Authenticating against a server

One of the big issues you have to deal with when working with other people using Git is authenticating to the server you want to fetch from or push to. In this post we’ll explore how libgit2 deals with presenting the different authentication possibilities across transport and platforms.

The first place where you can specify the username and password to use is in the URL. This can be useful in cases where these are always known, e.g. in specialised scripts which perform some very specific task. For most uses, however, you do want the ability to specify the username and password (or keypair) during the request. An application might want to even go and ask the human sitting at the computer for the credentials to the server or it might retrieve the credentials from its own storage area. To handle this cases, you need to specify a callback in order for libgit2 to be able to call your code when it needs to find out about the user’s credentials.

The callback is provided via the credentials field in the git_remote_callbacks structure. This structure is embedded in both git_fetch_options and git_push_options so you can specify it to both operations.

When libgit2 connects to the server, it may ask for the user’s credentials before performing the operation (this is always the case for SSH). libgit2 will try to get the information from two places:

  1. The URL. If there is a username/password combination in it, it will try to use that first. For SSH, it will use that username during the initial query as well.
  2. The caller-provided credentials callback. This callback gets the url and the username from the URL. This can be used to pre-fill a dialog with the data already in the URL.

If the server doesn’t accept the credentials from the callback, it will be called again. The callback drives the authentication loop. It will get called until it returns credentials accepted by the server or it returns an error code.

If the connection is over SSH, libgit2 needs to know which username will be used before it can know which authentication methods are available. If one is not provided on the URL, libgit2 will ask the credentials callback as well, with a supported credential type of GIT_CREDTYPE_USERNAME. libgit2 can then query the server for which authentication types it supports and will call the credentials callback again with those types. SSH servers won’t allow a username to be changed within one session, so the username in the URL or provided in the callback must be the one which is used for whichever credentials are returned (the RFC leaves this open, but servers in practice behave this way).

The credentials are returned using the same pattern which libgit2 uses for its API: the first parameter is an output parameter and the int return value determines success or failure. A typicall callback would hand off control to the UI (or other retrieval method) to gather information and then chain the return code to one of the credential object’s constructors. For example, if an application is only interested in supporting user/password authentication, it can do something like:

int credentials_cb(git_cred **out, const char *url, const char *username_from_url,
                   unsigned int allowed_types, void *payload)
    int error;
	const char *user, *pass;

     * Ask the user via the UI. On error, store the information and return GIT_EUSER which will be
	 * bubbled up to the code performing the fetch or push. Using GIT_EUSER allows the application
	 * to know it was an error from the application instead of libgit2.
    if ((error = ask_user(&user, &pass, url, username_from_url, allowed_types)) < 0) {
        return GIT_EUSER;

	return git_cred_userpass_plaintext_new(out, user, pass);