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6 The MySQL access privilege system

MySQL has an advanced but non-standard security/privilege system. This section describes how it works.

6.1 General security

Anyone using MySQL on a computer connected to the Internet should read this chapter to avoid mistakes people do.

Under "security" we mean that our site, not only MySQL is protected against all types of applicable attacks: eavesdropping, altering, playback and Denial of Service. We do not cover all aspects of availability and fault tolerance here.

There are some security logic in MySQL: Access control lists (ACL-s) and SSL encrypted connections but much more is depending on overall usage of MySQL. Also most of this chapter isn't MySQL dependant at all. Same rules apply for most applications.

When you running a site, designing software or just doing something with MySQL then try to follow these rules:

  • Try to understand MySQL ACL system. The GRANT/REVOKE commands are for restricting access to MySQL. Do not grant anyone for more than is must. Never grant all hosts to do something. Checklist:
    • Do mysql -u root. If you granted a connection without asking password, then this is bad.
    • Use command SHOW GRANTS and check who is having access and to what.
  • Do not keep any plain passwords in tables when possible. When your computer gets compromised, intruder can take full list of passwords and use them in somewhere else place. Instead use MD5() or other one-way hashing function.
  • Do not use passwords from dictionaries. There are special programs to break them. Even passwords like: "xfish98" are very bad. Much better is "duag" which is same word "fish" but typed one key left on keyboard. Another method is to use "Mhall" which is taken from first characters of sentence "Mary had a little lamb". Easy to type when you know the system but hard to guess from side.
  • Invest in firewall. This protects for at least 50% of all types of exploits in any software. Put MySQL behind the firewall or in demilitarized zone (DMZ). Checklist:
    • Try to scan your ports from Internet. MySQL uses port 3306 by default. This port should be unaccessible for most cases.
  • Do not trust any data entered from user. Users can enter special symbols from web-forms, URL-s or your custom application. Are you sure that your application remains secure if user enters something like ; DROP ALL DATABASES ; into form? Checklist:
    • All WWW applications:
      • Try to enter ' and " in all forms on your WWW. If you get any kind of MySQL error, better take your site down.
      • Try to modify any types of dynamic URL-s by adding %22 ("), %23 (#) and %27 (') in your URL.
      • Try to modify datatypes in dynamic URL-s from numeric ones to character ones containing characters from previous example. Your application should be safe against this.
      • Try to enter characters, spaces, special symbols instead of numbers in numeric fields. Application should remove them before passing to MySQL or your application should generate error. Passing wrong things to MySQL is dangerous!
      • Check data sizes before passing them to MySQL.
    • Users of PHP3:
      • Check out the addslashes() function
    • Users of MySQL C API:
      • Check out the mysql_escape() API call.
    • Users of MySQL++:
      • Check out the escape and quote modifiers (?) for query streams.
  • Do not transmit plain data over the net. This data is accessible to everyone who have interest to trap this information and reuse it somewhere. If you really need this, use encrypted communications like SSL. MySQL supports internal SSL connections beginning from version 3.23.9.
  • Learn to use utilities "tcpdump" and "strings". For most cases you can see unencrypted MySQL data streams issuing command:
    tcpdump -l -i eth0 -w - src or dst port 3306 | strings
    (This works under linux and should work with small modifications under another systems). Warning: If you do not see data this doesn't actually always mean that it is encrypted. If you need high security you should consult with security expert.

6.2 How to make MySQL secure against crackers

When you connect to a MySQL server, you should normally use a password. The password is not transmitted in clear text over the connection.

All other information is transferred as text that can be read by anyone that is able to watch the connection. If you are concerned about this, you can use the compressed protocol (in MySQL 3.22 and above) to make things much harder. To make things even more secure you should install ssh (see http://www.cs.hut.fi/ssh). With this, you can get an encrypted TCP/IP connection between a MySQL server and a MySQL client.

To make a MySQL system secure, you should strongly consider the following suggestions:

  • Use passwords for all MySQL users. Remember that anyone can log in as any other person as simply as mysql -u other_user db_name if other_user has no password. It is common behavior with client/server applications that the client may specify any user name. You can change the password of all users by editing the mysql_install_db script before you run it, or only the password for the MySQL root user like this:
    shell> mysql -u root mysql
    mysql> UPDATE user SET Password=PASSWORD('new_password')
               WHERE user='root';
  • Don't run the MySQL daemon as the Unix root user. mysqld can be run as any user. You can also create a new Unix user mysql to make everything even more secure. If you run mysqld as another Unix user, you don't need to change the root user name in the user table, because MySQL user names have nothing to do with Unix user names. You can edit the mysql.server script to start mysqld as another Unix user. Normally this is done with the su command. For more details, see section 18.8 How to run MySQL as a normal user.
  • If you put a password for the Unix root user in the mysql.server script, make sure this script is readable only by root.
  • Check that the Unix user that mysqld runs as is the only user with read/write privileges in the database directories.
  • Don't give the process privilege to all users. The output of mysqladmin processlist shows the text of the currently executing queries, so any user who is allowed to execute that command might be able to see if another user issues an UPDATE user SET password=PASSWORD('not_secure') query. mysqld saves an extra connection for users who have the process privilege, so that a MySQL root user can log in and check things even if all normal connections are in use.
  • Don't give the file privilege to all users. Any user that has this privilege can write a file anywhere in the file system with the privileges of the mysqld daemon! To make this a bit safer, all files generated with SELECT ... INTO OUTFILE are readable to everyone, and you can't overwrite existing files. The file privilege may also be used to read any file accessible to the Unix user that the server runs as. This could be abused, for example, by using LOAD DATA to load `/etc/passwd' into a table, which can then be read with SELECT.
  • If you don't trust your DNS, you should use IP numbers instead of hostnames in the grant tables. In principle, the --secure option to mysqld should make hostnames safe. In any case, you should be very careful about using hostname values that contain wildcards!

