user_manage: The All-Purpose Web Server User Management Script


For obscure reasons, there isn't a satisfactory remote tool for the Apache Web server that allows authorized users to change their passwords remotely. As a result, the onerous task of managing the password and group files falls on the Webmaster. user_manage was written to fill this need. In addition to its basic role as a password changer, this script allows the Webmaster to add, edit and delete users and groups, all via a form-based interface.

user_manage handles most variants of the Apache "Basic" and "Digest" authentication scheme. Using one simple interface, it manages each of the following types of password and group files:

  1. Human readable text files.
  2. DBM database files.
  3. Berkeley DB database files.
  4. SQL databases.
In addition to running as a CGI script, user_manage can be used from the command-line to manipulate users and groups, replacing both dbmmanage and htpasswd with a simple and consistent interface. Furthermore, by allowing you to define security "realms" consisting of paired password and group files, it avoids operator errors that often result in the incorrect password file being modified.

Many of user_manage's functions will also work with other Unix Web servers, including NCSA httpd, and the CERN server. There is support for Netscape user (but not group) databases. This script has not been tested with Windows NT servers.


The entire package is available as a gzipped tar archive at this link:

System Requirements

user_manage requires the following components to be installed on the webserver machine in order to run:
The Perl interpreter
Perl5.003 or higher is recommended.

HTTPD Modules
This set of Perl modules, written by Doug MacEachern and enhanced by myself, provides core file manipulation routines. For your convenience, it is included with this distribution. The modules must be installed in the Perl library directory as described below. and CGI::Carp
These Perl modules provide various utilities to the program when running as a CGI script. They can be obtained at the link above.


This section explains how to install user_manage.

Unpack the Distribution

Unpack the distribution using the tar and zcat programs.
% zcat user_manage.tar.gz | tar xvf -
drwxr-xr-x lstein/lstein     0 Dec 22 20:14 1997 HTTPD-User-Manage-1.5/
drwxr-xr-x lstein/lstein     0 Dec 22 20:14 1997 HTTPD-User-Manage-1.5/lib/
drwxr-xr-x lstein/lstein     0 Dec 22 20:14 1997 HTTPD-User-Manage-1.5/lib/HTTPD/
drwxr-xr-x lstein/lstein     0 Dec 22 20:14 1997 HTTPD-User-Manage-1.5/lib/HTTPD/UserAdmin/
-r--r--r-- lstein/lstein  1934 Dec 22 18:49 1997 HTTPD-User-Manage-1.5/lib/HTTPD/UserAdmin/
-r--r--r-- lstein/lstein  5847 Dec 11 17:30 1997 HTTPD-User-Manage-1.5/lib/HTTPD/UserAdmin/
This will unpack the distribution in a directory named HTTPD-User-Manage-X.X, where X.X is the current version number.

Install the HTTPD::* Modules

Change to the distribution directory (HTTPD-User-Manage-X.X), and type the following:
% perl Makefile.PL
% make
% make test
% make install
This will copy the HTTPD modules to the correct location within the Perl library directory. You may need to be root in order to do this.

The HTTPD modules are useful in their own right. During the installation process, Perl will have created man pages for them which you can read with the perldoc command. Read the manual page for HTTPD::Realm first, then HTTPD::RealmManager.

Install the user_manage Script

Copy user_manage into your server's cgi-bin directory, or another directory that allows CGI scripts. Make sure that it is executable and that the top line points to the correct location of Perl on your system, e.g.

Work Out Permissions for the Password and Group Files

If you plan to run user_manage as a CGI script, then you'll need to worry about file permissions. When the script is executed by the server, it runs with the server's effective user ID, usually an unprivileged user such as "nobody". However, this user usually does not have permission to write to the server's password and group files. Thus the script will fail. In order for the script to be able to update password and group files, not only must it have write access to the files themselves, but to the directory that contains them. This last requirement is because the script creates lock and other temporary files within the directory.

