MIT Kerberos 5 Installation on Debian/Ubuntu/Devuan

First published — Jun 01, 2006
Last updated — Aug 05, 2023
#infrastructure #security #aaa #kerberos #tutorial

Practical introduction to MIT Kerberos 5. KDC, kadmin.local, kadmin, PKINIT, exhaustive troubleshooting recipes.

Table of Contents


The purpose of this article is to give you a straightforward, Debian/Ubuntu/Devuan-friendly way of installing and configuring MIT Kerberos 5.

By the end of this guide, you will have a functional Kerberos environment and one Kerberized service — the ability to login remotely to other machines in the network in a secure, encrypted and transparent way. It will work without the need for typing in any passwords, and it will also include SSH PKI authentication (PKINIT).

Kerberos is a service that has been traditionally captivating system administrators' and advanced users' interest, but its seemingly high entry barrier and infrastructure requirements have been preventing many from using it.

Kerberos has already been the topic of numerous publications. Here, we will present only the necessary summary; enough information to establish the context and to achieve practical results.

You do not need to follow any external links; however, the links have been provided both throughout the article and listed all together at the end, to serve as pointers to more precise technical treatment of individual topics.

The Role of Kerberos in a Network

Kerberos is intended to centrally authenticate users, hosts, and services on the network by verifying them against entries in the Kerberos database.

These entries (called "principals") consist of principal names, secret keys, key aging (expiry) information, and Kerberos-specific data. They are created or modified using a Kerberos-specific administrative tool called kadmin.

When users type in their principal name and password anywhere on the network (within a Kerberos realm), their input is authenticated in a secure way against the Kerberos database. In case of a successful authentication, the KDC ("Key Distribution Center") will issue users a "confirmation", called the TGT ("Ticket-Granting Ticket"). From that point on, and until their ticket expires, users will be transparently granted access to all network services they'll wish to use. (The TGT will not grant access by itself — instead, it will be used as the credential to automatically create further tickets for specific services, once users attempt to access them. Hence its name, the "Ticket-granting Ticket").

While the idea of a centralized network authentication is not unique, let's quickly identify Kerberos-specific elements in the authentication process:

  • Kerberos is not in any way related to traditional system usernames or other data; Kerberos identity (or tickets) are obtained using a separate, Kerberos-specific mechanism. Arbitrary system user can obtain arbitrary Kerberos identity (provided they know the correct password (or have the correct PKI certificate when PKINIT is used)).

    Often times, however, the Kerberos identity is obtained as part of a login to the system and, for convenience, an assumption is made that the person's system login name matches their Kerberos principal name.

  • The Kerberos database only contains the information necessary for Kerberos authentication; it does not (and can not) contain any other information, such as people's real names, Unix user and group IDs, etc. This makes Kerberos well-defined and easy to fit in a network infrastructure.

    When a central directory is required for users' real names, IDs, meta information and other network information, OpenLDAP is often used in combination and installed after Kerberos as explained in another article from the series, the OpenLDAP Guide.

  • Thanks to the design of the protocol, users' passwords never travel the wire in any form; Kerberos thus allows for secure authentication in and over untrusted networks.

  • Kerberos requires mutual authentication of users and services, preventing stealing of information.

    To achieve this, Kerberos uses its database to store host and service principals alongside the "real", person-owned principals. This is normal behavior and indeed, the host and service principals will account for the majority of output when you list database entries for the first time after installation.

  • As users are only required to authenticate once (after which the TGT is used in place of the password to create further tickets), Kerberos offers a true SSO ("Single Sign-On") network solution.

You can find the complete Kerberos documentation at the MIT Kerberos website. Their on-line documentation is, however, only generated in multi-page HTML format — other more convenient formats (such as PostScript) are available within Kerberos release tarballs.

Glue Layer: Integrating Kerberos and System Software

On all GNU/Linux-based platforms, Linux-PAM is available for service-specific authentication configuration. Linux-PAM is an implementation of PAM ("Pluggable Authentication Modules") from Sun Microsystems.

Network services, instead of having hard-coded authentication interfaces and decision methods, invoke PAM through a standard, pre-defined interface. It is then up to PAM to perform any and all authentication-related work, and report the result back to the application.

