Client Credentials Caching

Many servers are configured to require authentication on every request. This would be a big annoyance to users if they were forced to type their passwords over and over again. Fortunately, the Subversion client has a remedy for this—a built-in system for caching authentication credentials on disk. By default, whenever the command-line client successfully responds to a server's authentication challenge, it saves the credentials in the user's private runtime configuration area (~/.subversion/auth/ on Unix-like systems or %APPDATA%/Subversion/auth/ on Windows; see the section called “Runtime Configuration Area” for more details about the runtime configuration system). Successful credentials are cached on disk and keyed on a combination of the server's hostname, port, and authentication realm.

When the client receives an authentication challenge, it first looks for the appropriate credentials in the user's disk cache. If seemingly suitable credentials are not present, or if the cached credentials ultimately fail to authenticate, then the client will, by default, fall back to prompting the user for the necessary information.

The security-conscious reader will suspect immediately that there is reason for concern here. “Caching passwords on disk? That's terrible! You should never do that!

The Subversion developers recognize the legitimacy of such concerns, and so Subversion works with available mechanisms provided by the operating system and environment to try to minimize the risk of leaking this information. Here's a breakdown of what this means for users on the most common platforms:

  • On Windows 2000 and later, the Subversion client uses standard Windows cryptography services to encrypt the password on disk. Because the encryption key is managed by Windows and is tied to the user's own login credentials, only the user can decrypt the cached password. (Note that if the user's Windows account password is reset by an administrator, all of the cached passwords become undecipherable. The Subversion client will behave as if they don't exist, prompting for passwords when required.)

  • Similarly, on Mac OS X, the Subversion client stores all repository passwords in the login keyring (managed by the Keychain service), which is protected by the user's account password. User preference settings can impose additional policies, such as requiring the user's account password be entered each time the Subversion password is used.

  • For other Unix-like operating systems, no standard “keychain” services exist. However, the auth/ caching area is still permission-protected so that only the user (owner) can read data from it, not the world at large. The operating system's own file permissions protect the passwords.

Of course, for the truly paranoid, none of these mechanisms meets the test of perfection. So for those folks willing to sacrifice convenience for the ultimate security, Subversion provides various ways of disabling its credentials caching system altogether.

To disable caching for a single command, pass the --no-auth-cache option:

$ svn commit -F log_msg.txt --no-auth-cache
Authentication realm: <svn://> example realm
Username:  joe
Password for 'joe':

Adding         newfile
Transmitting file data .
Committed revision 2324.

# password was not cached, so a second commit still prompts us

$ svn delete newfile
$ svn commit -F new_msg.txt
Authentication realm: <svn://> example realm
Username:  joe

Or, if you want to disable credential caching permanently, you can edit the config file in your runtime configuration area and set the store-auth-creds option to no. This will prevent the storing of credentials used in any Subversion interactions you perform on the affected computer. This can be extended to cover all users on the computer, too, by modifying the system-wide runtime configuration area (described in the section called “Configuration Area Layout”).

store-auth-creds = no

Sometimes users will want to remove specific credentials from the disk cache. To do this, you need to navigate into the auth/ area and manually delete the appropriate cache file. Credentials are cached in individual files; if you look inside each file, you will see keys and values. The svn:realmstring key describes the particular server realm that the file is associated with:

$ ls ~/.subversion/auth/svn.simple/

$ cat ~/.subversion/auth/svn.simple/5671adf2865e267db74f09ba6f872c28

K 8
V 3
K 8
V 4
K 15
V 45
<> Joe's repository

Once you have located the proper cache file, just delete it.

One last word about svn's authentication behavior, specifically regarding the --username and --password options. Many client subcommands accept these options, but it is important to understand using these options does not automatically send credentials to the server. As discussed earlier, the server “pulls” credentials from the client when it deems necessary; the client cannot “push” them at will. If a username and/or password are passed as options, they will only be presented to the server if the server requests them. These options are typically used to authenticate as a different user than Subversion would have chosen by default (such as your system login name) or when trying to avoid interactive prompting (such as when calling svn from a script).


A common mistake is to misconfigure a server so that it never issues an authentication challenge. When users pass --username and --password options to the client, they're surprised to see that they're never used; i.e., new revisions still appear to have been committed anonymously!

Here is a final summary that describes how a Subversion client behaves when it receives an authentication challenge.

  1. First, the client checks whether the user specified any credentials as command-line options (--username and/or --password). If so, the client will try to use those credentials to authenticate against the server.

  2. If no command-line credentials were provided, or the provided ones were invalid, the client looks up the server's hostname, port, and realm in the runtime configuration's auth/ area, to see if appropriate credentials are cached there. If so, it attempts to use those credentials to authenticate.

  3. Finally, if the previous mechanisms failed to successfully authenticate the user against the server, the client resorts to interactively prompting the user for valid credentials (unless instructed not to do so via the --non-interactive option or its client-specific equivalents).

If the client successfully authenticates by any of these methods, it will attempt to cache the credentials on disk (unless the user has disabled this behavior, as mentioned earlier).