for details.


Require the client to supply an unencrypted password for authentication. Since the password is sent in clear text over the network, this should not be used on untrusted networks. It also does not usually work with threaded client applications. See Section 20.2.2 for details.


Use Kerberos V5 to authenticate the user. This is only available for TCP/IP connections. See Section 20.2.3 for details.


Obtain the operating system user name of the client (for TCP/IP connections by contacting the ident server on the client, for local connections by getting it from the operating system) and check if the user is allowed to connect as the requested database user by consulting the map specified after the ident key word. See Section 20.2.4 for details.


Authenticate using the Pluggable Authentication Modules (PAM) service provided by the operating system. See Section 20.2.5 for details.


The meaning of this optional field depends on the chosen authentication method. Details appear below.

Files included by @ constructs are read as lists of names, which can be separated by either whitespace or commas. Comments are introduced by #, just as in pg_hba.conf, and nested @ constructs are allowed. Unless the file name following @ is an absolute path, it is taken to be relative to the directory containing the referencing file.

Since the pg_hba.conf records are examined sequentially for each connection attempt, the order of the records is significant. Typically, earlier records will have tight connection match parameters and weaker authentication methods, while later records will have looser match parameters and stronger authentication methods. For example, one might wish to use trust authentication for local TCP/IP connections but require a password for remote TCP/IP connections. In this case a record specifying trust authentication for connections from would appear before a record specifying password authentication for a wider range of allowed client IP addresses.

The pg_hba.conf file is read on start-up and when the main server process (postmaster) receives a SIGHUP signal. If you edit the file on an active system, you will need to signal the postmaster (using pg_ctl reload or kill -HUP) to make it re-read the file.

Some examples of pg_hba.conf entries are shown in Example 20-1. See the next section for details on the different authentication methods.

Example 20-1. Example pg_hba.conf entries

# Allow any user on the local system to connect to any database under
# any database user name using Unix-domain sockets (the default for local
# connections).
local   all         all                               trust

# The same using local loopback TCP/IP connections.
host    all         all          trust     

# The same as the last line but using a separate netmask column
host    all         all     trust     

# Allow any user from any host with IP address 192.168.93.x to connect
# to database "postgres" as the same user name that ident reports for
# the connection (typically the Unix user name).
host    postgres    all       ident sameuser

# Allow a user from host to connect to database
# "postgres" if the user's password is correctly supplied.
host    postgres    all      md5

# In the absence of preceding "host" lines, these two lines will
# reject all connection from (since that entry will be
# matched first), but allow Kerberos 5 connections from anywhere else
# on the Internet.  The zero mask means that no bits of the host IP
# address are considered so it matches any host.
host    all         all       reject
host    all         all             krb5

# Allow users from 192.168.x.x hosts to connect to any database, if
# they pass the ident check.  If, for example, ident says the user is
# "bryanh" and he requests to connect as PostgreSQL user "guest1", the
# connection is allowed if there is an entry in pg_ident.conf for map
# "omicron" that says "bryanh" is allowed to connect as "guest1".
host    all         all        ident omicron

# If these are the only three lines for local connections, they will
# allow local users to connect only to their own databases (databases
# with the same name as their database user name) except for administrators
# and members of role "support", who may connect to all databases.  The file
# $PGDATA/admins contains a list of names of administrators.  Passwords
# are required in all cases.
local   sameuser    all                               md5
local   all         @admins                           md5
local   all         +support                          md5

# The last two lines above can be combined into a single line:
local   all         @admins,+support                  md5

# The database column can also use lists and file names:
local   db1,db2,@demodbs  all                         md5