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Metadata Service Authentication


We recently introduced Authentication in the Metadata Service layer. This document will provide a technical overview of the feature aimed at developers evaluating or operating DataHub. It will include a characterization of the motivations for the feature, the key components in its design, the new capabilities it provides, & configuration instructions.


Let's recall 2 critical components of DataHub's architecture:

  • DataHub Frontend Proxy (datahub-frontend) - Resource server that routes requests to downstream Metadata Service
  • DataHub Metadata Service (datahub-gms) - Source of truth for storing and serving DataHub Metadata Graph.

Previously, Authentication was exclusively handled by the Frontend Proxy. This service would perform the following steps when a user navigated to http://localhost:9002/:

a. Check for the presence of a special PLAY_SESSION cookie.

b. If cookie was present + valid, redirect to the home page

c. If cookie was invalid, redirect to either a) the DataHub login screen (for JAAS authentication or b) a configured OIDC Identity Provider to perform authentication.

Once authentication had succeeded at the frontend proxy layer, a stateless (token-based) session cookie (PLAY_SESSION) would be set in the users browser. All subsequent requests, including the GraphQL requests issued by the React UI, would be authenticated using this session cookie. Once a request had made it beyond the frontend service layer, it was assumed to have been already authenticated. Hence, there was no native authentication inside of the Metadata Service.

Problems with this approach

The major challenge with this situation is that requests to the backend Metadata Service were completely unauthenticated. There were 2 options for folks who required authentication at the Metadata Service layer:

  1. Set up a proxy in front of Metadata Service that performed authentication
  2. [A more recent possibility] Route requests to Metadata Service through DataHub Frontend Proxy, including the PLAY_SESSION Cookie with every request.

Neither of which are ideal. Setting up a proxy to do authentication takes time & expertise. Extracting and setting a session cookie from the browser for programmatic is clunky & unscalable. On top of that, extending the authentication system was difficult, requiring implementing a new Play module within DataHub Frontend.

Introducing Authentication in DataHub Metadata Service

To address these problems, we introduced configurable Authentication inside the Metadata Service itself, meaning that requests are no longer considered trusted until they are authenticated by the Metadata Service.

Why push Authentication down? In addition to the problems described above, we wanted to plan for a future where Authentication of Kafka-based-writes could be performed in the same manner as Rest writes.

Next, we'll cover the components being introduced to support Authentication inside the Metadata Service.

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.

New Capabilities

Personal Access Tokens

With these changes, we introduced a way to generate a "Personal Access Token" suitable for programmatic use with both the DataHub GraphQL and DataHub (Ingestion) APIs.

Personal Access Tokens have a finite lifespan (default 3 months) and currently cannot be revoked without changing the signing key that DataHub uses to generate these tokens (via the TokenService described above). Most importantly, they inherit the permissions granted to the user who generates them.

Generating Personal Access Tokens

To generate a personal access token, users must have been granted the "Generate Personal Access Tokens" (GENERATE_PERSONAL_ACCESS_TOKENS) Privilege via a DataHub Policy. Once they have this permission, users can navigate to 'Settings' > 'Access Tokens' > 'Generate Personal Access Token' to generate a token.

The token expiration dictates how long the token will be valid for. We recommend setting the shortest duration possible, as tokens are not currently revokable once granted (without changing the signing key).

Using a Personal Access Token

The user will subsequently be able to make authenticated requests to DataHub frontend proxy or DataHub GMS directly by providing the generated Access Token as a Bearer token in the Authorization header:

Authorization: Bearer <generated-access-token> 

For example, using a curl to the frontend proxy (preferred in production):

curl 'http://localhost:9002/api/gms/entities/urn:li:corpuser:datahub' -H 'Authorization: Bearer <access-token>

or to Metadata Service directly:

curl 'http://localhost:8080/entities/urn:li:corpuser:datahub' -H 'Authorization: Bearer <access-token>

Without an access token, making programmatic requests will result in a 401 result from the server if Metadata Service Authentication is enabled.

Configuring Metadata Service Authentication

Metadata Service Authentication is currently opt-in. This means that you may continue to use DataHub without Metadata Service Authentication without interruption. To enable Metadata Service Authentication:

  • set the METADATA_SERVICE_AUTH_ENABLED environment variable to "true" for the datahub-gms AND datahub-frontend containers / pods.


  • change the Metadata Service application.yml configuration file to set authentication.enabled to "true" AND
  • change the Frontend Proxy Service application.config configuration file to set metadataService.auth.enabled to "true"

After setting the configuration flag, simply restart the Metadata Service to start enforcing Authentication.

Once enabled, all requests to the Metadata Service will need to be authenticated; if you're using the default Authenticators that ship with DataHub, this means that all requests will need to present an Access Token in the Authorization Header as follows:

Authorization: Bearer <access-token> 

For users logging into the UI, this process will be handled for you. When logging in, a cookie will be set in your browser that internally contains a valid Access Token for the Metadata Service. When browsing the UI, this token will be extracted and sent to the Metadata Service to authenticate each request.

