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HTTP authentication with PHP

It is possible to use the header() function to send an "Authentication Required" message to the client browser causing it to pop up a Username/Password input window. Once the user has filled in a username and a password, the URL containing the PHP script will be called again with the predefined variables PHP_AUTH_USER, PHP_AUTH_PW, and AUTH_TYPE set to the user name, password and authentication type respectively. These predefined variables are found in the $_SERVER and $HTTP_SERVER_VARS arrays. Both "Basic" and "Digest" (since PHP 5.1.0) authentication methods are supported. See the header() function for more information.

Note: PHP Version Note

Superglobals, such as $_SERVER, became available in PHP » 4.1.0.

An example script fragment which would force client authentication on a page is as follows:

Example #6 Basic HTTP Authentication example

if (!isset($_SERVER['PHP_AUTH_USER'])) {
header('WWW-Authenticate: Basic realm="My Realm"');
header('HTTP/1.0 401 Unauthorized');
'Text to send if user hits Cancel button';
} else {
"<p>Hello {$_SERVER['PHP_AUTH_USER']}.</p>";
"<p>You entered {$_SERVER['PHP_AUTH_PW']} as your password.</p>";

Example #7 Digest HTTP Authentication example

This example shows you how to implement a simple Digest HTTP authentication script. For more information read the » RFC 2617.

'Restricted area';

//user => password
$users = array('admin' => 'mypass''guest' => 'guest');

if (empty(
header('HTTP/1.1 401 Unauthorized');
header('WWW-Authenticate: Digest realm="'.$realm.

'Text to send if user hits Cancel button');

// analyze the PHP_AUTH_DIGEST variable
if (!($data http_digest_parse($_SERVER['PHP_AUTH_DIGEST'])) ||
'Wrong Credentials!');

// generate the valid response
$A1 md5($data['username'] . ':' $realm ':' $users[$data['username']]);
$A2 md5($_SERVER['REQUEST_METHOD'].':'.$data['uri']);
$valid_response md5($A1.':'.$data['nonce'].':'.$data['nc'].':'.$data['cnonce'].':'.$data['qop'].':'.$A2);

if (
$data['response'] != $valid_response)
'Wrong Credentials!');

// ok, valid username & password
echo 'You are logged in as: ' $data['username'];

// function to parse the http auth header
function http_digest_parse($txt)
// protect against missing data
$needed_parts = array('nonce'=>1'nc'=>1'cnonce'=>1'qop'=>1'username'=>1'uri'=>1'response'=>1);
$data = array();
$keys implode('|'array_keys($needed_parts));

preg_match_all('@(' $keys ')=(?:([\'"])([^\2]+?)\2|([^\s,]+))@'$txt$matchesPREG_SET_ORDER);

    foreach (
$matches as $m) {
$data[$m[1]] = $m[3] ? $m[3] : $m[4];

$needed_parts false $data;

Note: Compatibility Note

Please be careful when coding the HTTP header lines. In order to guarantee maximum compatibility with all clients, the keyword "Basic" should be written with an uppercase "B", the realm string must be enclosed in double (not single) quotes, and exactly one space should precede the 401 code in the HTTP/1.0 401 header line. Authentication parameters have to be comma-separated as seen in the digest example above.

Instead of simply printing out PHP_AUTH_USER and PHP_AUTH_PW, as done in the above example, you may want to check the username and password for validity. Perhaps by sending a query to a database, or by looking up the user in a dbm file.

Watch out for buggy Internet Explorer browsers out there. They seem very picky about the order of the headers. Sending the WWW-Authenticate header before the HTTP/1.0 401 header seems to do the trick for now.

As of PHP 4.3.0, in order to prevent someone from writing a script which reveals the password for a page that was authenticated through a traditional external mechanism, the PHP_AUTH variables will not be set if external authentication is enabled for that particular page and safe mode is enabled. Regardless, REMOTE_USER can be used to identify the externally-authenticated user. So, you can use $_SERVER['REMOTE_USER'].

Note: Configuration Note

PHP uses the presence of an AuthType directive to determine whether external authentication is in effect.

Note, however, that the above does not prevent someone who controls a non-authenticated URL from stealing passwords from authenticated URLs on the same server.

Both Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer will clear the local browser window's authentication cache for the realm upon receiving a server response of 401. This can effectively "log out" a user, forcing them to re-enter their username and password. Some people use this to "time out" logins, or provide a "log-out" button.

Example #8 HTTP Authentication example forcing a new name/password

function authenticate() {
header('WWW-Authenticate: Basic realm="Test Authentication System"');
header('HTTP/1.0 401 Unauthorized');
"You must enter a valid login ID and password to access this resource\n";
if (!isset(
$_POST['SeenBefore'] == && $_POST['OldAuth'] == $_SERVER['PHP_AUTH_USER'])) {
} else {
"<p>Welcome: " htmlspecialchars($_SERVER['PHP_AUTH_USER']) . "<br />";
"Old: " htmlspecialchars($_REQUEST['OldAuth']);
"<form action='' method='post'>\n";
"<input type='hidden' name='SeenBefore' value='1' />\n";
"<input type='hidden' name='OldAuth' value=\"" htmlspecialchars($_SERVER['PHP_AUTH_USER']) . "\" />\n";
"<input type='submit' value='Re Authenticate' />\n";

This behavior is not required by the HTTP Basic authentication standard, so you should never depend on this. Testing with Lynx has shown that Lynx does not clear the authentication credentials with a 401 server response, so pressing back and then forward again will open the resource as long as the credential requirements haven't changed. The user can press the '_' key to clear their authentication information, however.

Also note that until PHP 4.3.3, HTTP Authentication did not work using Microsoft's IIS server with the CGI version of PHP due to a limitation of IIS. In order to get it to work in PHP 4.3.3+, you must edit your IIS configuration "Directory Security". Click on "Edit" and only check "Anonymous Access", all other fields should be left unchecked.

Another limitation is if you're using the IIS module (ISAPI) and PHP 4, you may not use the PHP_AUTH_* variables but instead, the variable HTTP_AUTHORIZATION is available. For example, consider the following code: list($user, $pw) = explode(':', base64_decode(substr($_SERVER['HTTP_AUTHORIZATION'], 6)));

Note: IIS Note:
For HTTP Authentication to work with IIS, the PHP directive cgi.rfc2616_headers must be set to 0 (the default value).


If safe mode is enabled, the uid of the script is added to the realm part of the WWW-Authenticate header.

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