Exactly how PAM reaches the decision is none of the services' business. In traditional set-ups, that is most often done by asking and verifying usernames and passwords. In advanced networks, that could be retina scans or — Kerberos tickets.

PAM will allow for inclusion of Kerberos into the authentication path of all services, regardless of whether they natively support Kerberos or not.

You can find the proper introduction (and complete documentation) on the Linux-PAM website. Pay special attention to the PAM Configuration File Syntax page. Also take a look at the Linux-PAM(7){.citerefentry} and pam(7){.citerefentry} manual pages.


Let's agree on a few conventions before going down to work:

  • Our platform of choice, where we will demonstrate a practical setup, will be Debian GNU. The setup will also work on Ubuntu and Devuan GNU+Linux, and if any notable differences exist they will be mentioned.

  • Please run dpkg -l sudo to verify you have the package sudo installed.

    Sudo is a program that will allow you to carry out system administrator tasks from your normal user account. All the examples in this article requiring root privileges use sudo, so you will be able to copy-paste them to your shell.

    To install sudo if missing, run:

    su -c 'apt install sudo'

    If asked for a password, type in the root user's password.

    If you want to run sudo without requiring a password, run the following while replacing USERNAME with your login name:

    su -c 'echo "USERNAME ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL" >> /etc/sudoers'
  • Packages that we will install during the complete procedure will ask us a series of questions through the so-called debconf interface. To configure debconf to a known state, run:

    sudo dpkg-reconfigure debconf

    When asked, answer interface=Dialog and priority=low.

  • Monitoring log files is crucial in detecting problems. The straightforward, catch-all routine to this is opening a terminal and running:

    sudo tail -n0 -F /var/log/{*log,dmesg,messages,kerberos/{krb5kdc,kadmin,krb5lib}.log}

    The command will keep printing log messages to the screen as they arrive.

  • For maximum convenience, the installation and configuration procedure we will show will set everything up on a single machine. It means that the Kerberos server, the SSH server, and the client connecting to them will be on the same machine with an IP address of You should use your own machine's network address in this place.

    To differentiate between client and server roles, the connecting client will be named, the SSH server will be named (same as the client), and the Kerberos server will be named You can reuse these names, or even better replace them with your appropriate/existing hostnames.

    The following addition will be made to /etc/hosts to completely support this single-host installation scheme. Note that the client machine's hostname parts (<client> in our example) must come before "krb1" in order for things to work as expected: client krb1

    ::: caution Note that in some installations the system's network hostname is assigned to the localhost address This will cause problems for network operations. Make sure that your /etc/hosts looks exactly like this, except for the actual network IP and hostnames:  localhost
    ::1        localhost ip6-localhost ip6-loopback
    ff02::1    ip6-allnodes
    ff02::2    ip6-allrouters client krb1


    The name of your host (“client” in this example) should not appear anywhere else other than in the last line shown.

    Finally, test that the network setup works as expected. Pinging the hostnames should report proper FQDNs and IPs as shown:

    ping -c1 localhost
    PING localhost ( 56(84) bytes of data.
    ping -c1 client
    PING ( 56(84) bytes of data.
    ping -c1 krb1
    PING ( 56(84) bytes of data.

    If any of the above commands returns a local IP address beginning with 127., you need to revisit /etc/hosts and adjust it so that the network IP (“” in this example) is reported.

Kerberos 5

Now when everything has been properly prepared, let's move forward.

Server Installation

Kerberos server installation basically consists of just two packages — the KDC (Key Distribution Center), which takes care of handling authentication requests and issuing Kerberos tickets, and kadmind (Kerberos master server), which allows local or remote administration the Kerberos database and carrying out of administrative tasks.

sudo apt install krb5-{admin-server,kdc}

Here are the Debconf answers for reference. The listing here includes all questions; some were asked in Kerberos 1.6 packages and some are asked only in Kerberos 1.7 and newer, and their order has changed a little as well. In any case, it's no problem — just answer the subset of questions you are asked:

Default Kerberos version 5 realm? EXAMPLE.COM
# (Your domain name in uppercase - a standard for naming Kerberos realms)

Add locations of default Kerberos servers to /etc/krb5.conf? Yes
# (Adding entries to krb.conf instead of DNS, for simplicity)

Kerberos servers for your realm:
# (Make sure your DNS resolves to
# the NETWORK IP of the server, NOT!). Hint is given in
# .