Several workable configurations are possible:

Make user_manage Run as a SUID Script

Perl is capable of safely running scripts set-user-id (suid). When the script runs, Perl temporarily changes to a different user ID and executes the script. user_manage has been written to be safe when running in this way.

Designate a directory that will hold the various password and group files, for example /etc/httpd/security. Make it owned and writable by a specially-designated "web administrator" account, for example "www". Now, running as root, change the ownership of user_manage to "www" and set its "s" bit:

# chown www user_manage
# chmod u+s user_manage
# ls -l user_manage
-rwsr-xr-x   1 www   users      18928 Jan 14 03:47 user_manage*
In order for suid to work, this feature needs to be configured into Perl when it is compiled. You may need to reinstall Perl if suid was not enabled, particularly if Perl came preinstalled on your system. There is also a bug in perl 5.003 when running under some versions of OSF/1 (Digital Unix) that causes suid scripts to exit silently without producing any output. To fix this bug, apply the patch located in the file suid.patch included with this distribution to the Perl source tree and recompile.

Make user_manage Run as a SGID Script

An alternative to running the script suid is to set the set-group-id bit instead. This will cause the script to execute with the permissions of its owning group. You can then arrange for the password and group files to reside within a group-writable directory, such as one belonging to a web administrators' "www" group.

# chgrp www user_manage
# chmod g+s user_manage
# ls -l user_manage
-rwxr-sr-x   1 root   www      18928 Jan 14 03:47 user_manage*
Under this scheme it may be convenient to have the script create new password and group files with group writable permissions. To do this, change the script global $CREATE_MODE to "0664". (See Configuring the Script.

Keep the Password and Group Files in a Directory writable by "nobody"

If you prefer not to run user_manage as a suid or sgid script, you can place the password and group files in a directory that is owned and writable by the Web server's effective user ID and/or group. If you wish for the password files to be modifiable from the command line, you should also make this directory group writable by a group that you belong to.

While this strategy is effective, it has the disadvantage that it gives the web server and all other CGI scripts the ability to modify the password and group files. A remote user exploiting a security hole in the server or one of its CGI scripts could then take advantage of this fact to alter the password file.

Restrict Access to the Script

Because you don't want everyone in the world to view and edit your server's password files, user_manage must be placed under some kind of access restrictions. You can do this either by placing the script in a restricted directory to use the server's access restrictions, or by allowing the script to do its own user authentication.

Configure the Script

There are several global variables towards the top of the script that will need to be modified to suit your site. Open the script with a text editor and make the changes if need be.
This variable is set to the full pathname of the script's realm configuration file. This file holds the definitions of all the security realms at your site. It's set to '/etc/httpd/conf/realms.conf' by default. Change it according to your preferences (I like to keep the config file in the same place as the other web server configuration files).

This global defines the name of an administrator's group. When a user who belong to this group invokes the script remotely, she is granted special privileges to add, edit and remove users. The default is "administrators". Set this to an empty string to disable this feature entirely.

This global controls whether changes to administrators' accounts are restricted. When set to 1, the password of an administrator's account may only be changed by himself. Membership in the privileged $ADMIN_GROUP may only be granted or revoked by the webmaster using conventional command line tools, but no longer by this script. Administrators thus cannot deny each other access, and they can't grant privileged access to others without the webmaster's consent.

This is the default group to assign newly-created users to, "users" by default. Set it to an empty string to disable automatic group assignment.

This global affects the manner in which the script interacts with Apache's access control facilities. Ordinarily the script first checks the environment to determine whether the user has already provided a user name and password in order to access the script. If it finds this to be the case, it takes the current user name directly from the environment and allows the user to change her password. If access to the script has not been restricted, it performs its own access control by prompting the user for a valid user name and password.

