Quick Start

This is a quick start guide to get something up quickly to see the API in action.


We’ll simply clone the git tree and use Custodia in place to quickly test it. Clone the repository, and run the make egg_info command to prepare the tree for execution:

$ git clone https://github.com/latchset/custodia.git
$ cd custodia
$ make egg_info


We’ll use a simple a bare minimum configuration to start off.

Write a file named quick.conf with the following contents (feel free to omit the comments):

Also create the logdir directory (where Custodia writes its audit log):

$ mkdir -p log


Now all we need is to start the server. We do that with the following command:

$ bin/custodia quick.conf

The server will output to the terminal logs about the operations being performed against it.


Once the server is started we can move to another terminal to test it. To avoid some typing we’ll create a shell alias:

$ alias curls='curl -s --unix-socket ./quick -H "REMOTE_USER: me"'

Let’s use curl to fetch the root object

$ curls http://localhost/
{"message": "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"}

The message “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” is emitted by the Root handler by default when querying the root (‘/’). It is used to test that the basic pipeline is working and authorizing correctly.

The Root handler automatically adds also a ‘secrets’ handler under the path ‘/secrets/’, this is the actual basename of our secrets storage and will always be used going forward.

Let’s now create a new container for our secrets

$ curls -X POST http://localhost/secrets/bucket/

Be sure to always pass the trailing ‘/’ character, or the server will assume you are trying to operate on a key rather than a container and will return you an error.

Now that we have a container let’s store a secret in the simplest way

$ curls -H "Content-Type: application/octet-stream" -X PUT http://localhost/secrets/bucket/mykey -d 'P@ssw0rd'

This command is telling the server that we want to store raw data (by passing the “Content-Type: application/octet-stream” header) in the secret named “mykey” in the container named “bucket”. The content is the string “P@ssw0rd”. NOTE: you must provide a Content-Type header or the operation will fail, the supported types are: application/json and application/octet-stream

Let’s now retrieve the secret we just stored

$ curls -H "Accept: application/octet-stream" http://localhost/secrets/bucket/mykey

NOTE: when getting the header to use to indicate the Content-Type we want is “Accept: application/octet-stream”, this follows the standard HTTP protocol.

When the raw data method is used, the database will generally store data base64 encoded, let’s try to get the same data without specifying an accepted content type (which is the same as specifying “Accept: application/json”)

$ curls http://localhost/secrets/bucket/mykey

NOTE: The value is the base64 encoding of the string “P@ssw0rd

Let’s now try to list the contents of our container

$ curls http://localhost/secrets/bucket/

We are returned a json array with the list of available keys.

Let’s now remove this key

$ curls -X DELETE http://localhost/secrets/bucket/mykey

And list again our container

$ curls http://localhost/secrets/bucket/

Finally let’s cleanup and remove the container too

$ curls -X DELETE http://localhost/secrets/bucket/

Adding Authentication

You may notice that we are currently performing no real authentication, we are just advising the server to treat us as the “me” user. This phony authentication is actually used when setting up Custodia behind a real HTTP server like Apache Httpd or Nginx and using one of their modules for authentication. For simpler setups where custodia is directly accessed we can use one of the available modules for actual authentication.

We can add a new authentication module to the configuration.

In quick.conf add:

We chose the namespace keys/sak as this will allow us to manipulate keys via normal methods by placing them under the container named ‘sak’.

Restart the server and run the following operations

$ curls -X POST http://localhost/secrets/sak/
$ curls -H "Content-Type: application/json" -X PUT http://localhost/secrets/sak/qid -d '{"type":"simple","value":"secretcode"}'

We can now created a new key called qid (from the unimaginative Quick ID) and we can now authenticate with our new “user” QID and the proper secret key.

Set a new alias

$ alias curlq='curl -s --unix-socket ./quick -H "CUSTODIA_AUTH_ID: qid" -H "CUSTODIA_AUTH_KEY: secretcode"'

Now remove the section named ‘[auth:header]’ from the quick.conf configuration file and restart the server. Try to get keys with the old alias:

$ curls http://localhost/

You will get a 403 error. However the new alias with the correct authentication keys will work. Try to get keys with the new alias:

$ curlq http://localhost/

Adding Authorization

Now that we can have authentication using proper keys it’s time to deal with authorization. In most cases we want to restrict access by user. When using the SimpleAuthKeys authentication method Custodia will treat the CUSTODIA_AUTH_ID string as the user name string (equivalent to using the REMOTE_USER header with the SimpleHeaderAuth authentication method).

We can restrict access by user using the UserNameSpace handler. Remove the current [authz:paths] section and replace it with:

Restart the server and try to fetch the base path. It will fail:

$ curlq http://localhost/

It fails because we change authorization and we do not allow ‘/’ anymore, only paths under /secrets/ are now allowed. However if you try to fetch any random path under /secrets that will also fail! This is because the UserNameSpace handler allows to access only containers under the specified path that are named exactly as the authenticating user.

So try this:

$ curlq -X POST http://localhost/secrets/qid/

It will create a new container for our user “qid”, now we are allowed to create and fetch any key under /secrets/qid/

Adding Encryption

So far we have been using the most basic database used for testing which is sqlite based. If you use the sqlite3 command to look into the secrets table you will pretty quickly realize that all the stored secrets are available in plain text.

Custodia comes with a nice overlay database type that can encrypt the data stored in any backend storage. It is useful in case the backend chosen does not encrypt data at rest on its own.

We’ll also show how we can add a whole new subtree backed by this new database so we can keep using both in parallel Let’s add a new database with overlay encryption to the configuration file:

autogen_master_key = True ensures that the key is auto-created on first start. The content of the file is a symmetric key formatted according to the JWK specification.

Restart the server and now try to create a container for qid under the /encrypted tree and then try to store a secret there

$ curlq -X POST http://localhost/encrypted/qid/
$ curlq -H "Content-Type: application/octet-stream" -X PUT http://localhost/encrypted/qid/mykey -d 'P@ssw0rd'

If we now examine the database with the sqlite3 editor we’ll see that the keys in the ‘encrypted’ table are indeed encrypted (the encryption format is just a JWE token). We can also see that the key names are not encrypted. This overlay only encrypts the individual keys, not the metadata surrounding them.


In this Quick Start Guide you’ve seen how to create and fetch secrets with the Custodia API and a few of the simple authentication and authorization plugins available. Other plugins are available, and custom ones are rather simple to build.

Have Fun!