Eat your own dog food, but throw in some unknown biscuits for variety

Well, the example app that Jorge Aliss asked me to write to demonstrate a combination of SecureSocial and Deadbolt is working, and working nicely, and as soon as I’ve prettied it up a bit I’ll be releasing it to github and pushing it out to, probably, Heroku.

Deadbolt came about as a result of two projects I worked on that required a specific approach to security that wasn’t addressed by any existing modules of the Play! framework. I wrote and released the module, and it’s been updated every time a new feature was needed by my own projects or through a request by someone else. To use the vernacular, I eat my own dog food.

Let’s call me person A, and I eat my own dog food. Other people – let’s aggregate them into a single entity, person B…person B also eats my dog food, and delicious it is too. Based on my own experiences, Deadbolt dog food covers all the nutritional needs of my own highly-specialized pedigree dogs, and happily, also satisfies person B’s pet food requirements. Good enough…but what about when you suddenly switch dog – and nutritional requirements – and need something completely different? Then you suddenly might find that the dog food you’ve lovingly created and molded has a huge gap right where the vitamins should be.

End of dog food analogy. It’s getting annoying.

The demo app I’ve written – SociallySecure – allows you to log in through various social open auth providers and create an account which can then have other OAuth accounts linked to it. Once they’re linked, you can log in through any of them and get into your personal SociallySecure account. The key account is Twitter (at the moment – this is just a demo!) because security is applied to your tweets when someone is viewing your account page. If you’re friends, or you’ve decided your tweets should be public, the user can see all the exceptional and banal things you’ve tweeted along with those of the people you follow. If you’ve decided your tweets are visible only to friends, when someone views your user page then your tweets are not visible. Fairly simple stuff, but enough to demonstrate dynamic security.

Fairly simple stuff – except for the part where I’m not only considering the user privileges of the logged-in user, but that user’s privileges in relation to another user.

Deadbolt offers dynamic checks in the form of the #restrictedresource tag at the view level, and @RestrictedResource annotation at the controller level. If you’re in the controller level, you can already calculate what you need. In the view level, you’re pretty much screwed unless you’re able to pass in additional information. This is what the latest version of Deadbolt gives you, and without it you have a much more restricted version of dynamic security unless you *really* jump through some hoops.

If you’re curious about how this works, you can pass a map of string parameters to a tag argument called resourceParameters – this map is then available in your RestrictedResourceHandler. You can use it in two ways:

  • The string key/value pairs can be used by you directly
  • The value can be used to do a lookup in the request, or session, or cache, or whatever

The point of this blog post, however, is to emphasize than if you’re going to release something as open source, you’ll have a much higher chance of meeting developer needs if, once you’ve covered all your own use cases, sit down for a couple of hours with another developer and ask them to use it to develop something reasonably complex. It’s pretty much what you’ll see when releasing a product – you can test it to hell and back, but within a couple of hours of it going live you can pretty much guarantee that a user has found a bug.

Think of crucially missing gaps in your code as bugs. The code works perfectly well when it’s running according to what you have in mind, but as soon as it hits the real world then you’ll find that not everyone thinks like you.

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