With this variable set to a non-zero value, the script will refuse to run at all unless it is in a password-protected directory. Both GET and POST methods must be restricted. Here's a typical excerpt from Apache's access.conf file:

<Location /cgi-bin/admin>
  AuthUserFile   /etc/httpd/security/passwd
  AuthGroupFile  /etc/httpd/security/group
  AuthType       Basic
  AuthName       Main

  <Limit GET POST>
    order allow,deny
    allow from all
    require valid-user
Placing the script under access control provides a small amount of additional security at the cost of an extra layer of complexity. It is ordinarily unnecessary.

These are the file permissions to use for newly-created password and group files. By default, this variable is set to mode 0644, which grants the owner read/write permission and others read-only permission. If you wish to grant edit access to a group of local users, such as designated web administrators, you might want to change this value to 0664, to give the group read/write access.

When this script is run from the command line, it uses the "stty" program to turn off command echo so that you can type in passwords invisibly. The location of this program may differ from system to system. If you encounter problems with this part of the script, check the location of stty and correct the value of this variable.

Create the Realm Configuration File

Rather than force you to remember the paths to individual password files, user_manage uses a "security realm" scheme to group related password and group files under meaningful nicknames. Before you can use this scheme, you must create a configuration file and save it in the location indicated by the $CONFIG_FILE global.

A sample configuration file, realms.conf is included in this distribution. Its format is similar to that used by Apache for its access control file. Blank lines and lines beginning with the "#" character are ignored. The file should contain a series of realm definitions, each beginning with a <Realm> directive and ending with a </Realm> directive. For example:

<Realm main>
	Users      /etc/httpd/security/passwd
	Groups     /etc/httpd/security/group
	Type       Text

<Realm development>
	Users     /etc/httpd/security/devel.passwd
	Groups    /etc/httpd/security/
	Type      DBM
This example shows the definitions for two security realms, one named "main" and the other named "development". Each realm section contains the three directives Users, Groups, and Type:

Required Directives in the <Realm> Section
Directive Example Parameters Description
Users /etc/httpd/passwdPath to the user password file
Groups /etc/httpd/group Path to the group file
Type DBM Type of file to use

The Users and Groups directives should contain absolute path names (except when using SQL databases for authentication; see below). Relative path names will be rejected. Type may be one of Text, DBM, DB, or SQL. These correspond to Apache's flat file, DBM file, DB file, and mSQL authentication formats respectively. Please be careful that the user and group files that you declare in Apache's access.conf file correspond to the type declared in the user_manage configuration file:

Correspondence between Realm Type and Apache access.conf Directives
Type Password File Directive Group File Directive
Text AuthUserFile AuthGroupFile
DBM AuthDBMUserFile AuthDBMGroupFile
DB AuthDBUserFile AuthDBGroupFile
SQL see below see below
For the purposes of compatibility with future versions of Apache, user_manage recognizes and works with other types of DBM-like databases as well, including GDBM, ODBM, and SDBM, as well as any SQL database for which there is a Perl driver.

The first realm defined in the configuration file becomes the default, unless otherwise specified by a Default directive (see the next section).

Other Configuration File Directives

In addition to the required realm directives, there are several optional ones that customize the security realm in various ways. The complete list of directives is given in the table below:

Full List of configuration file directives
Directive Example Param Description
Authentication Basic Authentication scheme
Database Location of SQL db
Default none Default realm
Driver mSQL DBI SQL driver
Fields name age paid Additional user fields
Groups /etc/httpd/group Path to group database
GroupType SQL Database type
Server NCSA Type of server
Type DBM Database type
Users /etc/httpd/passwd Path to user database
UserType DB Database type

This directives specifies the type of authentication to use. It can be either "Basic" or "Digest." Digest, part of the HTTP/1.1 protocol, is much more secure than basic authentication, but is implemented by few browsers currently.

This directive is valid for SQL databases only and indicates where the authentication database can be found. It should be in the format database@host. If the hostname is omitted, "localhost" is assumed. For mSQL databases, performance will be much better if database and Web server are on the same machine because in this case, the client and server use a Unix socket to communicate rather than a TCP/IP socket.