Administrative server for your Kerberos realm:
# (Make sure your DNS resolves to
# the NETWORK IP of the server, NOT!). Same hint as above.

Create the Kerberos KDC configuration automatically? Yes

Run the Kerberos V5 administration daemon (kadmind)? Yes

As soon as the installation is done, the Kerberos admin server (kadmind) and the KDC will try to start. The start may fail since, initially, there are no Kerberos realms created, which is fine.

Initial configuration

To create the Kerberos realm, invoke:

sudo krb5_newrealm

This script should be run on the master KDC/admin server to initialize
a Kerberos realm.  It will ask you to type in a master key password.
This password will be used to generate a key that is stored in
/etc/krb5kdc/stash.  You should try to remember this password, but it
is much more important that it be a strong password than that it be
remembered.  However, if you lose the password and /etc/krb5kdc/stash,
you cannot decrypt your Kerberos database.
Loading random data
Initializing database '/var/lib/krb5kdc/principal' for realm 'EXAMPLE.COM',
master key name 'K/M@EXAMPLE.COM'
You will be prompted for the database Master Password.
It is important that you NOT FORGET this password.

Enter KDC database master key: PASSWORD

Re-enter KDC database master key to verify: PASSWORD

Now that your realm is set up you may wish to create an administrative
principal using the addprinc subcommand of the kadmin.local program.
Then, this principal can be added to /etc/krb5kdc/kadm5.acl so that
you can use the kadmin program on other computers.  Kerberos admin
principals usually belong to a single user and end in /admin.  For
example, if jruser is a Kerberos administrator, then in addition to
the normal jruser principal, a jruser/admin principal should be

Don't forget to set up DNS information so your clients can find your
KDC and admin servers.  Doing so is documented in the administration

Note that the command may pause for a significant amount of time after printing "Loading random data". To speed up the process and allow the kernel to generate enough random data to continue, login to the machine in another terminal and execute a couple commands, such as find / and/or type random text into the terminal. Once enough random data has been collected, the command execution will continue.

Now that the realm has been created, we need to adjust the Kerberos config file, /etc/krb5.conf. That file should to be the same on all Kerberos servers and clients belonging to the same realm.

/etc/krb5.conf is split into sections; you should search for section "[domain_realm]" (not "[realms]") and append your definitions: = EXAMPLE.COM = EXAMPLE.COM

At the bottom of the file, you should add the logging section:

    kdc = FILE:/var/log/kerberos/krb5kdc.log
    admin_server = FILE:/var/log/kerberos/kadmin.log
    default = FILE:/var/log/kerberos/krb5lib.log

To create the logging directory and set up permissions, run:

sudo mkdir /var/log/kerberos
sudo touch /var/log/kerberos/{krb5kdc,kadmin,krb5lib}.log
sudo chmod -R 750  /var/log/kerberos

You do not need to restart the log monitoring command you ran earlier (see Conventions) — the tail -F command will pick up new log files from the the kerberos/ directory automatically.

To apply changes to the Kerberos server, run:

sudo invoke-rc.d krb5-kdc restart
sudo invoke-rc.d krb5-admin-server restart

Initial test

It is already the time to test the installation. We assume that both the admin server and the KDC can be restarted with no errors (which should be no problem to determine if you're monitoring the log files as advised).

As the first test, we will run command kadmin.local on the server. The kadmin command ordinarily requires principal name and password before letting anyone access the administrative interface. However, kadmin.local is a variant of the command that must be run locally on the same machine as the KDC, and with administrator privileges. It is then able to open the Kerberos database file directly (taking advantage of Unix file permissions), without requiring extra privileges and without using the kadmind (Kerberos master server) daemon.

The purpose of our running kadmin.local will be to print out the list of existing principals (user, host, and service accounts) in the database using the command listprincs. The whole session should look like this:

sudo kadmin.local
Authenticating as principal root/admin@EXAMPLE.COM with password.




