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PAM was defined and developed in 1995 by Vipin Samar and Charlie Lai of Sun Microsystems, and has not changed much since. In 1997, the Open Group published the X/Open Single Sign-on (XSSO) preliminary specification, which standardized the PAM API and added extensions for single (or rather integrated) sign-on. At the time of this writing, this specification has not yet been adopted as a standard.
Although this article focuses primarily on FreeBSD 5.x, which uses OpenPAM, it should be equally applicable to FreeBSD 4.x, which uses Linux-PAM, and other operating systems such as Linux and <trademark>Solaris</trademark>.
Terms and Conventions
Definitions
The terminology surrounding PAM is rather confused. Neither Samar and Lai's original paper nor the XSSO specification made any attempt at formally defining terms for the various actors and entities involved in PAM, and the terms that they do use (but do not define) are sometimes misleading and ambiguous. The first attempt at establishing a consistent and unambiguous terminology was a whitepaper written by Andrew G. Morgan (author of Linux-PAM) in 1999. While Morgan's choice of terminology was a huge leap forward, it is in this author's opinion by no means perfect. What follows is an attempt, heavily inspired by Morgan, to define precise and unambiguous terms for all actors and entities involved in PAM.
account
The set of credentials the applicant is requesting from the arbitrator.
applicant
The user or entity requesting authentication.
arbitrator
The user or entity who has the privileges necessary to verify the applicant's credentials and the authority to grant or deny the request.
chain
A sequence of modules that will be invoked in response to a PAM request. The chain includes information about the order in which to invoke the modules, what arguments to pass to them, and how to interpret the results.
client
The application responsible for initiating an authentication request on behalf of the applicant and for obtaining the necessary authentication information from him.
facility
One of the four basic groups of functionality provided by PAM: authentication, account management, session management and authentication token update.
module
A collection of one or more related functions implementing a particular authentication facility, gathered into a single (normally dynamically loadable) binary file and identified by a single name.
policy
The complete set of configuration statements describing how to handle PAM requests for a particular service. A policy normally consists of four chains, one for each facility, though some services do not use all four facilities.
server
The application acting on behalf of the arbitrator to converse with the client, retrieve authentication information, verify the applicant's credentials and grant or deny requests.
service
A class of servers providing similar or related functionality and requiring similar authentication. PAM policies are defined on a per-service basis, so all servers that claim the same service name will be subject to the same policy.
session
The context within which service is rendered to the applicant by the server. One of PAM's four facilities, session management, is concerned exclusively with setting up and tearing down this context.
token
A chunk of information associated with the account, such as a password or passphrase, which the applicant must provide to prove his identity.
transaction
A sequence of requests from the same applicant to the same instance of the same server, beginning with authentication and session set-up and ending with session tear-down.

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Source string comment
(itstool) path: glossentry/glossterm
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read-only
Source string location
article.translate.xml:187
String age
a year ago
Source string age
a year ago
Translation file
articles/pam.pot, string 30