For SQL databases only, this directive specifies what DBD (database driver) module to use. It defaults to "mSQL". You can use any database for which a DBD module is available. You must also, of course, compile and configure the Web server to correctly use the driver.

If this directive is present, the current realm becomes the default to use when no realm is explicitly indicated. If no section in the configuration file contains this directive, the first defined realm becomes the default. It is a fatal error for Default to appear in more than one section.

This directive lists other fields that can be found in the user table. These fields can then be read and set by user_manage, both in its command line and CGI script forms.

The Fields directive specifies a list of field names of the form name[:type][width]. Only the name is required. The field type and width are optional hints that help user_manage format the field values correctly on the Web page. The type can be one of "i", for an integer value, "s" for a string value and "f" for a floating point number. If not specified, the field is assumed to be of type string. The field value must be an integer.

In the example below we define three fields named "Name", "Age" and "Paid". The first is a string value of default length. The second is an integer. The third is a string of length one (it's assumed to be a "Y" or "N"):

      Fields   Name Age:i Paid:s1
Many more fields may be present in SQL databases than are listed in the Fields directive. The Fields directive just tells the user_manage script which fields should be made visible to the user interface.

Path to the file that holds the database of groups. Both relative and absolute paths are accepted, but absolute paths are preferred. This directive has a special format when using SQL databases, see below.

The type of the group database only, allowing you to use separate types for the user and group databases. May be any of DBM, DB, SQL, NDBM, GDBM, ODBM or SDBM. If not provided, the value of Type is used instead.

Web servers differ slightly in the format of the users and groups databases. This directive indicates which server you are using. Recognized values include "apache", "ncsa", "cern" and "netscape." Example:
      Server cern
If no server is specified, "apache" is assumed. If your server is not on this list, try "ncsa".

The database type. May be any of DBM, DB, SQL, NDBM, GDBM, ODBM or SDBM. This directive applies to both the user and group databases.

Path to the file that holds the database of users, their passwords and other information. Both relative and absolute paths are accepted, but absolute paths are preferred. This directive has a special format when using SQL databases, see below.

The type of the user database only, allowing you to use separate types for the user and group databases. May be any of DBM, DB, SQL, NDBM, GDBM, ODBM or SDBM. If not provided, the value of Type is used instead.

SQL Databases

user_manage can also communicate with various SQL databases using Tim Bunce's DBI database interface (ODBC is not currently supported, but a future version may do so). The Apache Web server can use the inexpensive mSQL and MySQL databases for access control. Future versions of Apache may be able to access other SQL databases as well.

When using SQL databases, the Users and Groups directives in the realms configuration file have a different format. Instead of pointing to a physical file, these directives contain information about what table and field the user, password and group information is stored in. A typical Users directive looks like this:

Users table=users uid=name password=pass
The directive consists of three tags. The "table" tag designates the database table that contains the user information. "uid" indicates the field that contains the user name, and "password" names the field that contains the user's password. For performance reasons, the user name field should be declared the primary index.

The Groups directive has a similar structure:

Groups table=groups group=grp
"table" contains the name of the database table in which the group information can be found. "group" contains the name of the field in which the group name is stored. You do not have to provide a "uid" tag in this case, because it is automatically inherited from the uid field in the Users directive. If you do provide a "uid" tag, it must be the same as the corresponding field in the users table (this is an Apache limitation; not a user_manage limitation). Note that ANSI SQL forbids you from using the word "group" as a field name. Some databases, including mySQL will not allow you to create a table with a column named "group."

