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Version: 0.13.1

Concepts & Key Components

We introduced a few important concepts to the Metadata Service to make authentication work:

  1. Actor
  2. Authenticator
  3. AuthenticatorChain
  4. AuthenticationFilter
  5. DataHub Access Token
  6. DataHub Token Service

In following sections, we'll take a closer look at each individually.

High level overview of Metadata Service Authentication

What is an Actor?

An Actor is a concept within the new Authentication subsystem to represent a unique identity / principal that is initiating actions (e.g. read & write requests) on the platform.

An actor can be characterized by 2 attributes:

  1. Type: The "type" of the actor making a request. The purpose is to for example distinguish between a "user" & "service" actor. Currently, the "user" actor type is the only one formally supported.
  2. Id: A unique identifier for the actor within DataHub. This is commonly known as a "principal" in other systems. In the case of users, this represents a unique "username". This username is in turn used when converting from the "Actor" concept into a Metadata Entity Urn (e.g. CorpUserUrn).

For example, the root "datahub" super user would have the following attributes:

"type": "USER",
"id": "datahub"

Which is mapped to the CorpUser urn:


for Metadata retrieval.

What is an Authenticator?

An Authenticator is a pluggable component inside the Metadata Service that is responsible for authenticating an inbound request provided context about the request (currently, the request headers). Authentication boils down to successfully resolving an Actor to associate with the inbound request.

There can be many types of Authenticator. For example, there can be Authenticators that

  • Verify the authenticity of access tokens (ie. issued by either DataHub itself or a 3rd-party IdP)
  • Authenticate username / password credentials against a remote database (ie. LDAP)

and more! A key goal of the abstraction is extensibility: a custom Authenticator can be developed to authenticate requests based on an organization's unique needs.

DataHub ships with 2 Authenticators by default:

  • DataHubSystemAuthenticator: Verifies that inbound requests have originated from inside DataHub itself using a shared system identifier and secret. This authenticator is always present.

  • DataHubTokenAuthenticator: Verifies that inbound requests contain a DataHub-issued Access Token (discussed further in the "DataHub Access Token" section below) in their 'Authorization' header. This authenticator is required if Metadata Service Authentication is enabled.

What is an AuthenticatorChain?

An AuthenticatorChain is a series of Authenticators that are configured to run one-after-another. This allows for configuring multiple ways to authenticate a given request, for example via LDAP OR via local key file.

Only if each Authenticator within the chain fails to authenticate a request will it be rejected.

The Authenticator Chain can be configured in the application.yml file under authentication.authenticators:

# Configure the Authenticators in the chain
- type: com.datahub.authentication.Authenticator1
- type: com.datahub.authentication.Authenticator2

What is the AuthenticationFilter?

The AuthenticationFilter is a servlet filter that authenticates each and requests to the Metadata Service. It does so by constructing and invoking an AuthenticatorChain, described above.

If an Actor is unable to be resolved by the AuthenticatorChain, then a 401 unauthorized exception will be returned by the filter.

What is a DataHub Token Service? What are Access Tokens?

Along with Metadata Service Authentication comes an important new component called the DataHub Token Service. The purpose of this component is twofold:

  1. Generate Access Tokens that grant access to the Metadata Service
  2. Verify the validity of Access Tokens presented to the Metadata Service

Access Tokens granted by the Token Service take the form of Json Web Tokens, a type of stateless token which has a finite lifespan & is verified using a unique signature. JWTs can also contain a set of claims embedded within them. Tokens issued by the Token Service contain the following claims:

  • exp: the expiration time of the token
  • version: version of the DataHub Access Token for purposes of evolvability (currently 1)
  • type: The type of token, currently SESSION (used for UI-based sessions) or PERSONAL (used for personal access tokens)
  • actorType: The type of the Actor associated with the token. Currently, USER is the only type supported.
  • actorId: The id of the Actor associated with the token.

Today, Access Tokens are granted by the Token Service under two scenarios:

  1. UI Login: When a user logs into the DataHub UI, for example via JaaS or OIDC, the datahub-frontend service issues an request to the Metadata Service to generate a SESSION token on behalf of of the user logging in. (*Only the frontend service is authorized to perform this action).
  2. Generating Personal Access Tokens: When a user requests to generate a Personal Access Token (described below) from the UI.

At present, the Token Service supports the symmetric signing method HS256 to generate and verify tokens.

Now that we're familiar with the concepts, we will talk concretely about what new capabilities have been built on top of Metadata Service Authentication.