The following mysqld options affect security:

IP numbers returned by the gethostbyname() system call are checked to make sure they resolve back to the original hostname. This makes it harder for someone on the outside to get access by simulating another host. This option also adds some sanity checks of hostnames. The option is turned off by default in MySQL 3.21 since it sometimes takes a long time to perform backward resolutions. MySQL 3.22 caches hostnames and has this option enabled by default.
This option causes the server not to use the privilege system at all. This gives everyone full access to all databases! (You can tell a running server to start using the grant tables again by executing mysqladmin reload.)
Hostnames are not resolved. All Host column values in the grant tables must be IP numbers or localhost.
Don't allow TCP/IP connections over the network. All connections to mysqld must be made via Unix sockets. This option is unsuitable for systems that use MIT-pthreads, because the MIT-pthreads package doesn't support Unix sockets.

6.3 What the privilege system does

The primary function of the MySQL privilege system is to authenticate a user connecting from a given host, and to associate that user with select, insert, update and delete privileges on a database.

Additional functionality includes the ability to have an anonymous user and to grant privileges for MySQL-specific functions such as LOAD DATA INFILE and administrative operations.

6.4 MySQL user names and passwords

There are several distinctions between the way user names and passwords are used by MySQL, and the way they are used by Unix or Windows:

  • User names, as used by MySQL for authentication purposes, have nothing to do with Unix user names (login names) or Windows user names. Most MySQL clients by default try to log in using the current Unix user name as the MySQL user name, but that is for convenience only. Client programs allow a different name to be specified with the -u or --user options. This means that you can't make a database secure in any way unless all MySQL user names have passwords. Anyone may attempt to connect to the server using any name, and they will succeed if they specify any name that doesn't have a password.
  • MySQL user names can be up to 16 characters long; Unix user names typically are limited to 8 characters.
  • MySQL passwords have nothing to do with Unix passwords. There is no necessary connection between the password you use to log in to a Unix machine and the password you use to access a database on that machine.
  • MySQL encrypts passwords using a different algorithm than the one used during the Unix login process. See the descriptions of the PASSWORD() and ENCRYPT() functions in section 7.4.12 Miscellaneous functions.

6.5 Connecting to the MySQL server

MySQL client programs generally require that you specify connection parameters when you want to access a MySQL server: the host you want to connect to, your user name and your password. For example, the mysql client can be started like this (optional arguments are enclosed between `[' and `]'):

shell> mysql [-h host_name] [-u user_name] [-pyour_pass]

Alternate forms of the -h, -u and -p options are --host=host_name, --user=user_name and --password=your_pass. Note that there is no space between -p or --password= and the password following it.

Note: Specifing a password on the command line is not secure! Any user on your system may then find out your password by typing a command like: ps auxww. See section 4.15.4 Option files.

mysql uses default values for connection parameters that are missing from the command line:

  • The default hostname is localhost.
  • The default user name is your Unix login name.
  • No password is supplied if -p is missing.

Thus, for a Unix user joe, the following commands are equivalent:

shell> mysql -h localhost -u joe
shell> mysql -h localhost
shell> mysql -u joe
shell> mysql

Other MySQL clients behave similarly.

On Unix systems, you can specify different default values to be used when you make a connection, so that you need not enter them on the command line each time you invoke a client program. This can be done in a couple of ways:

  • You can specify connection parameters in the [client] section of the `.my.cnf' configuration file in your home directory. The relevant section of the file might look like this:
    See section 4.15.4 Option files.
  • You can specify connection parameters using environment values. The host can be specified using MYSQL_HOST. The MySQL user name can be specified using USER (this is for Windows only). The password can be specified using MYSQL_PWD (but this is insecure; see next section).

If connection parameters are specified in multiple ways, values specified on the command line take precedence over values specified in configuration files and environment variables, and values in configuration files take precedence over values in environment variables.

6.6 Keeping your password secure

It is inadvisable to specify your password in a way that exposes it to discovery by other users. The methods you can use to specify your password when you run client programs are listed below, along with an assessment of the risks of each method:

  • Use a -pyour_pass or --password=your_pass option on the command line. This is convenient but insecure, since your password becomes visible to system status programs (such as ps) that may be invoked by other users to display command lines. (MySQL clients typically overwrite the command line argument with zeroes during their initialization sequence, but there is still a brief interval during which the value is visible.)
  • Use a -p or --password option (with no your_pass value specified). In this case, the client program solicits the password from the terminal:
    shell> mysql -u user_name -p
    Enter password: ********
    The client echoes `*' characters to the terminal as you enter your password so that onlookers cannot see it. It is more secure to enter your password this way than to specify it on the command line because it is not visible to other users. However, this method of entering a password is suitable only for programs that you run interactively. If you want to invoke a client from a script that runs non-interactively, there is no opportunity to enter the password from the terminal.
  • Store your password in a configuration file. For example, you can list your password in the [client] section of the `.my.cnf' file in your home directory:
    If you store your password in `.my.cnf', the file should not be group or world readable or writable. Make sure the file's access mode is 400 or 600. See section 4.15.4 Option files.
  • You can store your password in the MYSQL_PWD environment variable, but this method must be considered extremely insecure and should not be used. Some versions of ps include an option to display the environment of running processes; your password will be in plain sight for all to see if you set MYSQL_PWD. Even on systems without such a version of ps, it is unwise to assume there is no other method to observe process environments.