A typical mSQL user table looks like this:

 | name         | password      | full_name            | age  | paid |
 | agnes        | nLMOlUUs0/3GM | Agnes Smith          | 20   | Y    |
 | lstein       | 85yefVEyK06Is | Lincoln Stein        | 37   | Y    |
 | phillip      | y/iH4JfAbyLS2 | Phillip Smith        | 19   | N    |
 | wanda        | xKEzzIfvHdMug | Wanda Smith          | 19   | Y    |
A typical groups table looks like this:
 | name                 | grp                            |
 | agnes                | users                          |
 | agnes                | authors                        |
 | agnes                | engineers                      |
 | lstein               | administrators                 |
 | lstein               | authors                        |
 | phillip              | users                          |
 | wanda                | users                          |
In this example, agnes belongs to groups named "users," "authors," and "engineers." lstein belongs to "authors" and "administrators," while phillip and wanda each belong to "users" only.

You may use the same table for both users and their groups. However if you want to assign a user to more than one group, then you must use separate tables. This is because each user record must be unique in the user table, whereas the same user will appear once in the group table for each group that he or she belongs to. Another implication of this is that the user ID field in the group table cannot be a primary key, otherwise it would be forced to be unique.

As in the Fields directive, you can provide optional field widths for each of the field declarations in the Users and Groups directives. The field widths are used as hints by the CGI script version of user_manage to format the fill-out form nicely. Follow the field name with a colon and the field width, as in:

Users table=users uid=name:30 password=pass:13
There is no need to declare the field type since they must be strings, but it doesn't hurt to do so.

You will also need to declare the location of the database and its DBI driver using Database and Driver directive. If these directives do not appear, they default to "www@localhost" and "mSQL" respectively.

Unlike other database types, user_manage does not automatically create SQL database tables for you. You will need to create the tables manually before you use user_manage for the first time. If you wish, the user_manage "setup" command will output the necessary SQL table creation commands for you.

Using user_manage as a CGI Script

Allowing an Ordinary User to Change Her Password

In the simplest case, an ordinary (unprivileged) user can use user_manage to change her password on-line. To make this possible, create an HTML page with a link like this one:
<A HREF="/cgi-bin/user_manage?realm=development">
    Change Your Password

This link invokes the user_manage script with the single parameter realm set to the security realm you wish to modify. If you don't provide this argument, the first realm defined in the script's configuration file will be assumed.

To create a button that does the same thing, adapt the following fragment of HTML:

<FORM ACTION="/cgi-bin/user_manage" METHOD=POST>
    <INPUT TYPE="hidden" NAME="realm" VALUE="development">
    <INPUT TYPE="submit" VALUE="Change Password">
When the user selects this link, she will be presented with a page similar to the one shown here, which prompts her to type in her name and password.

figure 1
Password prompt

After the script confirs that the user's name and correct password are found in the password file, the user will be prompted to enter a new password with a page like the one shown here:

figure 2
New password prompt

The user enters her new password twice in order to avoid typing errors. The script then confirms that the password was successfully changed.

figure 3
Password confirmation screen

If an error occurred while updating the password file, the user will be given a generic error message. A more specific error message containing diagnostic output will be found in the server's error log.

Managing Users Remotely

If the user who accesses the password changing script belongs to the special group "administrators" (or whatever is set in the $ADMIN_GROUP global), a different screen will appear similar to the screenshot shown here. This screen contains a pop-up menu of all currently defined users (it turns into a scrolling list when the number of user exceeds eight). It also contains a blank textfield for adding entirely new users. From this screen you can edit the passwords and groups of existing users, define new users, and delete users entirely.

figure 4
Administrator's user management screen

Adding a New User

To add a new user, type his or her user name into the text field labeled New User and press Edit/Add. A screen like this one will appear:

figure 5
Adding a new user

The checkboxes labeled Set Groups contains all the groups currently defined. Toggle all the groups that you wish the user to belong to. If a group isn't already defined, you can type in its name in the text field labeled Other:. Enter and reenter the password for this user in the text fields labeled Password Enter and Confirm. When you are satisifed, press the Set Values button. A confirmation will appear at the top of the page, and the script will display the "User Edit" page described in the next section. You can re-edit the user (to define new groups, for example), edit a different user, or add another new user.