::: note If your output mentions “localhost” anywhere, it means you did not adjust /etc/hosts as explained in the section Conventions. Please revisit and adjust it. After that, you should purge the installed Kerberos-related packages and start again from the installation step. :::

::: note If your output does not say kadmin/krb1.EXAMPLE.COM@EXAMPLE.COM but it says kadmin/YOUR_HOSTNAME.EXAMPLE.COM@EXAMPLE.COM, then that is fine but you need to open /etc/hosts to verify and make sure that <YOUR_HOSTNAME> —if it is listed there — appears associated to a real, valid network IP of the machine, and not to its local IP (127.*).

In other words, if in your /etc/hosts you see something like:       localhost ubuntu krb1 client

That would need to be adjusted to:       localhost ubuntu krb1 client


Principal Names

In the test step above, you might have noticed principal names similar to kadmin/admin@EXAMPLE.COM. The general naming syntax for principals is SPEC@REALM, where <SPEC> by convention consists of components separated by "/", and the default <REALM> can be omitted.

In the case of principals related to system users, the first component identifies the user name, and the second component (if present) identifies user role. For regular users, there will usually be one principal with no special role, named simply USERNAME. But when administrative or other roles are required, there will be no need to condense them all to one "admin" principal — each user can simply be given conveniently named additional principals with special privileges, such as USERNAME/admin.

In the case of principals related to system services, the components will be used to identify service and hostname, such as host/ or ldap/ ("host" is somewhat of a misnomer from today's perspective — it has nothing to do with host per-se, but is actually the service name for all remote shell protocols, such as rsh, rlogin and ssh).

Access rights

Let's take a look at the /etc/krb5kdc/kadm5.acl file; it defines user access rights for the Kerberos database. For regular users with no special privileges, no action will be required. For admin users, we will want to grant all privileges, as hinted earlier in Principal Names. To do this, make sure the following line is present in the file and enabled (that is, without the comment '#' character at the beginning):

*/admin *

(While the above syntax might remind you of shell globbing, it does not work that way. The only matching character supported is the asterisk ("*"), it does not match multiple components, and it can only be used in form of "component/*" or "*/component".)

Make sure to restart the admin server to apply /etc/krb5kdc/kadm5.acl changes:

sudo invoke-rc.d krb5-admin-server restart

Kerberos policies

Kerberos "policies" offer an elegant way to sort principals into a kind of categories and to automatically apply corresponding defaults onto newly created principals.

Let's create four basic policies: for admins, hosts, services and users. In this example, each policy will define minimum password strength (measured in number of character classes present in the password, from 1 to 5), but a few other options can be set — run addpol (the supported abbreviation of add_policy) if you're curious.

sudo kadmin.local
Authenticating as principal root/admin@EXAMPLE.COM with password.

add_policy -minlength 8 -minclasses 3 admin
add_policy -minlength 8 -minclasses 4 host
add_policy -minlength 8 -minclasses 4 service
add_policy -minlength 8 -minclasses 2 user


Creating first privileged principal

As you might have noticed, the kadmin.local command identified us as the principal root/admin. Still, that principal does not actually exist in the database so we might as well create it now. Once the principal is actually there, we'll be able to connect to the administrative server using kadmin from any machine within the Kerberos realm, and not just by using kadmin.local on the Kerberos server.

Creating a principal based on your regular identity (such as USERNAME/admin) is preferred over creating one called root/admin, and you are welcome to do so in your setup. (If you are looking for a simple password, but have installed the user policies which makes choosing acceptable passwords harder, try “test1234!”)

sudo kadmin.local
Authenticating as principal root/admin@EXAMPLE.COM with password.

addprinc -policy admin root/admin

Enter password for principal "root/admin@EXAMPLE.COM": PASSWORD
Re-enter password for principal "root/admin@EXAMPLE.COM": PASSWORD
Principal "root/admin@EXAMPLE.COM" created.


Kadmin test

Now that the root/admin principal exists in the Kerberos database, we should be able to use kadmin just as we used kadmin.local. The only exception, of course, is that kadmin will prompt for a password to connect to the Kerberos admin server.

Double-check that all the permissions are granted to admin roles in the /etc/krb5kdc/kadm5.acl (as explained in Access rights), and that the admin server has been restarted to read the new configuration; then proceed to test kadmin connection:

kadmin -p root/admin
Authenticating as principal root/admin@EXAMPLE.COM with password.

