Friday Apr 06, 2012

Securing an ADF Application using OES11g: Part 1

Future releases of the Oracle stack should allow ADF applications to be secured natively with Oracle Entitlements Server (OES).

In a sequence of postings here I explore one way to achive this with the current technology, namely OES and ADF

ADF Security Basics

ADF Bascis

The Application Development Framework (ADF) is Oracle’s preferred technology for developing GUI based Java applications.  It can be used to develop a UI for Swing applications or, more typically in the Oracle stack, for Web and J2EE applications.  ADF is based on and extends the Java Server Faces (JSF) technology.  To get an idea, Oracle provides an online demo to showcase ADF components.

ADF can be used to develop just the UI part of an application, where, for example, the data access layer is implemented using some custom Java beans or EJBs.  However ADF also has it’s own data access layer, ADF Business Components (ADF BC) that will allow rapid integration of data from data bases and Webservice interfaces to the ADF UI component.   In this way ADF helps implement the MVC  approach to building applications with UI and data components.

The canonical tutorial for ADF is to open JDeveloper, define a connection to a database, drag and drop a table from the database view to a UI page, build and deploy.  One has an application up and running very quickly with the ability to quickly integrate changes to, for example, the DB schema.

ADF allows web pages to be created graphically and components like tables, forms, text fields, graphs and so on to be easily added to a page.  On top of JSF Oracle have added drag and drop tooling with JDeveloper and declarative binding of the UI to the data layer, be it database, WebService or Java beans.  An important addition is the bounded task flow which is a reusable set of pages and transitions.   ADF adds some steps to the page lifecycle defined in JSF and adds extra widgets including powerful visualizations.

It is worth pointing out that the Oracle Web Center product (portal, content management and so on) is based on and extends ADF.

ADF Security

ADF comes with it’s own security mechanism that is exposed by JDeveloper at development time and in the WLS Console and Enterprise Manager (EM) at run time.

The security elements that need to be addressed in an ADF application are: authentication, authorization of access to web pages, task-flows, components within the pages and data being returned from the model layer.

One  typically relies on WLS to handle authentication and because of this users and groups will also be handled by WLS.  Typically in a Dev environment, users and groups are stored in the WLS embedded LDAP server.

One has a choice when enabling ADF security (Application->Secure->Configure ADF Security) about whether to turn on ADF authorization checking or not:

In the case where authorization is enabled for ADF one defines a set of roles in which we place users and then we grant access to these roles to the different ADF elements (pages or task flows or elements in a page).

An important notion here is the difference between Enterprise Roles and Application Roles. The idea behind an enterprise role is that is defined in terms of users and LDAP groups from the WLS identity store.  “Enterprise” in the sense that these are things available for use to all applications that use that store.  The other kind of role is an Application Role and the idea is that  a given application will make use of Enterprise roles and users to build up a set of roles for it’s own use.  These application roles will be available only to that application.   The general idea here is that the enterprise roles are relatively static (for example an Employees group in the LDAP directory) while application roles are more dynamic, possibly depending on time, location, accessed resource and so on.  One of the things that OES adds that is that we can define these dynamic membership conditions in Role Mapping Policies.

To make this concrete, here is how, at design time in Jdeveloper, one assigns these rights in Jdeveloper, which puts them into a file called jazn-data.xml:

When the ADF app is deployed to a WLS this JAZN security data is pushed to the system-jazn-data.xml file of the WLS deployment for the policies and application roles and to the WLS backing LDAP for the users and enterprise roles.  Note the difference here: after deploying the application we will see the users and enterprise roles show up in the WLS LDAP server.  But the policies and application roles are defined in the system-jazn-data.xml file. 

Consult the embedded WLS LDAP server to manage users and enterprise roles by going to the domain console and then Security Realms->myrealm->Users and Groups:

For production environments (or in future to share this data with OES) one would then perform the operation of “reassociating” this security policy and application role data to a DB schema (or an LDAP).  This is done in the EM console by reassociating the Security Provider.  This blog posting has more explanations and references on this reassociation process.

If ADF Authentication and Authorization are enabled then the Security Policies for a deployed application can be managed in EM.  Our goal is to be able to manage security policies for the applicaiton rather via OES and it's console.

Security Requirements for an ADF Application

With this package tour of ADF security we can see that to secure an ADF application with we would expect to be able to take care of at least the following items:

  1. Authentication, including a user and user-group store
  2. Authorization for page access
  3. Authorization for bounded Task Flow access.  A bounded task flow has only one point of entry and so if we protect that entry point by calling to OES then all the pages in the flow are protected. 
  4. Authorization for viewing data coming from the data access layer

In the next posting we will describe a sample ADF application and required security policies.


  1. ADF Dev Guide: Fusion Middleware Fusion Developer's Guide for Oracle Application Development Framework: Enabling ADF Security in a Fusion Web Application
  2. Oracle tutorial on securing a sample ADF application, appears to require ADF 11.1.2
  3. Now, securely deploying your secured ADF application



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