Authentication ring

When accessing a remote branch (specified as an URL), it may occur that the server requests an authentication.

This authentication can be provided in different ways:

1. Embedding the user and password in the URL:

bzr branch <scheme>://<user>:<password>@host:port/path
  • scheme: Any transport protocol requiring authentication.

  • user: The login used to authenticate.

  • password: The associated password.

  • host: The address of the server.

  • port: The port the server is listening to.

  • path: The path on the server.

2. Embedding the user in the URL and let bzr find the right password or prompt for one:

bzr branch <scheme>://<user>@host/path

3. Embedding nothing in the URL and let bzr find user and password or prompt for user and/or password:

bzr branch <scheme>://host/path

This specification proposes a mechanism that will allow users to just use bzr branch <scheme>://host/path or bzr branch <scheme>://<user>@host/path and leaves bzr find the user and password in its configuration files.

When no user is specified for FTP, SFTP or SSH, the actual behavior of bzr is to default to getpass.get_user().

Any implementation of this specification should respect that behaviour.

This specification also proposes a way to describe credentials so that several remote branches can use the same definition. This is particularily important for users handling a lot of passwords and who need to update them on a regular basis.


Embedding user and passwords in the command line is a security hazard (see bug #34685).

Storing passwords in ~/.config/breezy/breezy.conf or ~/.config/breezy/locations.conf is also a security risk.

Typing user and passwords is error-prone and boring.

Yet, a safe way to store passwords, while allowing bzr to retrieve them, when needed, could improve the bzr user experience.

This specification describes a way to provide user and passwords to bzr while storing them in a relatively safe way.

Note that SSH servers can be configured to use keys instead of (user, password) and, when used with appropriate agents, provide the same kind of comfort this specification aims to provide for all other schemes. Since SSH agents provide a safer way to secure the passwords, this specification is restricted to providing user but does not provide password when used for SSH.

Authentication definitions

There are two kinds of authentication used by the various schemes supported by bzr:

  1. user and password

FTP and SFTP needs a (user, password) to authenticate against a host (SFTP can use SSH keys too, but we don’t talk about that in this specification as SSH agents provide a better solution).

  1. user, realm and password

HTTP and HTTPS needs a (user, realm, password) to authenticate against a host. But, by using .htaccess files, for example, it is possible to define several (user, realm, password) for a given host. So what is really needed is (user, password, host, path). The realm can be ignored 1 as long as it is still presented to the user when prompting for the password (unless someone found a way to declare two different realms for the same path).

HTTP proxy can be handled as HTTP (or HTTPS) by explicitly specifying the appropriate port.


The true purpose of realms is to allow the same credentials to be reused for disjoint hierarchies. Ignoring them in this specification aims to simplify the user experience while still allowing to share the same credentials for a whole hierarchy.

To take all schemes into account, the password will be deduced from a set of authentication definitions (scheme, host, port, path, user, password).

  • scheme: can be empty (meaning the rest of the definition can be used for any scheme), SFTP and bzr+ssh should not be used here, ssh should be used instead since this is the real scheme regarding authentication,

  • host: can be empty (to act as a default for any host),

  • port can be empty (useful when an host provides several servers for the same scheme), only numerical values are allowed, this should be used only when the server uses a port different than the scheme standard port,

  • path: can be empty (FTP or SFTP will never use it),

  • user: can be empty (bzr will defaults to Python’s getpass.get_user() for FTP, SFTP and SSH),

  • password: can be empty (for security reasons, a user may use the definitions without storing the passwords but want to be prompted ; or the password will be provided by an external plugin via the password_encoding mechanism decribed below). Must be left empty for ssh.

  • password_encoding: can be empty (default is plaintext).

Also note that an optional verify_certificates=no field will allow the connection to HTTPS hosts that provides a self certified certificate (the default should be to refuse the connection and inform the user). (Not implemented yet)

Multiple definitions can be provided and, for a given URL, bzr will select a (user [, password]) based on the following rules :

  1. the first match wins,

  2. empty fields match everything,

  3. scheme matches even if decorators are used in the requested URL,

  4. host matches exactly or act as a domain if it starts with ‘.’ ( will match but will not match

  5. port matches if included in the requested URL (exact matches only)

  6. path matches if included in the requested URL (and by rule #2 above, empty paths will match any provided path).

An optional password_encoding field may specify how the password is encoded but has no impact on the definition selection.

Possible values are plaintext (no encoding at all) and base64. When the field is absent, plaintext is assumed. Additional encodings may be added in future versions.

Encoding passwords in base64, while weak, provides protection against accidental reading (if an administrator have to look into the file, he will not see the passwords in clear).

This specification intends to ease the authentication providing, not to secure it in the best possible way.

Plugins can provide additional password encodings. The provided netrc_credential_store plugin can be used as an example implementation.

Future versions of this specification may provide additional encodings 2.


Additional password encoding methods may be defined that will rely on external means to store the password which, in these cases, will not appear anymore in the definition. It is assumed that additional password encodings will provide a storage outside of the file described here. The netrc encoding, for example, provides passwords by retrieving them from the .netrc file.