All in all, the safest methods are to have the client program prompt for the password or to specify the password in a properly-protected `.my.cnf' file.

6.7 Privileges provided by MySQL

Privilege information is stored in the user, db, host, tables_priv and columns_priv tables in the mysql database (that is, in the database named mysql). The MySQL server reads the contents of these tables when it starts up and under the circumstances indicated in section 6.11 When privilege changes take effect.

The names used in this manual to refer to the privileges provided by MySQL are shown below, along with the table column name associated with each privilege in the grant tables and the context in which the privilege applies:

Privilege Column Context
select Select_priv tables
insert Insert_priv tables
update Update_priv tables
delete Delete_priv tables
index Index_priv tables
alter Alter_priv tables
create Create_priv databases, tables or indexes
drop Drop_priv databases or tables
grant Grant_priv databases or tables
references References_priv databases or tables
reload Reload_priv server administration
shutdown Shutdown_priv server administration
process Process_priv server administration
file File_priv file access on server

The select, insert, update and delete privileges allow you to perform operations on rows in existing tables in a database.

SELECT statements require the select privilege only if they actually retrieve rows from a table. You can execute certain SELECT statements even without permission to access any of the databases on the server. For example, you could use the mysql client as a simple calculator:

mysql> SELECT 1+1;
mysql> SELECT PI()*2;

The index privilege allows you to create or drop (remove) indexes.

The alter privilege allows you to use ALTER TABLE.

The create and drop privileges allow you to create new databases and tables, or to drop (remove) existing databases and tables.

Note that if you grant the drop privilege for the mysql database to a user, that user can drop the database in which the MySQL access privileges are stored!

The grant privilege allows you to give to other users those privileges you yourself possess.

The file privilege gives you permission to read and write files on the server using the LOAD DATA INFILE and SELECT ... INTO OUTFILE statements. Any user to whom this privilege is granted can read or write any file that the MySQL server can read or write.

The remaining privileges are used for administrative operations, which are performed using the mysqladmin program. The table below shows which mysqladmin commands each administrative privilege allows you to execute:

Privilege Commands permitted to privilege holders
reload reload, refresh, flush-privileges, flush-hosts, flush-logs, flush-tables
shutdown shutdown
process processlist, kill

The reload command tells the server to reread the grant tables. The refresh command flushes all tables and opens and closes the log files. flush-privileges is a synonym for reload. The other flush-* commands perform functions similar to refresh but are more limited in scope, and may be preferable in some instances. For example, if you want to flush just the log files, flush-logs is a better choice than refresh.

The shutdown command shuts down the server.

The processlist command displays information about the threads executing within the server. The kill command kills server threads. You can always display or kill your own threads, but you need the process privilege to display or kill threads initiated by other users.

It is a good idea in general to grant privileges only to those users who need them, but you should exercise particular caution in granting certain privileges:

  • The grant privilege allows users to give away their privileges to other users. Two users with different privileges and with the grant privilege are able to combine privileges.
  • The alter privilege may be used to subvert the privilege system by renaming tables.
  • The file privilege can be abused to read any world-readable file on the server into a database table, the contents of which can then be accessed using SELECT.
  • The shutdown privilege can be abused to deny service to other users entirely, by terminating the server.
  • The process privilege can be used to view the plain text of currently executing queries, including queries that set or change passwords.
  • Privileges on the mysql database can be used to change passwords and other access privilege information. (Passwords are stored encrypted, so a malicious user cannot simply read them. However, with sufficient privileges, that same user can replace a password with a different one.)

There are some things that you cannot do with the MySQL privilege system:

  • You cannot explicitly specify that a given user should be denied access. That is, you cannot explicitly match a user and then refuse the connection.
  • You cannot specify that a user has privileges to create or drop tables in a database but not to create or drop the database itself.

6.8 How the privilege system works

The MySQL privilege system ensures that all users may do exactly the things that they are supposed to be allowed to do. When you connect to a MySQL server, your identity is determined by the host from which you connect and the user name you specify. The system grants privileges according to your identity and what you want to do.

MySQL considers both your hostname and user name in identifying you because there is little reason to assume that a given user name belongs to the same person everywhere on the Internet. For example, the user bill who connects from whitehouse.gov need not be the same person as the user bill who connects from microsoft.com. MySQL handles this by allowing you to distinguish users on different hosts that happen to have the same name: you can grant bill one set of privileges for connections from whitehouse.gov, and a different set of privileges for connections from microsoft.com.

MySQL access control involves two stages:

  • Stage 1: The server checks whether or not you are even allowed to connect.
  • Stage 2: Assuming you can connect, the server checks each request you issue to see whether or not you have sufficient privileges to perform it. For example, if you try to select rows from a table in a database or drop a table from the database, the server makes sure you have the select privilege for the table or the drop privilege for the database.

