MIT Kerberos Documentation

Developing with GSSAPI

The GSSAPI (Generic Security Services API) allows applications to communicate securely using Kerberos 5 or other security mechanisms. We recommend using the GSSAPI (or a higher-level framework which encompasses GSSAPI, such as SASL) for secure network communication over using the libkrb5 API directly.

GSSAPIv2 is specified in RFC 2743 and RFC 2744. This documentation will describe how various ways of using GSSAPI will behave with the krb5 mechanism as implemented in MIT krb5, as well as krb5-specific extensions to the GSSAPI.

Acceptor names

A GSSAPI server uses gss_accept_sec_context to establish a security context based on tokens provided by the client. The acceptor_cred_handle parameter determines what keytab entries may be authenticated to by the client, if the krb5 mechanism is used.

The simplest choice is to pass GSS_C_NO_CREDENTIAL as the acceptor credential. In this case, clients may authenticate to any service principal in the default keytab (typically /etc/krb5.keytab, or the value of the KRB5_KTNAME environment variable). This is the recommended approach if the server application has no specific requirements to the contrary.

A server may acquire an acceptor credential with gss_acquire_cred and a cred_usage of GSS_C_ACCEPT or GSS_C_BOTH. If the desired_name parameter is GSS_C_NO_NAME, clients, as above, be allowed to authenticate to any service principal in the default keytab.

If a server wishes to specify a desired_name to gss_acquire_cred, the most common method is to call gss_import_name with an input_name_type of GSS_C_NT_HOSTBASED_SERVCE and an input_name_buffer containing a string of the form service or service@hostname. If the input name contains just a service, then clients will be allowed to authenticate to any host-based service principal (that is, a principal of the form service/hostname@REALM) for the named service, regardless of hostname or realm, as long as it is present in the default keytab. If the input name contains both a service and a hostname, clients will be allowed to authenticate to any host-based principal for the named service and hostname, regardless of realm.


If a hostname is specified, it will be canonicalized using forward name resolution, and possibly also using reverse name resolution depending on the value of the rdns variable in [libdefaults].


If the ignore_acceptor_hostname variable in [libdefaults] is enabled, then hostname will be ignored even if one is specified in the input name.


In MIT krb5 versions prior to 1.10, and in Heimdal’s implementation of the krb5 mechanism, an input name with just a service is treated like an input name of service@localhostname, where localhostname is the string returned by gethostname().

It is also possible to directly specify a service principal name using the input_name_type value GSS_KRB5_NT_PRINCIPAL_NAME (defined in <gssapi_krb5.h>), and an input_name_buffer containing an unparsed principal name. Doing so will prevent the server application from working with mechanisms other than krb5. If the a service principal name is specified, clients will only be allowed to authenticate to that principal in the default keytab.