If any additional user fields are defined in the configuration file, they will appear as a series of text fields in a section labeled "Other Information". In the example shown here there are three labeled "name", "age" and "paid."

If there are more than five groups defined, the list of checkboxes will turn into a scrolling list in order to save space.

Editing an Existing User

To edit an existing user, just select the user from the user list and press Edit/Add. This will bring up the page shown below. The top portion of the screen contains a duplicate of the user selection page, while the bottom portion contains the entry for the selected user. Edit the user's assigned groups and/or passwords and press Set Values. If you inadvertently make a change that you do not want to keep, press Reset Values to revert to the original values.

The screenshot below also shows how the popup menu of existing users turns into a scrolling list when the number becomes large.

figure 6
Editing an existing user

Deleting a User

Select the user you wish to delete from the user list and press the Delete button.

Managing Users from the Command Line

user_manage can be used from the command line to add, edit, and delete users. It's also a handy way to view the contents of a DB or DBM file.

The syntax for invoking the script from the command line is:

user_manage [realm] command argument1 argument2 argument3
The first argument to the command is the security realm. You can, if you wish, omit the realm name entirely. If you do so, the script will default to the first realm defined in its configuration file. This is followed by a command indicating the action you want the script to take. Following this are zero or more additional arguments, the meaning of which depend on the command that's being issued.

Here's a summary of the commands and their arguments:

Commands recognized by user_manage
Command Arguments Description
setup (none) First-time setup for a database
add user password [group1,group2...] [field1=value1,field2=value2...] Add or edit a user's password & groups
delete user1 user2... Delete named users
edit user password [group1,group2...] [field1=value1,field2=value2...] A synonym for "add"
realms (none) Concise list of all defined realms
group user [group1,group2...] Set the user's groups
group user [field1=value1,field2=value2...] Set the user's values
view user1 user2... View users' entries
view (none) View all users
format (none) Create a formatted entry for access.conf

Initial Setup of a Security Realm

If you issue the "setup" command, user_manage will create a new database for you containing a single administrative user. It will prompt you for the administrator's name, and the name of the administrative group. For example:
$ user_manage -r development setup
Pick a name for the administrative group [administrators]: 
Pick a name for the administrative account: lstein
New password: ********
Re-type new password: *******
Added lstein to database development in group administrators.
If the database already exists, its other user entries will not be erased. However, if the name you chose for the administrative account already exists in the database it will be overwritten.

If you are using an SQL database, "setup" will not make any changes directly to the database. Instead, it prints out a series of SQL commands suitable for feeding to the database via a command-line or batch tool. For example:

$ user_manage -r wizards setup
Pick a name for the administrative group [administrators]: 
Pick a name for the administrative account: lstein
New password: ******
Re-type new password: ******
Create database www and feed it this code:

   uid	char(12)	primary key,
   password	char(3)	not null,
    name	char(30),
    age	        int,
    paid	char(1)

INSERT INTO users (uid,password)
   uid	char(12),
   grp	char(20)
INSERT INTO groups (uid,grp)

Viewing the Contents of a Security Realm

To get the listing of a security realm, issue the "view" command. With no user names, this will dump out the entire contents of the passwd and groups files in a convenient tabular file. To see the entries on selected users, list their names. For example:
$ user_manage -r development view
Name            Password         Groups                Info
----            --------         ------                ----
ben             Yr.a3p6C/3Rlg    users
ebuliah         DZlBiw41ZDmo2    users
joshua          9Fb2NkZe4xY4I    authors,users         name=Joshua Canaan,age=20,paid=Y
leigh           krIfoqNKkpyho    users                 name=Leigh Deacon,age=28,paid=Y
lois            aBIdyi3Q2FdTw    users                 name=Lois Lane,age=24,paid=Y
lstein          xfPti/KeINcC2    administrators,authors,

$ user_manage development view lois joshua
Name            Password         Groups               Info
----            --------         ------               ----
joshua          9Fb2NkZe4xY4I    authors,users        name=Joshua Canaan,age=20,paid=Y
lois            aBIdyi3Q2FdTw    users                name=Lois Lane,age=24,paid=Y
Note that the passwords appear in encrypted form. All passwords are encrypted before being placed into the password file. Once encrypted, there is no easy way of recovering the original password.