The server uses the user, db and host tables in the mysql database at both stages of access control. The fields in these grant tables are shown below:

Table name user db host
Scope fields Host Host Host
User Db Db
Password User
Privilege fields Select_priv Select_priv Select_priv
Insert_priv Insert_priv Insert_priv
Update_priv Update_priv Update_priv
Delete_priv Delete_priv Delete_priv
Index_priv Index_priv Index_priv
Alter_priv Alter_priv Alter_priv
Create_priv Create_priv Create_priv
Drop_priv Drop_priv Drop_priv
Grant_priv Grant_priv Grant_priv

For the second stage of access control (request verification), the server may, if the request involves tables, additionally consult the tables_priv and columns_priv tables. The fields in these tables are shown below:

Table name tables_priv columns_priv
Scope fields Host Host
Db Db
User User
Table_name Table_name
Privilege fields Table_priv Column_priv
Other fields Timestamp Timestamp

Each grant table contains scope fields and privilege fields.

Scope fields determine the scope of each entry in the tables, i.e., the context in which the entry applies. For example, a user table entry with Host and User values of 'thomas.loc.gov' and 'bob' would be used for authenticating connections made to the server by bob from the host thomas.loc.gov. Similarly, a db table entry with Host, User and Db fields of 'thomas.loc.gov', 'bob' and 'reports' would be used when bob connects from the host thomas.loc.gov to access the reports database. The tables_priv and columns_priv tables contain scope fields indicating tables or table/column combinations to which each entry applies.

For access-checking purposes, comparisons of Host values are case insensitive. User, Password, Db and Table_name values are case sensitive. Column_name values are case insensitive in MySQL 3.22.12 or later.

Privilege fields indicate the privileges granted by a table entry, that is, what operations can be performed. The server combines the information in the various grant tables to form a complete description of a user's privileges. The rules used to do this are described in section 6.10 Access control, stage 2: Request verification.

Scope fields are strings, declared as shown below; the default value for each is the empty string:

Field name Type
Host CHAR(60)
User CHAR(16)
Password CHAR(16)
Db CHAR(64) (CHAR(60) for the tables_priv and columns_priv tables)

In the user, db and host tables, all privilege fields are declared as ENUM('N','Y') -- each can have a value of 'N' or 'Y', and the default value is 'N'.

In the tables_priv and columns_priv tables, the privilege fields are declared as SET fields:

Table name Field name Possible set elements
tables_priv Table_priv 'Select', 'Insert', 'Update', 'Delete', 'Create', 'Drop', 'Grant', 'References', 'Index', 'Alter'
tables_priv Column_priv 'Select', 'Insert', 'Update', 'References'
columns_priv Column_priv 'Select', 'Insert', 'Update', 'References'

Briefly, the server uses the grant tables like this:

  • The user table scope fields determine whether to allow or reject incoming connections. For allowed connections, the privilege fields indicate the user's global (superuser) privileges.
  • The db and host tables are used together:
    • The db table scope fields determine which users can access which databases from which hosts. The privilege fields determine which operations are allowed.
    • The host table is used as an extension of the db table when you want a given db table entry to apply to several hosts. For example, if you want a user to be able to use a database from several hosts in your network, leave the Host value empty in the user's db table entry, then populate the host table with an entry for each of those hosts. This mechanism is described more detail in section 6.10 Access control, stage 2: Request verification.
  • The tables_priv and columns_priv tables are similar to the db table, but are more fine-grained: they apply at the table and column level rather than at the database level.

Note that administrative privileges (reload, shutdown, etc.) are specified only in the user table. This is because administrative operations are operations on the server itself and are not database-specific, so there is no reason to list such privileges in the other grant tables. In fact, only the user table need be consulted to determine whether or not you can perform an administrative operation.

The file privilege is specified only in the user table, too. It is not an administrative privilege as such, but your ability to read or write files on the server host is independent of the database you are accessing.

The mysqld server reads the contents of the grant tables once, when it starts up. Changes to the grant tables take effect as indicated in section 6.11 When privilege changes take effect.

When you modify the contents of the grant tables, it is a good idea to make sure that your changes set up privileges the way you want. For help in diagnosing problems, see section 6.15 Causes of Access denied errors. For advice on security issues, section 6.2 How to make MySQL secure against crackers.

A useful diagnostic tool is the mysqlaccess script, which Yves Carlier has provided for the MySQL distribution. Invoke mysqlaccess with the --help option to find out how it works. Note that mysqlaccess checks access using only the user, db and host tables. It does not check table- or column-level privileges.

6.9 Access control, stage 1: Connection verification

When you attempt to connect to a MySQL server, the server accepts or rejects the connection based on your identity and whether or not you can verify your identity by supplying the correct password. If not, the server denies access to you completely. Otherwise, the server accepts the connection, then enters stage 2 and waits for requests.

Your identity is based on two pieces of information:

  • The host from which you connect
  • Your MySQL user name

Identity checking is performed using the three user table scope fields (Host, User and Password). The server accepts the connection only if a user table entry matches your hostname and user name, and you supply the correct password.

