Using the New Security Controls in ASP.NET 2.0

SP.NET 2.0 comes with several new security controls located under the Login tab in the Toolbox (see Figure 1) that greatly simplify the life of a Web developer. Using the new security controls, you can now perform tasks such as user logins, registration, password changes, and more, with no more effort than dragging and dropping controls onto your Web form. In this article, I will show you how you can use these new controls to perform user authentication.

To begin, lets explore using the LoginView, LoginStatus and LoginName controls. First, let’s build a Web project using Visual Studio 2005 Beta 2, so go ahead and launch the Visual Studio IDE. From the File menu, and click New Web Site to create a new Web project. Name the project C:SecurityControls.

In the Default.aspx Web form, drag and drop the LoginView control. The LoginView control is a container control that displays different information depending on whether the user is logged in or not.

Populate the LoginView control with the text shown in Figure 2. Also, drag and drop the Login control onto the LoginView control. The text that you have just typed will be displayed when the user is not yet authenticated (anonymous). The Login control displays a link to allow the user to be redirected to another page to log into the application.

In the Smart Tasks menu of the LoginView control, change the Views to “LoggedInTemplate” (see Figure 3).

With the view changed, enter the text shown in Figure 4 into the LoginView control. This text will be displayed once the user has been authenticated. Drag and drop the LoginName control onto the LoginView control. The LoginName control will display the name of the user that is used to log into the application.

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Figure 1. Security Enhancements: The figure shows the new security controls in ASP.NET 2.0.
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Figure 2. LoginView Control: The figure shows the process of populating the LoginView control.
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Figure 3. Changing Views: You can change the view of the LoginView control.
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Figure 4. User Authenticated: This text displays when the user is authenticated.

Using the Login Control
Let’s now add a new Web form to the project (right-click on project name in Solution Explorer and select Add New Item…) and name it Login.aspx. Your application will use this form to let users log into the application.

Note that in ASP.NET 2.0, the default login page is named Login.aspx (this is the default “burned” into ASP.NET 2.0 and can be verified by looking at machine.config.comments).

However, if you do wish to use a different name for your login page, you can modify the Web.config file by adding the following lines. This will change the authentication mode from the default Login.aspx to Authenticate.aspx:

                           ...

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Figure 5. Applying AutoFormat: Here’s one way to apply formatting to the Login control.
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Figure 6. Adding a Scheme: Here’s the new look of the Login control after applying the Colorful scheme.

Drag and drop the Login control onto Login.aspx. You can apply formatting to the Login control to make it look more professional. Click on the Smart Tag of the Login control and select the Auto Format…link (see Figure 5).

Select the Colorful scheme and the Login control should now look like Figure 6.

By default, ASP.NET 2.0 uses Windows authentication, which is not very flexible if you are targeting Internet users. And so you will change the default authentication mode from Windows to Forms.

Add a Web.config file to your project (right-click on project name in Solution Explorer and select Add New Item…. From the list of available choices select Web Configuration File).

In Web.config, change the authentication mode from Windows to Forms by adding the following line of code. You use forms authentication so that you can add users to your Web site without needing to create the user accounts in Windows.

         ...

Adding a New User to Your Application
Before you proceed to test the application, you need to create a new user for the application. You can use the ASP.NET Web Site Administration Tool (WAT) to add a new user to your application. To invoke the WAT, select Website and then choose ASP.NET Configuration (see Figure 7).

The WAT will be displayed in a new Web page. Click the Security link to go to the Security tab (see Figure 8).

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Figure 7. Web Site Administration: The figure shows how to invoke the WAT.
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Figure 8. The WAT: Here’s the WAT’s user interface.

The Security tab allows you to perform tasks such as creating and deleting users as well as creating roles and access rules for your application. Click on the Create user link to add a new user to your application (see Figure 9).

Supply the required information for the new user account (see Figure 10). Note that the password must have a combination of numeric, alphabetical, and special characters. Be sure to supply at least seven characters for the password. Click Create User to add the new user.

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Figure 9. WAT Security: Selecting the Security tab in the WAT lets you manage security features.
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Figure 10. Adding Users: The figure shows the WAT security screen where you can add new user accounts.

You are now ready to test the application. Select Default.aspx in Solution Explorer and press F5. Click the Login link to log into the application and then enter the account information. When you have successfully logged into the application, the Login link changes to Logout. Figure 11 shows the sequence of events.

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Figure 11. Logging In: These three screens illustrate a user’s experience while logging in to the application.

Creating New Users

You need to set the ContinueDestinationPageURL property of the CreateUserWizard control so that when the Continue button is clicked the user can be redirected to another page, such as a welcome page.

Besides creating user accounts for users, you can also allow users to create new accounts themselves. This is useful in scenarios where you allow users to create free accounts in order to access your application, such as in a discussion forum.

To allow users to create new accounts, use the CreateUserWizard control. Drag and drop the CreateUserWizard control onto Default.aspx and apply the Colorful scheme. The control should now look like Figure 12.

To test the application, press F5. You can now create a new user account yourself (see Figure 13). Supply the needed information and click Create User.

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Figure 12. The CreateUserWizard Control: The control lets users create their own new user accounts.
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Figure 13. Self-Created User: The figure shows a user creating a new user account.
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Figure 14. Account Created: After creating a new account, a user sees this screen.

When the user is created successfully, you will see the screen as shown in Figure 14.

Where Is the User’s Information Stored?
So far you have seen how to create users using the WAT as well as using the CreateUserWizard control. You’re probably wondering where this information is stored. If you now examine the Solution Explorer and refresh the App_Data folder (right-click on it and select Refresh Folder), you will see an item named ASPNETDB.MDF (see Figure 15).