Adding a New User

Issue the add command, giving the name of the new user, her initial password, a comma-delimited list of groups you want her to belong to, and zero or more field=value pairs. If you don't specify any groups, the script will assign the user to the default group defined by the $DEFAULT_GROUP global variable. If you specify an empty group using any of "-", '' or "", the user will be assigned to no groups.

If the realm has additional fields defined by a Fields directive, you can set this information here by passing user_manage a comma-delimited series of field name = value pairs. Be careful if field values contain embedded white space or shell metacharacters. If this is the case, you'll need to protect the entire series of name=value pairs with quotation marks. Field names that are not explicitly listed in the configuration file will be silently ignored.

If you do not enter the user name or password on the command line, you will be prompted for it. It's actually safer not to type passwords on the command line as they can be easily intercepted by other users of the system.

In each of these examples, the realm has been omitted, allowing user_manage to use the default realm.

Add a user and password, accepting default group assignment
$ user_manage add joseph open-sesame
Password successfully changed for joseph.
Group set to users.

Add a new user and password, setting groups explicitly
$ user_manage add leigh greenman users,authors
Password successfully changed for leigh.
Group set to users authors.

Add a new user and password, setting groups and extra info
$ user_manage add george xyzzy users,authors "name=George Jetson,paid=Y"
Password successfully changed for george.
Group set to users authors.

Let the script prompt for missing values
$ user_manage add
User name: duncan
Enter password:
Re-type password:
Password successfully changed for duncan.
Group set to users.

Changing the Password of an Existing User

Use the add command as described above. You can also change the group assignments at the same time. For your convenience, the command edit is also available. However it is identical in functionality to add.

Changing Group Assignments without Affecting the Password

If you wish to change a user's group assignments without resetting her password, issue the group command with the user's name and the list of groups to assign her to (separated either by white space or by commas). Use any of "-", '' or "" to assign the user to no groups.


$ user_manage group joseph users,authors,administrators
Groups set for joseph.
If you omit the user name or list of groups, the program will prompt you for their values.

Changing User Information without Affecting the Password or Groups

If you wish to change a user's additional field information without resetting the other information, issue the info command with the user's name and a comma-delimited set of field_name=value pairs. If you do not provide the field pairs, the program will prompt for them. Fields that are not listed in a Fields directive in the configuration file will be silently ignored.


$ user_manage info george age=20
Info successfully changed for george.

$ user_manage info george
Enter comma-separated list of field=value pairs for george: age=80
Info successfully changed for george.
If you don't specify the user name, the program will prompt for it.

Deleting a User

Issue the delete command with a list of users to remove entirely (whitespace-delimited). If you do not enter at least one name, the program will prompt you.

Obtaining the List of Defined Realms

Issue the realms command with no arguments. This will list all the realms defined in the script's configuration file.
$ user_manage realms
Name                        Type
----                        ----
development                 DB
*main                       File
test                        DBM
The default realm is indicated with an asterisk.

Formatting a .htaccess or access.conf Entry

The format command will produce an access control entry suitable for cutting and pasting into your Web server's access control file. The basic entry allows access to all valid users. You should modify this entry to reflect your intent.

Here are some examples:

$ user_manage -r development format
AuthName	development
AuthType	Basic
AuthDBUserDB	./devel.passwd
AuthDBGroupDB	./
require valid-user

$ user_manage -r wizards format
AuthName	wizards
AuthType	Basic
Auth_MSQLHost		localhost
Auth_MSQLDatabase	www
Auth_MSQLpwd_table	users
Auth_MSQLuid_field 	uid
Auth_MSQLpwd_field	password
Auth_MSQLgrp_table	groups
Auth_MSQLgrp_field	grp
require valid-user
This can be a real time-saver, particularly if you have trouble remembering the spelling of all those directives!