Values in the user table scope fields may be specified as follows:

  • A Host value may be a hostname or an IP number, or 'localhost' to indicate the local host.
  • You can use the wildcard characters `%' and `_' in the Host field.
  • A Host value of '%' matches any hostname. A blank Host value is equivalent to '%'. Note that these values match any host that can create a connection to your server!
  • Wildcard characters are not allowed in the User field, but you can specify a blank value, which matches any name. If the user table entry that matches an incoming connection has a blank user name, the user is considered to be the anonymous user (the user with no name), rather than the name that the client actually specified. This means that a blank user name is used for all further access checking for the duration of the connection (that is, during stage 2).
  • The Password field can be blank. This does not mean that any password matches, it means the user must connect without specifying a password.

Non-blank Password values represent encrypted passwords. MySQL does not store passwords in plaintext form for anyone to see. Rather, the password supplied by a user who is attempting to connect is encrypted (using the PASSWORD() function) and compared to the already-encrypted version stored in the user table. If they match, the password is correct.

The examples below show how various combinations of Host and User values in user table entries apply to incoming connections:

Host value User value Connections matched by entry
'thomas.loc.gov' 'fred' fred, connecting from thomas.loc.gov
'thomas.loc.gov' '' Any user, connecting from thomas.loc.gov
'%' 'fred' fred, connecting from any host
'%' '' Any user, connecting from any host
'%.loc.gov' 'fred' fred, connecting from any host in the loc.gov domain
'x.y.%' 'fred' fred, connecting from x.y.net, x.y.com,x.y.edu, etc. (this is probably not useful)
'' 'fred' fred, connecting from the host with IP address
'144.155.166.%' 'fred' fred, connecting from any host in the 144.155.166 class C subnet

Since you can use IP wildcard values in the Host field (e.g., '144.155.166.%' to match every host on a subnet), there is the possibility that someone might try to exploit this capability by naming a host 144.155.166.somewhere.com. To foil such attempts, MySQL disallows matching on hostnames that start with digits and a dot. Thus, if you have a host named something like 1.2.foo.com, its name will never match the Host column of the grant tables. Only an IP number can match an IP wildcard value.

An incoming connection may be matched by more than one entry in the user table. For example, a connection from thomas.loc.gov by fred would be matched by several of the entries just shown above. How does the server choose which entry to use if more than one matches? The server resolves this question by sorting the user table after reading it at startup time, then looking through the entries in sorted order when a user attempts to connect. The first matching entry is the one that is used.

user table sorting works as follows. Suppose the user table looks like this:

| Host      | User     | ...
| %         | root     | ...
| %         | jeffrey  | ...
| localhost | root     | ...
| localhost |          | ...

When the server reads in the table, it orders the entries with the most-specific Host values first ('%' in the Host column means ``any host'' and is least specific). Entries with the same Host value are ordered with the most-specific User values first (a blank User value means ``any user'' and is least specific). The resulting sorted user table looks like this:

| Host      | User     | ...
| localhost | root     | ...
| localhost |          | ...
| %         | jeffrey  | ...
| %         | root     | ...

When a connection is attempted, the server looks through the sorted entries and uses the first match found. For a connection from localhost by jeffrey, the entries with 'localhost' in the Host column match first. Of those, the entry with the blank user name matches both the connecting hostname and user name. (The '%'/'jeffrey' entry would have matched, too, but it is not the first match in the table.)

Here is another example. Suppose the user table looks like this:

| Host           | User     | ...
| %              | jeffrey  | ...
| thomas.loc.gov |          | ...

The sorted table looks like this:

| Host           | User     | ...
| thomas.loc.gov |          | ...
| %              | jeffrey  | ...

A connection from thomas.loc.gov by jeffrey is matched by the first entry, whereas a connection from whitehouse.gov by jeffrey is matched by the second.

A common misconception is to think that for a given user name, all entries that explicitly name that user will be used first when the server attempts to find a match for the connection. This is simply not true. The previous example illustrates this, where a connection from thomas.loc.gov by jeffrey is first matched not by the entry containing 'jeffrey' as the User field value, but by the entry with no user name!

If you have problems connecting to the server, print out the user table and sort it by hand to see where the first match is being made.

6.10 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. See section 7.26 GRANT and REVOKE syntax. (You may find it helpful to refer to section 6.8 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.

6.11 When privilege changes take effect

When mysqld starts, all grant table contents are read into memory and become effective at that point.

Modifications to the grant tables that you perform using GRANT, REVOKE, or SET PASSWORD are noticed by the server immediately.

If you modify the grant tables manually (using INSERT, UPDATE, etc.), you should execute a FLUSH PRIVILEGES statement or run mysqladmin flush-privileges to tell the server to reload the grant tables. Otherwise your changes will have no effect until you restart the server.

When the server notices that the grant tables have been changed, existing client connections are affected as follows:

  • Table and column privilege changes take effect with the client's next request.
  • Database privilege changes take effect at the next USE db_name command.

Global privilege changes and password changes take effect the next time the client connects.

6.12 Setting up the initial MySQL privileges

After installing MySQL, you set up the initial access privileges by running scripts/mysql_install_db. See section 4.7.1 Quick installation overview. The scripts/mysql_install_db script starts up the mysqld server, then initializes the grant tables to contain the following set of privileges:

  • The MySQL root user is created as a superuser who can do anything. Connections must be made from the local host. Note: The initial root password is empty, so anyone can connect as root without a password and be granted all privileges.
  • An anonymous user is created that can do anything with databases that have a name of 'test' or starting with 'test_'. Connections must be made from the local host. This means any local user can connect and be treated as the anonymous user.
  • Other privileges are denied. For example, normal users can't use mysqladmin shutdown or mysqladmin processlist.