For users who want to access the Metadata Service programmatically, i.e. for running ingestion, the current recommendation is to generate a Personal Access Token (described above) from the root "datahub" user account, and using this token when configuring your Ingestion Recipes. To configure the token for use in ingestion, simply populate the "token" configuration for the datahub-rest sink:

# source configs
type: "datahub-rest"
token: <your-personal-access-token-here!>

Note that ingestion occurring via datahub-kafka sink will continue to be Unauthenticated for now. Soon, we will be introducing support for providing an access token in the event payload itself to authenticate ingestion requests over Kafka.

The Role of DataHub Frontend Proxy Going Forward

With these changes, DataHub Frontend Proxy will continue to play a vital part in the complex dance of Authentication. It will serve as the place where UI-based session authentication originates and will continue to support 3rd Party SSO configuration (OIDC) and JAAS configuration as it does today.

The major improvement is that the Frontend Service will validate credentials provided at UI login time and generate a DataHub Access Token, embedding it into traditional session cookie (which will continue to work).

In summary, DataHub Frontend Service will continue to play a vital role to Authentication. It's scope, however, will likely remain limited to concerns specific to the React UI.

Where to go from here

These changes represent the first milestone in Metadata Service Authentication. They will serve as a foundation upon which we can build new features, prioritized based on Community demand:

  1. Dynamic Authenticator Plugins: Configure + register custom Authenticator implementations, without forking DataHub.
  2. Service Accounts: Create service accounts and generate Access tokens on their behalf.
  3. Kafka Ingestion Authentication: Authenticate ingestion requests coming from the Kafka ingestion sink inside the Metadata Service.
  4. Access Token Management: Ability to view, manage, and revoke access tokens that have been generated. (Currently, access tokens inlcude no server side state, and thus cannot be revoked once granted)

...and more! To advocate for these features or others, reach out on Slack.


What if I don't want to use Metadata Service Authentication?

That's perfectly fine, for now. Metadata Service Authentication is disabled by default, only enabled if you provide the environment variable METADATA_SERVICE_AUTH_ENABLED to the datahub-gms container or change the authentication.enabled to "true" inside your DataHub Metadata Service configuration (application.yml).

That being said, we will be recommending that you enable Authentication for production use cases, to prevent arbitrary actors from ingesting metadata into DataHub.

If I enable Metadata Service Authentication, will ingestion stop working?

If you enable Metadata Service Authentication, you will want to provide a value for the "token" configuration value when using the datahub-rest sink in your Ingestion Recipes. See the Rest Sink Docs for configuration details.

We'd recommend generating a Personal Access Token (described above) from a trusted DataHub Account (e.g. root 'datahub' user) when configuring your Ingestion sources.

Note that you can also provide the "extraHeaders" configuration in datahub-rest sink to specify a custom header to pass with each request. This can be used in conjunction to authenticate using a custom Authenticator, for example.

How do I generate an Access Token for a service account?

There is no formal concept of "service account" or "bot" on DataHub (yet). For now, we recommend you configure any programmatic clients of DataHub to use a Personal Access Token generated from a user with the correct privileges, for example the root "datahub" user account.

I want to authenticate requests using a custom Authenticator? How do I do this?

You can configure DataHub to add your custom Authenticator to the Authentication Chain by changing the application.yml configuration file for the Metadata Service:

enabled: true # Enable Metadata Service Authentication
authenticators: # Configure an Authenticator Chain
- type: <fully-qualified-authenticator-class-name> # E.g. com.linkedin.datahub.authentication.CustomAuthenticator
configs: # Specific configs that should be passed into 'init' method of Authenticator
customConfig1: <value>

Notice that you will need to have a class that implements the Authenticator interface with a zero-argument constructor available on the classpath of the Metadata Service java process.

We love contributions! Feel free to raise a PR to contribute an Authenticator back if it's generally useful.

Now that I can make authenticated requests to either DataHub Proxy Service and DataHub Metadata Service, which should I use?

Previously, we were recommending that folks contact the Metadata Service directly when doing things like

  • ingesting Metadata via recipes
  • issuing programmatic requests to the APIs
  • issuing programmatic requests to the GraphQL APIs

With these changes, we will be shifting to the recommendation that folks direct all traffic, whether it's programmatic or not, to the DataHub Frontend Proxy, as routing to Metadata Service endpoints is currently available at the path /api/gms. This recommendation is in effort to minimize the exposed surface area of DataHub to make securing, operating, maintaining, and developing the platform simpler.

In practice, this will require migrating Metadata Ingestion Recipes use the datahub-rest sink to pointing at a slightly different host + path.

Example recipe that proxies through DataHub Frontend

# source configs
type: "datahub-rest"
token: <your-personal-access-token-here!>

Feedback / Questions / Concerns

We want to hear from you! For any inquiries, including Feedback, Questions, or Concerns, reach out on Slack!