Restrictions on Using user_manage from the Command Line

As explained earlier, file permissions are a big issue when running user_manage as a CGI script. One solution is to make the script run as set-group-id or set-user-id. When run from the command line, the script will disable the sgid and suid bits and run with the effective ID of the user launching it. This prevents local users from wantonly changing the password files without appropriate permissions.

The one exception to this rule is that if the user's UNIX login name matches the name of a user who belongs to the "administrators" group, the script will honor the sgid and suid bits. This mimics the behavior of the script when it's running as a CGI program.

Bugs and Caveats

File Locking

Because user_manage is used as a CGI script, it is possible that several users will try to update the password and group files simultaneously. In order to prevent files from becoming scrambled by this, the script implements a form of file locking that allows only one user to have write access to the files at any time.

The file locking used by this script is based on the Unix fcntl() call, which does not work correctly across NFS mounted volumes. Because of this, the password and group files must reside on one of the web server's local disks. For the same reason, if you use user_manage from the command line, you should do it from the web server's host machine.

If the script exits prematurely for some reason, it may leave lock files lying around. These appear as files with the extension ".TMP" in the directory holding the password and group files. You can safely ignore these files or delete them. Their presence will not adversely affect the script's operation. If the script consistently fails to clean up lock files, please contact me. There's probably a bug.

Another thing to be aware of is that the Apache server itself doesn't honor the file locks. If a user updates a password or group file at the same time that Apache is trying to read it, the server may read partial or outdated information. This may cause rare intermittent user authentication errors. (The same is also true of the htpasswd and dbmmanage scripts, which don't use any sort of locking at all).

Apache Doesn't Recognize Security Realms

Security realms are a good way of organizing your site's access policies by keeping related password and group files together. Apache would benefit from this concept, but currently doesn't. You're still responsible for maintaining correct paths to the password and group files in access.conf.

An Apache module that works with Doug MacEachern's mod_perl is in the works to correct this deficiency

No Support for Netscape Group Files

The Netscape server stores group information using a scheme that is somewhat more complex than other servers do. No support is currently provided for these group files. You can still define an administration group to manage users remotely with this tool, but the groups are not honored by the Netscape server.

Don't Use This Script to Change /etc/passwd or /etc/group !!

The file formats are different. You will destroy your system if you try it.

The Script Doesn't Handle NIS, POP or System Passwords

It's designed for updating passwords on the Web only. If you want to allow users to change their POP, NIS or system passwords via a Web interface, you're going to have to roll your own.

Modification History

Version 1.56 - May 6, 1999

  1. Added support for authenticating to SQL databases.

Version 1.51 - December 30, 1997

  1. Fixed support for the Netscape server and added caveats about not supporting Netscape groups.

Version 1.50 - December 30, 1997

  1. Fully integrated with Doug MacEachern's HTTPD::* modules.
  2. Handles SQL databases.
  3. Allows you to get and set additional field information.

Version 1.00 - January 15, 1997

  1. First release

Version 1.01 - March 8, 1997

  1. Changed group list from scrolling list to checkbox group if small enough.
  2. Turned off suid and sgid bits if run by unprivileged user from command line.

Author and Distribution Information

The current version of this package can be found at:
If you are having trouble with the script, check here for updates.

user_manage was written by Lincoln D. Stein. It can be freely distributed and modified, so long as this documentation accompanies it and the following copyright statement is displayed in the source code:

Copyright 1997-2000 Lincoln D. Stein.  All rights reserved.
See the accompanying HTML file for usage and distribution
information.  The master version can be found at:

Lincoln D. Stein,
Whitehead Institute/MIT Center for Genome Research
Last modified: Mon Nov 21 13:15:07 EST 2005