Note: The default privileges are different for Win32. See section 4.12.4 Running MySQL on Win32.

Since your installation is initially wide open, one of the first things you should do is specify a password for the MySQL root user. You can do this as follows (note that you specify the password using the PASSWORD() function):

shell> mysql -u root mysql
mysql> UPDATE user SET Password=PASSWORD('new_password')
           WHERE user='root';

You can in MySQL 3.22 and above use the SET PASSWORD statement:

shell> mysql -u root mysql
mysql> SET PASSWORD FOR root=PASSWORD('new_password');

Another way to set the password is by using the mysqladmin command:

shell> mysqladmin -u root password new_password

Note that if you update the password in the user table directly using the first method, you must tell the server to reread the grant tables (with FLUSH PRIVILEGES), since the change will go unnoticed otherwise.

Once the root password has been set, thereafter you must supply that password when you connect to the server as root.

You may wish to leave the root password blank so that you don't need to specify it while you perform additional setup or testing, but be sure to set it before using your installation for any real production work.

See the scripts/mysql_install_db script to see how it sets up the default privileges. You can use this as a basis to see how to add other users.

If you want the initial privileges to be different than those just described above, you can modify mysql_install_db before you run it.

To recreate the grant tables completely, remove all the `*.frm', `*.MYI' and `*.MYD' files in the directory containing the mysql database. (This is the directory named `mysql' under the database directory, which is listed when you run mysqld --help.) Then run the mysql_install_db script, possibly after editing it first to have the privileges you want.

NOTE: For MySQL versions older than 3.22.10, you should NOT delete the `*.frm' files. If you accidentally do this, you should copy them back from your MySQL distribution before running mysql_install_db.

6.13 Adding new user privileges to MySQL

You can add users two different ways: by using GRANT statements or by manipulating the MySQL grant tables directly. The preferred method is to use GRANT statements, because they are more concise and less error-prone.

The examples below show how to use the mysql client to set up new users. These examples assume that privileges are set up according to the defaults described in the previous section. This means that to make changes, you must be on the same machine where mysqld is running, you must connect as the MySQL root user, and the root user must have the insert privilege for the mysql database and the reload administrative privilege. Also, if you have changed the root user password, you must specify it for the mysql commands below.

You can add new users by issuing GRANT statements:

shell> mysql --user=root mysql
mysql> GRANT ALL PRIVILEGES ON *.* TO monty@localhost
           IDENTIFIED BY 'something' WITH GRANT OPTION;
mysql> GRANT ALL PRIVILEGES ON *.* TO monty@"%"
           IDENTIFIED BY 'something' WITH GRANT OPTION;
mysql> GRANT RELOAD,PROCESS ON *.* TO admin@localhost;
mysql> GRANT USAGE ON *.* TO dummy@localhost;

These GRANT statements set up three new users:

A full superuser who can connect to the server from anywhere, but who must use a password ('something' to do so. Note that we must issue GRANT statements for both monty@localhost and monty@"%". If we don't add the entry with localhost, the anonymous user entry for localhost that is created by mysql_install_db will take precedence when we connect from the local host, because it has a more specific Host field value and thuse comes earlier in the user table sort order.
A user who can connect from localhost without a password and who is granted the reload and process administrative privileges. This allows the user to execute the mysqladmin reload, mysqladmin refresh and mysqladmin flush-* commands, as well as mysqladmin processlist . No database-related privileges are granted. They can be granted later by issuing additional GRANT statements.
A user who can connect without a password, but only from the local host. The global privileges are all set to 'N' -- the USAGE privilege type allows you to set up a user with no privileges. It is assumed that you will grant database-specific privileges later.

You can also add the same user access information directly by issuing INSERT statements and then telling the server to reload the grant tables:

shell> mysql --user=root mysql
mysql> INSERT INTO user VALUES('localhost','monty',PASSWORD('something'),
mysql> INSERT INTO user VALUES('%','monty',PASSWORD('something'),
mysql> INSERT INTO user SET Host='localhost',User='admin',
                 Reload_priv='Y', Process_priv='Y';
mysql> INSERT INTO user (Host,User,Password)

Depending on your MySQL version, you may have to use a different number of 'Y' values above (versions prior to 3.22.11 had fewer privilege columns). For the admin user, the more readable extended INSERT syntax that is available starting with 3.22.11 is used.

Note that to set up a superuser, you need only create a user table entry with the privilege fields set to 'Y'. No db or host table entries are necessary.

The privilege columns in the user table were not set explicitly in the last INSERT statement (for the dummy user), so those columns are assigned the default value of 'N'. This is the same thing that GRANT USAGE does.

The following example adds a user custom who can connect from hosts localhost, server.domain and whitehouse.gov. He wants to access the bankaccount database only from localhost, the expenses database only from whitehouse.gov and the customer database from all three hosts. He wants to use the password stupid from all three hosts.

