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5.7.5. 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 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, and then enters Stage 2 and waits for requests.

Your identity is based on two pieces of information:

  • The client host from which you connect

  • Your MySQL username

Identity checking is performed using the three user table scope columns (Host, User, and Password). The server accepts the connection only if the Host and User columns in some user table row match the client hostname and username and the client supplies the password specified in that row.

Host values in the user table 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 Host column values. These have the same meaning as for pattern-matching operations performed with the LIKE operator. For example, a Host value of '%' matches any hostname, whereas a value of '' matches any host in the domain.

  • For Host values specified as IP numbers, you can specify a netmask indicating how many address bits to use for the network number. For example:

    GRANT ALL PRIVILEGES ON db.* TO [email protected]'';

    This allows david to connect from any client host having an IP number client_ip for which the following condition is true:

    client_ip & netmask = host_ip

    That is, for the GRANT statement just shown:

    client_ip & =

    IP numbers that satisfy this condition and can connect to the MySQL server are those in the range from to

    Note: The netmask can only be used to tell the server to use 8, 16, 24, or 32 bits of the address. Examples:

    • anything on the 192 class A network

    • anything on the 192.168 class B network

    • anything on the 192.168.1 class C network

    • only this specific IP

    The following netmask (28 bits) will not work:
  • A blank Host value in a db table row means that its privileges should be combined with those in the row in the host table that matches the client hostname. The privileges are combined using an AND (intersection) operation, not OR (union). Section 5.7.6, “Access Control, Stage 2: Request Verification”, discusses use of the host table further.

    A blank Host value in the other grant tables is the same as '%'.

Because you can use IP wildcard values in the Host column (for example, '144.155.166.%' to match every host on a subnet), someone could try to exploit this capability by naming a host 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, its name never matches the Host column of the grant tables. An IP wildcard value can match only IP numbers, not hostnames.

In the User column, wildcard characters are not allowed, but you can specify a blank value, which matches any name. If the user table row that matches an incoming connection has a blank username, the user is considered to be an anonymous user with no name, not a user with the name that the client actually specified. This means that a blank username is used for all further access checking for the duration of the connection (that is, during Stage 2).

The Password column can be blank. This is not a wildcard and does not mean that any password matches. It means that the user must connect without specifying a password.

Non-blank Password values in the user table 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). The encrypted password then is used during the connection process when checking whether the password is correct. (This is done without the encrypted password ever traveling over the connection.) From MySQL's point of view, the encrypted password is the real password, so you should never give anyone access to it. In particular, do not give non-administrative users read access to tables in the mysql database.

MySQL 5.1 employs the stronger authentication method (first implemented in MySQL 4.1) that has better password protection during the connection process than in earlier versions. It is secure even if TCP/IP packets are sniffed or the mysql database is captured. Section 5.7.9, “Password Hashing as of MySQL 4.1”, discusses password encryption further.

The following table shows how various combinations of Host and User values in the user table apply to incoming connections.

Host Value User Value Allowable Connections
'' 'fred' fred, connecting from
'' '' Any user, connecting from
'%' 'fred' fred, connecting from any host
'%' '' Any user, connecting from any host
'' 'fred' fred, connecting from any host in the domain
'x.y.%' 'fred' fred, connecting from,,, and so on (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
'' 'fred' Same as previous example

It is possible for the client hostname and username of an incoming connection to match more than one row in the user table. The preceding set of examples demonstrates this: Several of the entries shown match a connection from by fred.

When multiple matches are possible, the server must determine which of them to use. It resolves this issue as follows:

  • Whenever the server reads the user table into memory, it sorts the rows.

  • When a client attempts to connect, the server looks through the rows in sorted order.

  • The server uses the first row that matches the client hostname and username.

To see how this works, suppose that the user table looks like this:

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

When the server reads the table into memory, it orders the rows with the most-specific Host values first. Literal hostnames and IP numbers are the most specific. The pattern '%' means “any host” and is least specific. Rows 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). For the user table just shown, the result after sorting looks like this:

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

When a client attempts to connect, the server looks through the sorted rows and uses the first match found. For a connection from localhost by jeffrey, two of the rows from the table match: the one with Host and User values of 'localhost' and '', and the one with values of '%' and 'jeffrey'. The 'localhost' row appears first in sorted order, so that is the one the server uses.

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

| Host           | User     | ...
| %              | jeffrey  | ...
| |          | ...

The sorted table looks like this:

| Host           | User     | ...
| |          | ...
| %              | jeffrey  | ...

A connection by jeffrey from is matched by the first row, whereas a connection by jeffrey from is matched by the second.

It is a common misconception to think that, for a given username, all rows that explicitly name that user are 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 by jeffrey is first matched not by the row containing 'jeffrey' as the User column value, but by the row with no username. As a result, jeffrey is authenticated as an anonymous user, even though he specified a username when connecting.

If you are able to connect to the server, but your privileges are not what you expect, you probably are being authenticated as some other account. To find out what account the server used to authenticate you, use the CURRENT_USER() function. (See Section 12.10.3, “Information Functions”.) It returns a value in user_name@host_name format that indicates the User and Host values from the matching user table row. Suppose that jeffrey connects and issues the following query:

| @localhost     |

The result shown here indicates that the matching user table row had a blank User column value. In other words, the server is treating jeffrey as an anonymous user.

Another thing you can do to diagnose authentication problems is to print out the user table and sort it by hand to see where the first match is being made.

  Published under the terms of the GNU General Public License Design by Interspire