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Develop/Authentication

Galaxy supports the following authentication mechanisms:

  • Galaxy-specific login using e-mail address and password
  • OpenID authentication with Galaxy as a relying party

  • HTTP remote user provided by any front-end Web server

Web Server Authentication

The HTTP remote user mechanism is generally employed to move the responsibility of authentication out of Galaxy and under the control of the Web server and various components it may offer for actually performing the task of authenticating users. (See, for example, the authentication and authorization guide for the Apache Web server for an impression of the possibilities.) Thus, by the time Galaxy is aware of a request, the user identity will have been determined and there will be no need for Galaxy to do any additional authentication work, such as showing a login screen or checking user credentials.

However, accepting an identity asserted by the Web server does not relieve Galaxy from having to create a user account for such an identity. Thus, Galaxy automatically creates a user for each identity of this kind, recording that the user is "external" and also creating a random password in order to effectively disable traditionally performed logins for the user, although the remote user mechanism should normally prohibit any login mechanism other than that imposed by the Web server, and the "external" flag should itself prohibit the traditional mechanism being used with the user concerned. When a remote user returns to Galaxy and is not already logged in, the details of the user are retrieved according to the identity information supplied by the Web server.

Configuration Options

The following options enable the existing authentication mechanisms:

enable_openid
enables OpenID and causes the OpenID form to be displayed on the login screen
use_remote_user
enables the use of HTTP remote user information

New mechanisms would expect such options to be defined in the universe_wsgi.ini.sample file and be replicated to the universe_wsgi.ini file when Galaxy is set up or started for the first time.

The lib/galaxy/webapps/galaxy/controllers/user.py file provides much of the authentication-related logic in the User class. Of the supported mechanisms, only those needing to perform actual authentication work require any substantial amount of code in this file; the integration of "remote user" information is performed in the lib/galaxy/web/framework/__init__.py file.

Within the User class, code supporting authentication mechanisms will need to provide the following things:

  • Support within the login method for any additional information shown in the login screen. Since the login screen is likely to be modified to show alternative authentication methods alongside the conventional e-mail and password fields, it is possible that information such as identity providers will also need to be made available in order to simplify the experience for users.

  • A separate method to handle the initial stage of authentication for the mechanism. For example, OpenID authentication requests are handled by the openid_auth method initially.

  • Additional methods to handle any subsequent stages of authentication. For example, OpenID authentication involves the handling of subsequent requests in the openid_process, openid_associate and openid_manage methods.

Database Tables

The database employs a galaxy_user table which records the details of all registered users, and this table is exposed to the code through the User abstraction found in lib/galaxy/model/mapping.py. Each logged-in user is assigned a session which references the user in the galaxy_session table (exposed via GalaxySession).

User information from external sources, such as OpenID, is found in peripheral tables such as galaxy_user_openid (exposed by UserOpenID) and references the registered user and session of that user.

Authenticating a User

The following steps are followed in any code that seeks to recognise a user within Galaxy and allow access to the application:

  1. The identity credential, currently the e-mail address of the user, is used to find any previously-registered user in the database.
  2. Where no user exists and the login mechanism requires explicit registration, authentication fails at this point. Otherwise, a user is automatically created for previously unknown identities.
  3. For conventional accounts requiring a password, authentication fails at this point if a valid password is not specified. Otherwise, an alternative mechanism for completing authentication may be invoked.
  4. Upon completion of the authentication of a user's identity, any association of that identity with the Galaxy user instance may be performed. For example, an OpenID identity may be associated with a user created for that identity.
  5. Finally, the login is handled using the handle_user_login method on the GalaxyWebTransaction object, associating the user with a new session.