To set up this user's privileges using GRANT statements, run these commands:

shell> mysql --user=root mysql
           ON bankaccount.*
           TO custom@localhost
           IDENTIFIED BY 'stupid';
           ON expenses.*
           TO custom@whitehouse.gov
           IDENTIFIED BY 'stupid';
           ON customer.*
           TO custom@'%'
           IDENTIFIED BY 'stupid';

To set up the user's privileges by modifying the grant tables directly, run these commands (note the FLUSH PRIVILEGES at the end):

shell> mysql --user=root mysql
mysql> INSERT INTO user (Host,User,Password)
mysql> INSERT INTO user (Host,User,Password)
mysql> INSERT INTO user (Host,User,Password)
mysql> INSERT INTO db
mysql> INSERT INTO db
mysql> INSERT INTO db

The first three INSERT statements add user table entries that allow user custom to connect from the various hosts with the given password, but grant no permissions to him (all privileges are set to the default value of 'N'). The next three INSERT statements add db table entries that grant privileges to custom for the bankaccount, expenses and customer databases, but only when accessed from the proper hosts. As usual, when the grant tables are modified directly, the server must be told to reload them (with FLUSH PRIVILEGES) so that the privilege changes take effect.

If you want to give a specific user access from any machine in a given domain, you can issue a GRANT statement like the following:

mysql> GRANT ...
           ON *.*
           TO myusername@"%.mydomainname.com"
           IDENTIFIED BY 'mypassword';

To do the same thing by modifying the grant tables directly, do this:

mysql> INSERT INTO user VALUES ('%.mydomainname.com', 'myusername',

You can also use xmysqladmin, mysql_webadmin and even xmysql to insert, change and update values in the grant tables. You can find these utilities at the MySQL Contrib directory.

6.14 How to set up passwords

The examples in the preceding sections illustrate an important principle: when you store a non-empty password using INSERT or UPDATE statements, you must use the PASSWORD() function to encrypt it. This is because the user table stores passwords in encrypted form, not as plaintext. If you forget that fact, you are likely to attempt to set passwords like this:

shell> mysql -u root mysql
mysql> INSERT INTO user (Host,User,Password)

The result is that the plaintext value 'biscuit' is stored as the password in the user table. When the user jeffrey attempts to connect to the server using this password, the mysql client encrypts it with PASSWORD() and sends the result to the server. The server compares the value in the user table (which is the plaintext value 'biscuit') to the encrypted password (which is not 'biscuit'). The comparison fails and the server rejects the connection:

shell> mysql -u jeffrey -pbiscuit test
Access denied

Since passwords must be encrypted when they are inserted in the user table, the INSERT statement should have been specified like this instead:

mysql> INSERT INTO user (Host,User,Password)

You must also use the PASSWORD() function when you use SET PASSWORD statements:

mysql> SET PASSWORD FOR jeffrey@"%" = PASSWORD('biscuit');

If you set passwords using the GRANT ... IDENTIFIED BY statement or the mysqladmin password command, the PASSWORD() function is unnecessary. They both take care of encrypting the password for you, so you would specify a password of 'biscuit' like this:

mysql> GRANT USAGE ON *.* TO jeffrey@"%" IDENTIFIED BY 'biscuit';


shell> mysqladmin -u jeffrey password biscuit

Note: PASSWORD() does not perform password encryption in the same way that Unix passwords are encrypted. You should not assume that if your Unix password and your MySQL password are the same, PASSWORD() will result in the same encrypted value as is stored in the Unix password file. See section 6.4 MySQL user names and passwords.

6.15 Causes of Access denied errors

If you encounter Access denied errors when you try to connect to the MySQL server, the list below indicates some courses of action you can take to correct the problem:

