If you want to secure your Web pages, you
would probably set the Web server’s security. Then, the Web server
will recognize the security restrictions and challenge the
requesting client for credentials.

The Web server is actually just sending a 401
response code. It’s the client’s (i.e., the browser’s)
responsibility to send a response to the authorization challenge.
You can expect browsers to handle this functionality seamlessly.
But if you want more control over your authorization protocol, you
can set the HTTP status of the response and parse the information
as you receive it.

A 401 HTTP response code is a feedback
mechanism that tells the client that authentication information is
required to view or parse the file in question. The response code
is an HTTP header called Status. Once you set the
Status code, the browser should take care of the rest. In ASP, this
is the code for setting the Status code:

Response.Status = “401 Unauthorized”

You must set the Status before adding any
information to the Response buffer. In PHP, you set the Status
through the header() function:

header(“Status: 401 Unauthorized”, true);

Once you challenge the client, you need to send
it a method by which it can answer the challenge. The method you
should send is the WWW-Authenticate HTTP
header, which has four ideal values that you can specify: Basic,
Digest, NTLM, and Negotiate.

  • Basic authentication informs the browser to
    pass credentials to the server as plain text. This isn’t very safe
    unless it’s within the context of SSL.
  • Digest authentication challenges the client
    using a nonce value, which is a server-specified string value. The
    client returns a checksum of the username, password, the nonce
    value, the HTTP verb, and the requested URI.
  • NTLM is a Windows-specific challenge-response
    mechanism. You’ll find this on IIS servers, although Mozilla can
    also answer NTLM challenges.
  • Negotiate is an authentication mechanism
    based on Kerberos for Windows 2000 and greater. If the OS is less
    than Windows 2000, Negotiate defaults to NTLM.

For simplicity, let’s assume that you’re only
interested in Basic authentication. This value is the easiest to
program, and it allows me to show you how to implement this
functionality to a further degree.

In the following example, you’ll authenticate
the client through Basic authentication; however, you’ll go one
step further and specify that the client can only authenticate on
Tuesdays. Here’s the ASP code:

<%@ Language=VBScript %>
Option Explicit
Response.Buffer = True
Response.Expires = -1

If Request.ServerVariables(“LOGON_USER”) = “” Then
    Response.Status = “401 Unauthorized”
    If Weekday(Now()) <> 3 Then
        Response.Status =
“401 Unauthorized”
    End If
End If
You made it!

By checking the LOGON_USER HTTP environment
variable, you can tell if the user has been authenticated by IIS.
If this variable was blank, the user couldn’t be authenticated with
the given credentials. Finally, check that the day of the week is a
Tuesday. If it isn’t, set the status to 401 again, and end the

To learn more about authentication mechanisms
in HTTP,
check out the MSDN Web site

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