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Figure 15. ASPNETDB.MDF: Here’s where you’ll find the ASPNETDB.MDF database file in Solution Explorer.
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Figure 16. Inside ASPNETDB.MDF: You can explore the ASPNETDB.MDF database in the Database Explorer pane.

The ASPNETDB.MDF is a SQL Server 2005 Express database that ASP.NET 2.0 uses by default to store application-related data such as user accounts, profiles, etc. To examine the database, double-click it and you’ll see its content displayed in the Database Explorer (see Figure 16). Specifically, the aspnet_Membership and aspnet_Users tables will store the user accounts information that you have just created in the previous sections. To view the content of the tables, right-click on the table name and select Show Table Data.

One really nice feature of ASP.NET 2.0 is that there is no need to create custom databases to store your users’ information. And you don’t even need to worry about hashing the users’ password to store them securely. ASP.NET 2.0 does this automatically for you.

The Membership Provider Model?How it Works
ASP.NET 2.0 uses a new security model known as the Membership Provider Model. The Provider Model allows for maximum flexibility and extensibility by enabling developers to choose the way they add security features to their applications.

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Figure 23. The Membership Provider Model: The figure shows the relationships between the controls discussed in this article and the various layers of the Membership Provider Model.

As an example of the extensibility of the Provider Model, consider the new set of Security (Login) controls which you have seen in this article. The controls, APIs, and providers that make up this new model are shown in Figure 23.

At the top level are the various Web server controls such as the Login, LoginStatus, and LoginView controls. Underlying the controls are the APIs that perform the work required to implement their functionality. The Membership class takes care of tasks such as adding and deleting users, while the MembershipUser class is responsible for managing users’ information such as passwords, password questions, and so on. The Membership APIs uses the Membership Providers to save?or persist, in today’s jargon?user information in data stores. Visual Studio 2005 ships with one default Membership Provider: the SQL Server 2005 Express Membership Provider. The role of the Membership Provider is to act as a bridge between the Membership APIs and the data stores so that information can be persisted without requiring a developer to write the low-level code needed to access data.

If the provider supplied by Microsoft does not meet your needs, you can either extend them or simply write your own. For instance, if you want to save the membership information for your site in an XML document rather than a relational database (such as SQL Server), you can write your own provider to talk to the XML file.

Recovering Lost Passwords
Recovering/resetting lost passwords is a common task that you need to perform as an administrator. The PasswordRecovery control allows users to perform this mundane task themselves by automatically retrieving the password and then sending it to the user via e-mail.

Password recovery makes sense only if you store the password as plain text and not its hashed value. However, by default, the settings in the machine.config file specify that all passwords be hashed before they are stored in the member database. Machine.config also disables password retrieval by default.

To store the user’s password in plain text, add the following entry in Web.config.

   ...                                    ...

Specifically, you are clearing all the Membership Providers and then adding a new SqlMembershipProvider. Note that you need to set the enablePasswordRetrieval (to true) and passwordFormat (to Clear) attributes in order to allow passwords to be retrieved.

If you set the passwordFormat as Hashed, then you must set enablePasswordReset to false.

Now drag and drop the PasswordRecovery control onto Default.aspx and then apply the Colorful scheme. The PasswordRecovery control now looks like Figure 17.

In the Properties window of the PasswordRecovery control, set the From and Subject fields under the MailDefinition property as shown in Figure 18.

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Figure 17. The PasswordRecovery Control. Using this control, users can recover their own forgotten passwords.
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Figure 18. PasswordRecovery Control Properties: Here’s how you configure the PasswordRecovery control in the Property browser.
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Figure 19. Recovering a Lost Password: A user sees this sequence of screens when recovering a lost password.

You also need to have the SMTP service configured on your machine for the PasswordRecovery control to send an e-mail. To configure the SMTP service on your machine, start WAT, choose Application, then choose Configure SMTP e-mail settings.

To test the application, press F5. You will be prompted for your user name and then your security question. If the answer to the security question is correct, the password will be e-mailed to you; otherwise you will get an error message on the page like that shown in Figure 19.

For security reasons, it is not a good idea to send a user’s password through e-mail. Hence, you really need to consider using this option very carefully.

Changing Passwords

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Figure 20. Adding Folders: Here’s the Solution Explorer after adding a new folder to the project.

Besides recovering lost passwords, you also need to allow users to change their passwords. In ASP.NET 2.0, you can do so using the ChangePassword control.

Since a user can only change their password after they have logged in, you will now create a new folder in your application that is accessible to only authenticated users.

You can add a new folder to your application by right-clicking on the project name in Solution Explorer, choose Add Folder, and then choose Regular Folder. Name the folder “Members.” Now add a new Web form to this new folder (right-click on Members and then select Add New Item…). Name the new Web form ChangePassword.aspx (see Figure 20).

To restrict accesses to the Members folder, add the following element to Web.config.

   ...                           

Essentially, pages within the Members folder are only accessible to authorized users (all anonymous users (?) will be denied access).

Drag and drop the ChangePassword control onto ChangePassword.aspx and apply the Colorful scheme (see Figure 21).

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Figure 21. The ChangePassword Control: Using this control makes it easy for you to let users change their passwords.
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Figure 22. Changing Passwords: Users might see this sequence of screens while changing passwords with the ChangePassword control.

To test the application, in Solution Explorer select the ChangePassword.aspx file in the Members folder and press F5. You will first be redirected to the login.aspx page (for authentication) and once authenticated the ChangePassword.aspx page will be loaded. You can now change your password (see Figure 22).

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