Debugging Authentication and Authorization Using Lightrun

I won’t sugarcoat it. Authentication and authorization are some of the most painful tasks in backend programming. I’m sorry and I feel your pain. I can’t promise that Lightrun will solve it and make it easy, but it can provide insight into what’s going on under the hood which can save you hours/days/weeks of debugging in the wrong place.

So let’s keep this brief…

For the purposes of this tutorial I’ll use the authentication demo from Spring which you can download here the code itself is under the “complete” directory.

Step 1 – Build the Demo

Open the “Complete” directory from the repository in IntelliJ. I selected to use the Maven project since I prefer it. 

Because we want to do “deep” debugging into the Spring source code we need an extra step of downloading the maven source code. In IntelliJ preferences select “Build, Execution, Deployment” -> “Build Tools” -> “Maven” -> “Importing” and check the “Automatically download” sources option. Like in the image here:

Press OK.

Once this is done select the “Package” option in the maven toolwindow. 

Step 2 – Install Lightrun

If you didn’t do this yet go to and follow the steps to create an account. Download the IDE plugin and set up the agent on your server. I won’t replicate the steps here as they are pretty clear on the website.

You can download the agent into the “Complete” directory then run the app using:

java -agentpath:PATH_TO_AGENT_DIRECTORY/ -jar target/securing-web-complete-0.0.1-SNAPSHOT.jar

Notice you need to replace java -agentpath:PATH_TO_AGENT_DIRECTORY/ -jar target/securing-web-complete-0.0.1-SNAPSHOT.jar with the right path. Try to avoid shortcuts like ~ which might cause issues.

You can now install the plugin and login via the IDE.

Step 3 – Set a Snapshot on Authentication

Now we need to open the authentication code. Select “Navigate” -> “Class” from the menu (Command + O or Control + O). Then type in AbstractUserDetailsAuthenticationProvider.

Important: If the file that opens is a .class decompiled file click the “Download Sources” banner at the top of the editor. The file must be a java source file.

Go to the authenticate method and right click on the first line. Select “Lightrun” -> “Snapshot”:

A snapshot is a breakpoint that doesn’t “break”. It gives you the stack trace, variables etc. It can be applied conditionally like any other breakpoint. But it won’t block the execution and won’t break the server.

We will see a dialog like this that let’s us tune the snapshot parameters. I suggest looking at the tutorials to learn more about the power of this tool:

We now have a snapshot which we can see in the camera icon on the left and within the right hand side.

Step 4 – Fail on Logging In

Failure is easy. Go to http://localhost:8080/ and try to login by pressing the button in that page. Notice that this will also work if you’re running or debugging remotely. 

Once you fail to login go back to the IDE. You should see a snapshot like this:

This is a stack trace like any stack trace you have in the debugger. You can inspect variable values. Go up the stack and look at the values of variables there etc.

Notice I can see the principal and credentials values which helps me see what I did when trying to login

Important: Those of you who are security conscious might be justifiably concerned about the security implications involved. So once you get this working the manager of your Lightrun account can add these classes to the Lightrun blocklist and block the ability to place snapshots in these files!

Apply This to your Own Application

You will probably need to place a breakpoint in a different class in your authorization chain. Use the class explorer tool to find the appropriate entry point. Trial and error is pretty easy in this case. 

Binding the agent and the rest of the instructions should apply almost exactly the same to most cases.

Ready to get started ?