File format

Even if ~/.config/breezy/breezy.conf and ~/.config/breezy/locations.conf seems to provide most of the needed infrastructure, we choose to use a dedicated file for the authentication info ~/.config/breezy/authentication.conf for the following reasons:

  • allow the user to protect the content of one file only, relaxing security constraints on the others,

  • while locations.conf is organized around local branches, authentication.conf is organized around remote branches or more generally servers. The same authentification definition can even be used for several schemes for servers providing those schemes.

~/.config/breezy//authentication.conf will use the same file format as ~/.config/breezy/breezy.conf.

Each section describes an authentication definition.

The section name is an arbitrary string, only the DEFAULT value is reserved and should appear as the last section.

Each section should define:

  • user: the login to be used,

Each section could define:

  • host: the remote server,

  • port: the port the server is listening,

  • verify_certificates: to control certificate verification (useful for self certified hosts). This applies to HTTPS only. Accepted values are yes and no, default to yes.

  • path: the branch location,

  • password: the password,

  • password_encoding: the method used to encode the password if any,

The default content of the file will be:


This section could define:

  • user: default user to be used (if not defined the usual bzr way applies, see below).

  • password_encoding: default password encoding.

Use Cases

The use cases described below use the file format defined above.

  • all FTP connections to the domain are done with the same (user, password):

    # Identity on

    will provide (‘joe’, ‘secret-pass’) for:

    bzr branch
    bzr pull
  • all connections are done with the same user (the remote one for which the default bzr one is not appropriate) and the password is always prompted with some exceptions:

    # Pet projects on
    # Home server
    # Obtain the base64 encoded password by running 'echo -n "secret-pass" | base64'
    verify_certificates=no # Still searching a free certificate provider
    # Our local user is barbaz, on all remote sites we're known as foobar
  • an HTTP server and a proxy:

    # development branches on dev server
    # toy branches
    # proxy
  • source hosting provider declaring sub-domains for each project:

    [sfnet domain]
    # we use SFTP, but SSH is the scheme used for authentication
    # The leading '.' ensures that '' alone doesn't match

UI Changes

Depending on the info provided in the URL, bzr will interact with the user in different ways:

  1. user and password given in the URL.

Nothing to do.

  1. user given in the URL.

Get a password from ~/.config/breezy/authentication.conf or prompt for one if none is found.

  1. No user given in the URL (and no password).

Get a user from ~/.config/breezy/authentication.conf or prompt for one if none is found. Continue as 2. (Not implemented yet)

Note: A user will be queried only if the server requires it for HTTP or HTTPS, other protocols always require a user.

In any case, if the server refuses the authentication, bzr reports to the user and terminates.

Implementation constraints

  • bzr should be able to prompt for a user for a given (scheme, host [, realm]). Note that realm is available only after a first connection attempt to the server.

  • No assumptions should be made about the clients of this service (i.e. Transport is the primary target but plugins must be able to use it as well, the definitions used: (scheme, host, [port,] path) are general enough to described credentials for svn servers or LaunchPad XML-RPC calls).

  • Policies regarding default users may be taken into account by the implementations, there is no good way to represent that in this specification and stays flexible enough to accommodate various needs (default user policies may differ for different schemes and that may be easier to handle in the code than in the authentication file itself).

  • If no user can be found by the mechanism described above, bzr should still default to getpass.get_user() and may attempt a second matching to obtain a password.

  • As this specification proposes a matching between some credentials definitions and real URLs, the implementation provides an optional UI feedback about which credential definition is used. Using -Dauth will output some traces in the brz.log file metionning the sections used. This allows the user to validate his definitions.

Questions and Answers

  • What if a .authinfo file exists ?

    • It will be ignored,

    • Automatic (one-time) conversions may be proposed if sufficient demand exists,

  • What if a .netrc file exists ?

    • It is honored if the definition specifies password_encoding=netrc.

  • What mode should the authentication file use ?

    • 600 read/write for owner only by default, if another mode (more permissive) is used, a warning will be issued to inform the users of the potential risks.(Not implemented yet)

  • What about using seahorse on Ubuntu or KeyChain Access on Mac OS X ?

    • plugins can be written and registered to handle the associated password_encoding.

  • Could it be possible to encode the whole authentication file with an SSH key ?

    • yes and if the user configure a ssh-agent it will not be queried for pass-phrase every time we want to query the file for a password. But that seems a bit extreme for a first version.(Not implemented yet and may be never)

  • Why can’t bzr update the authentication file when it queried the user for a password ?

    • a future version may address that but:

      1. The user may want to decide which passwords are stored in the file and which aren’t.

      2. The user should decide if the passwords are encoded (and how) or not (but we may default to base64).

      3. The right definition may be hard to get right, but reducing it to (scheme, host, [port,] user, password) may be a good start. I.e. no path so that all paths on the host will match. The user will have to modify it for more complex configurations anyway.