Respect my ~/.Xauthority !#@$!

South Park is a hilarious show, and I think that Cartman is the best character.  One of Cartman’s classic lines is “YOU WILL RESPECT MY AUTHORITAH!#!"

So Cartman wasn’t a unix geek and wasn’t talking about X11 Forwarding / SSH, but maybe there is a moral to the story.

You have to execute some sort of GUI program on a remote host and it requires root access in order to execute (or you have to change to a different user to execute the GUI with correct permissions)…

At first, when you logged into the machine for the first time without X11 forwarding enabled, your ~/.Xauthority file doesn’t exist…

cartman@locutus:~$ls -l ~/.Xauthority ls: /home/cartman/.Xauthority: No such file or directory

So you log back out, and when you ssh back into the remote machine, you remember to forward X11 by issuing..

$ ssh -X <user>@<remote box>


$ ssh -X cartman@locutus
Linux locutus 2.6.22-14-generic #1 SMP Sun Oct 14 23:05:12 GMT 2007 i686 cartman@locutus:~$ xclock

Sure enough, you fire up /usr/bin/xclock (or /usr/openwin/bin/xclock) and verify that the GUI program displays back on your local desktop.

cartman@locutus:~$ echo $DISPLAY localhost:10.0

Sweet.  Next, when you change users..

cartman@locutus:~$su - Password

: root@locutus:~# id uid=0(root) gid=0(root) groups=0(root)

root@locutus:~# xclock Error: Can’t open display:*

you loose your X11 forwarding.  DOH!

So whats the solution here?  You can’t log in directly to the box as the root user (this should always be disabled.  Its really bad practice if it isn’t) – and you don’t really want to throw a SSH key into /root/.ssh/authorized_keys for obvious reasons – so what’s there to do?

When you SSH into a machine with X11 forwarding, it opens a TCP port, tunnels it through SSHD, and stores this information into a MIT cookie file in your home directory called ~/.Xauthority

All we have to do is “move” this information along with us when we change users.  We can use the xauth command to manipulate this for us.  First, lets display what the value of our cookie is.  Note the :10 matching up to our $DISPLAY variable…

cartman@locutus:~$xauth list locutus/unix:10  MIT-MAGIC-COOKIE-1  e2cba22d040f0e75dcbd203ee40736de

Now lets change users..

cartman@locutus:~$su - Password:

root@locutus:~# ls -l /root/.Xauthority ls: /root/.Xauthority: No such file or directory root@locutus:~# xauth list

So no MIT cookies currently exist… That makes sense because we didn’t X11 port forward into the root account.. Lets add one.  Don’t forget the “/unix” after the FQDN.. root@locutus:~# xauth add locutus/unix:10 MIT-MAGIC-COOKIE-1 d203ee40736de0e75dcb

xauth:  creating new authority file /root/.Xauthority

Exceeeelent…. root@locutus:~# xauth list localhost/unix:10  MIT-MAGIC-COOKIE-1  e2cba22d040f0e75dcbd203ee40736de

We’re not done yet… The last thing we have to do is to set our $ DISPLAY variable to the same display as above..  Right now it may be
set to null…

root@locutus:~# echo $DISPLAY

root@locutus:~# xclock Error: Can’t open display:

So lets set it to localhost:10.0

root@locutus:~# export DISPLAY=localhost:10 root@locutus:~# xclock

Sure enough, we get xclock to display.  We didn’t have to be the root user in this example.  Any local user could perform the same function.

Alternativly, xauth also has a “merge” function to where you can read an existing ~/<user/.Xauthority file to merge with another.  This really is only going to work for the root user (unless you chmod) because the permissions on this file is octal 600…

root@locutus:~# ls -l /home/cartman/.Xauthority -rw——- 1 cartman cartman 53 2008-04-05 00:22 /home/cartman/.Xauthority

Lets remove the previous Xauthority we had in place…

root@locutus:~# xauth list locutus/unix:10  MIT-MAGIC-COOKIE-1  e2cba22d040f0e75dcbd203ee40736de root@locutus:~# xauth remove locutus/unix:10

And then we’ll use the merge function pointing at a specific .Xauthority file… root@locutus:~# xauth merge /home/cartman/.Xauthority

Sure enough, it imported correctly..

root@locutus:~# xauth list locutus/unix:10  MIT-MAGIC-COOKIE-1  e2cba22d040f0e75dcbd203ee40736de

Our DISPLAY variable matches the display above and xclock starts up without any errors. root@locutus:~# echo $DISPLAY localhost:10root@locutus:~# xclock

When xauth is invoked without any options, it brings up a menu based configuration utility thats pretty neat… Here’s “xauth info” in action…

root@locutus:~# xauth Using authority file /root/.Xauthority xauth> help     add dpyname protoname hexkey   add entry     exit                           save changes and exit program     extract filename dpyname…    extract entries into file     help [topic]                   print help     info                           print information about entries     list [dpyname…]              list entries     merge filename…              merge entries from files     nextract filename dpyname…   numerically extract entries     nlist [dpyname…]             numerically list entries     nmerge filename…             numerically merge entries     quit                           abort changes and exit program     remove dpyname…              remove entries     source filename                read commands from file     ?                              list available commands     generate dpyname protoname [options]  use server to generate entry     options are:       timeout n    authorization expiration time in seconds       trusted      clients using this entry are trusted       untrusted    clients using this entry are untrusted       group n      clients using this entry belong to application group n       data hexkey  auth protocol specific data needed to generate the entry

xauth> info Author: Matty File new:             no File locked:          no Number of entries:    1 Changes honored:      yes Changes made:         no Current input:        (stdin):2 There are also all sorts of security implecations surrounding ~/.Xauthority where the root user or administrator could hijack X11 sessions.  This articleis a great read and I suggest taking a look at it when you have a chance.  It also goes into better detail on the steps of how the X11 forward occurs and security hazards surrounding it.

This article was posted by Matty on 2008-04-05 01:09:00 -0400 -0400