6.8 Access control, stage 2: Request verification

Once you establish a connection, the server enters stage 2. For each request that comes in on the connection, the server checks whether you have sufficient privileges to perform it, based on the type of operation you wish to perform. This is where the privilege fields in the grant tables come into play. These privileges can come from any of the user, db, host, tables_priv or columns_priv tables. The grant tables are manipulated with GRANT and REVOKE commands. GRANT. (You may find it helpful to refer to 6.6 How the privilege system works, which lists the fields present in each of the grant tables.)

The user table grants privileges that are assigned to you on a global basis and that apply no matter what the current database is. For example, if the user table grants you the delete privilege, you can delete rows from any database on the server host! In other words, user table privileges are superuser privileges. It is wise to grant privileges in the user table only to superusers such as server or database administrators. For other users, you should leave the privileges in the user table set to 'N' and grant privileges on a database-specific basis only, using the db and host tables.

The db and host tables grant database-specific privileges. Values in the scope fields may be specified as follows:

  • The wildcard characters `%' and `_' can be used in the Host and Db fields of either table.
  • A '%' Host value in the db table means ``any host.'' A blank Host value in the db table means ``consult the host table for further information.''
  • A '%' or blank Host value in the host table means ``any host.''
  • A '%' or blank Db value in either table means ``any database.''
  • A blank User value in either table matches the anonymous user.

The db and host tables are read in and sorted when the server starts up (at the same time that it reads the user table). The db table is sorted on the Host, Db and User scope fields, and the host table is sorted on the Host and Db scope fields. As with the user table, sorting puts the most-specific values first and least-specific values last, and when the server looks for matching entries, it uses the first match that it finds.

The tables_priv and columns_priv tables grant table- and column-specific privileges. Values in the scope fields may be specified as follows:

  • The wildcard characters `%' and `_' can be used in the Host field of either table.
  • A '%' or blank Host value in either table means ``any host.''
  • The Db, Table_name and Column_name fields cannot contain wildcards or be blank in either table.

The tables_priv and columns_priv tables are sorted on the Host, Db and User fields. This is similar to db table sorting, although since only the Host field may contain wildcards, the sorting is simpler.

The request verification process is described below. (If you are familiar with the access-checking source code, you will notice that the description here differs slightly from the algorithm used in the code. The description is equivalent to what the code actually does; it differs only to make the explanation simpler.)

For administrative requests (shutdown, reload, etc.), the server checks only the user table entry, since that is the only table that specifies administrative privileges. Access is granted if the entry allows the requested operation and denied otherwise. For example, if you want to execute mysqladmin shutdown but your user table entry doesn't grant the shutdown privilege to you, access is denied without even checking the db or host tables. (Since they contain no Shutdown_priv column, there is no need to do so.)

For database-related requests (insert, update, etc.), the server first checks the user's global (superuser) privileges by looking in the user table entry. If the entry allows the requested operation, access is granted. If the global privileges in the user table are insufficient, the server determines the user's database-specific privileges by checking the db and host tables:

  1. The server looks in the db table for a match on the Host, Db and User fields. Host and User are matched to the connecting user's hostname and MySQL user name. The Db field is matched to the database the user wants to access. If there is no entry for the Host and User, access is denied.
  2. If there is a matching db table entry and its Host field is not blank, that entry defines the user's database-specific privileges.
  3. If the matching db table entry's Host field is blank, it signifies that the host table enumerates which hosts should be allowed access to the database. In this case, a further lookup is done in the host table to find a match on the Host and Db fields. If no host table entry matches, access is denied. If there is a match, the user's database-specific privileges are computed as the intersection (not the union!) of the privileges in the db and host table entries, i.e., the privileges that are 'Y' in both entries. (This way you can grant general privileges in the db table entry and then selectively restrict them on a host-by-host basis using the host table entries.)

After determining the database-specific privileges granted by the db and host table entries, the server adds them to the global privileges granted by the user table. If the result allows the requested operation, access is granted. Otherwise, the server checks the user's table and column privileges in the tables_priv and columns_priv tables and adds those to the user's privileges. Access is allowed or denied based on the result.

Expressed in boolean terms, the preceding description of how a user's privileges are calculated may be summarized like this:

global privileges
OR (database privileges AND host privileges)
OR table privileges
OR column privileges

It may not be apparent why, if the global user entry privileges are initially found to be insufficient for the requested operation, the server adds those privileges to the database-, table- and column-specific privileges later. The reason is that a request might require more than one type of privilege. For example, if you execute an INSERT ... SELECT statement, you need both insert and select privileges. Your privileges might be such that the user table entry grants one privilege and the db table entry grants the other. In this case, you have the necessary privileges to perform the request, but the server cannot tell that from either table by itself; the privileges granted by both entries must be combined.

The host table can be used to maintain a list of ``secure'' servers. At TcX, the host table contains a list of all machines on the local network. These are granted all privileges.

You can also use the host table to indicate hosts that are not secure. Suppose you have a machine public.your.domain that is located in a public area that you do not consider secure. You can allow access to all hosts on your network except that machine by using host table entries like this:

| Host               | Db | ...
| public.your.domain | %  | ... (all privileges set to 'N')
| %.your.domain      | %  | ... (all privileges set to 'Y')

Naturally, you should always test your entries in the grant tables (e.g., using mysqlaccess) to make sure your access privileges are actually set up the way you think they are.