  • Did you run the mysql_install_db script after installing MySQL, to set up the initial grant table contents? If not, do so. See section 6.12 Setting up the initial MySQL privileges. Test the initial privileges by executing this command:
    shell> mysql -u root test
    The server should let you connect without error. You should also make sure you have a file `user.MYD' in the MySQL database directory. Ordinarily, this is `PATH/var/mysql/user.MYD', where PATH is the pathname to the MySQL installation root.
  • After a fresh installation, you should connect to the server and set up your users and their access permissions:
    shell> mysql -u root mysql
    The server should let you connect because the MySQL root user has no password initially. Since that is also a security risk, setting the root password is something you should do while you're setting up your other MySQL users. If you try to connect as root and get this error:
    Access denied for user: '@unknown' to database mysql
    this means that you don't have an entry in the user table with a User column value of 'root' and that mysqld cannot resolve the hostname for your client. In this case, you must restart the server with the --skip-grant-tables option and edit your `/etc/hosts' or `windowshosts' file to add a entry for your host.
  • If you updated an existing MySQL installation from a pre-3.22.11 version to 3.22.11 or later, did you run the mysql_fix_privilege_tables script? If not, do so. The structure of the grant tables changed with MySQL 3.22.11 when the GRANT statement became functional.
  • If you make changes to the grant tables directly (using INSERT or UPDATE statement) and your changes seem to be ignored, remember that you must issue a FLUSH PRIVILEGES statement or execute a mysqladmin flush-privileges command to cause the server to reread the tables. Otherwise your changes have no effect until the next time the server is restarted. Remember that after you set the root password, you won't need to specify it until after you flush the privileges, because the server still won't know you've changed the password yet!
  • If your privileges seem to have changed in the middle of a session, it may be that a superuser has changed them. Reloading the grant tables affects new client connections, but it also affects existing connections as indicated in section 6.11 When privilege changes take effect.
  • For testing, start the mysqld daemon with the --skip-grant-tables option. Then you can change the MySQL grant tables and use the mysqlaccess script to check whether or not your modifications have the desired effect. When you are satisfied with your changes, execute mysqladmin flush-privileges to tell the mysqld server to start using the new grant tables. Note: Reloading the grant tables overrides the --skip-grant-tables option. This allows you to tell the server to begin using the grant tables again without bringing it down and restarting it.
  • If you have access problems with a Perl, Python or ODBC program, try to connect to the server with mysql -u user_name db_name or mysql -u user_name -pyour_pass db_name. If you are able to connect using the mysql client, there is a problem with your program and not with the access privileges. (Notice that there is no space between -p and the password; you can also use the --password=your_pass syntax to specify the password.)
  • If you can't get your password to work, remember that you must use the PASSWORD() function if you set the password with the INSERT, UPDATE or SET PASSWORD statements. The PASSWORD() function is unnecessary if you specify the password using the GRANT ... INDENTIFIED BY statement or the mysqladmin password command. See section 6.14 How to set up passwords.
  • localhost is a synonym for your local hostname, and is also the default host to which clients try to connect if you specify no host explicitly. However, connections to localhost do not work if you are running on a system that uses MIT-pthreads (localhost connections are made using Unix sockets, which are not supported by MIT-pthreads). To avoid this problem on such systems, you should use the --host option to name the server host explicitly. This will make a TCP/IP connection to the mysqld server. In this case, you must have your real hostname in user table entries on the server host. (This is true even if you are running a client program on the same host as the server.)
  • If you get an Access denied error when trying to connect to the database with mysql -u user_name db_name, you may have a problem with the user table. Check this by executing mysql -u root mysql and issuing this SQL statement:
    mysql> SELECT * FROM user;
    The result should include an entry with the Host and User columns matching your computer's hostname and your MySQL user name.
  • The Access denied error message will tell you who you are trying to log in as, the host from which you are trying to connect, and whether or not you were using a password. Normally, you should have one entry in the user table that exactly matches the hostname and user name that were given in the error message.
  • If you get the following error when you try to connect from a different host than the one on which the MySQL server is running, then there is no row in the user table that matches that host:
    Host ... is not allowed to connect to this MySQL server
    You can fix this by using the command line tool mysql (on the server host!) to add a row to the user table for the user/hostname combination from which you are trying to connect. If you are not running MySQL 3.22 and you don't know the IP number or hostname of the machine from which you are connecting, you should put an entry with '%' as the Host column value in the user table and restart mysqld with the --log option on the server machine. After trying to connect from the client machine, the information in the MySQL log will indicate how you really did connect. (Then replace the '%' in the user table entry with the actual hostname that shows up in the log. Otherwise, you'll have a system that is insecure.)
  • If mysql -u root test works but mysql -h your_hostname -u root test results in Access denied, then you may not have the correct name for your host in the user table. A common problem here is that the Host value in the user table entry specifies an unqualified hostname, but your system's name resolution routines return a fully-qualified domain name (or vice-versa). For example, if you have an entry with host 'tcx' in the user table, but your DNS tells MySQL that your hostname is 'tcx.subnet.se', the entry will not work. Try adding an entry to the user table that contains the IP number of your host as the Host column value. (Alternatively, you could add an entry to the user table with a Host value that contains a wildcard--for example, 'tcx.%'. However, use of hostnames ending with `%' is insecure and is not recommended!)
  • If mysql -u user_name test works but mysql -u user_name other_db_name doesn't work, you don't have an entry for other_db_name listed in the db table.
  • If mysql -u user_name db_name works when executed on the server machine, but mysql -u host_name -u user_name db_name doesn't work when executed on another client machine, you don't have the client machine listed in the user table or the db table.
  • If you can't figure out why you get Access denied, remove from the user table all entries that have Host values containing wildcards (entries that contain `%' or `_'). A very common error is to insert a new entry with Host='%' and User='some user', thinking that this will allow you to specify localhost to connect from the same machine. The reason that this doesn't work is that the default privileges include an entry with Host='localhost' and User=''. Since that entry has a Host value 'localhost' that is more specific than '%', it is used in preference to the new entry when connecting from localhost! The correct procedure is to insert a second entry with Host='localhost' and User='some_user', or to remove the entry with with Host='localhost' and User=''.
  • If you get the following error, you may have a problem with the db or host table:
    Access to database denied
    If the entry selected from the db table has an empty value in the Host column, make sure there are one or more corresponding entries in the host table specifying which hosts the db table entry applies to. If you get the error when using the SQL commands SELECT ... INTO OUTFILE or LOAD DATA INFILE, your entry in the user table probably doesn't have the file privilege enabled.
  • Remember that client programs will use connection parameters specified in configuration files or environment variables. If a client seems to be sending the wrong default connection parameters when you don't specify them on the command line, check your environment and the `.my.cnf' file in your home directory. You might also check the system-wide MySQL configuration files, though it is far less likely that client connection parameters will be specified there. See section 4.15.4 Option files. If you get Access denied when you run a client without any options, make sure you haven't specified an old password in any of your option files! See section 4.15.4 Option files.
  • If everything else fails, start the mysqld daemon with a debugging option (for example, --debug=d,general,query). This will print host and user information about attempted connections, as well as information about each command issued. See section G.1 Debugging a MySQL server.
  • If you have any other problems with the MySQL grant tables and feel you must post the problem to the mailing list, always provide a dump of the MySQL grant tables. You can dump the tables with the mysqldump mysql command. As always, post your problem using the mysqlbug script. In some cases you may restart mysqld with --skip-grant-tables to be able to run mysqldump.

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