Password for root/admin@EXAMPLE.COM: PASSWORD




If there is a noticeable delay present before the kadmin password prompt appears, or if you notice a "SERVER_NOT_FOUND" warning printed to /var/log/kerberos/krb5kdc.log, look up Error: SERVER_NOT_FOUND for a solution.

Creating first unprivileged principal

Let's add a principal that will correspond to your regular, unprivileged user account. In our example, the username will be called "jirky". We've essentially performed this procedure for the root/admin principal above, but we'll repeat it here for your regular user account, using a different policy, and replacing <jirky> with your username.

kadmin -p root/admin
Authenticating as principal root/admin@EXAMPLE.COM with password.

Password for root/admin@EXAMPLE.COM: PASSWORD

addprinc -policy user jirky

Enter password for principal "jirky@EXAMPLE.COM": PASSWORD
Re-enter password for principal "jirky@EXAMPLE.COM": PASSWORD
Principal "jirky@EXAMPLE.COM" created.


Obtaining Kerberos ticket

As hinted in the introduction, each user is expected to type in the password once, to obtain the initial TGT (Ticket-granting Ticket). Obtained tickets are saved to a so-called ticket cache, which is most commonly a file named /tmp/krb5cc_*, stored on the user's workstation.

Let's run the klist command to inspect our ticket cache (run this command under your regular, non-privileged username). As one might guess, since we did not obtain any tickets yet, the cache will be empty:

klist -f

klist: No credentials cache found (ticket cache FILE:/tmp/krb5cc_0)

Let's use kinit now to obtain the ticket, and then re-inspect the ticket cache. If the command seemingly "hangs" and does nothing, wait a few seconds — DNS misconfiguration may be causing a delay.

kinit jirky

Password for jirky@EXAMPLE.COM: PASSWORD

(You do not need to specify an explicit username if it is the same as your UNIX login name.)

klist -f

Ticket cache: FILE:/tmp/krb5cc_1000
Default principal: jirky@EXAMPLE.COM

Valid starting     Expires            Service principal
11/22/06 22:30:36  11/23/06 08:30:33  krbtgt/EXAMPLE.COM@EXAMPLE.COM
renew until 11/23/06 22:30:34, Flags: FPRIA

If you remember the story from the beginning, you will recognize the "krbtgt" to be the Ticket-granting Ticket.

The meanings of each flag letter produced by the klist switch -f are not important at this stage, but long-term it is useful to get into the habit of using -f, and the flag descriptions can be looked up in the manpage klist(1){.citerefentry}.

All great. Let's run kdestroy to terminate the ticket now.

Installing kerberized services

To actually use Kerberos, we need to install or configure versions of standard services that support Kerberos.

Each service may support Kerberos authentication either by having native Kerberos support, or by delegating the authentication work to the PAM subsystem (and since all relevant services support PAM, this means it is possible to Kerberize all network services).

Let's install openssh-server as our first and possibly the most important service.

sudo apt install openssh-server

To successfully connect to a certain service, the service must have a corresponding principal in the Kerberos database. This is because the Kerberos server acts as a trusted third party and performs mutual authentication of both users and services as explained in The role of Kerberos within a network.

The generic service name for telnet, rsh, ssh and related protocols is "host", so let's create the necessary principal with a randomly-generated password.

Please note that since Kerberos is based on the principle of shared secrets (as opposed to e.g. public-private key), the principal's key will need to exist in two places — one is obviously in the Kerberos database, and the other is in a file somewhere on the host where the service is running (e.g. in /etc/ on the SSH server machine).

In our example, since we are configuring the Kerberos and SSH server on the same machine, this will be the same host. In all other cases when these services are not on the same host, the procedure is exactly the same — you use kadmin on the client machine to connect to the Kerberos server, and then you call ktadd which will export the key to the local filesystem.

::: note Traditionally, the default behavior of ktadd is such that it changes the principal's key to a random value before exporting it to a file. You can verify this by checking the principal's "kvno" (key version number) value, which will increase by 1 every time you call ktadd on a principal. This is done due to an assumption that the key should always exist in only two places (in the Kerberos database and exported into a file on the client), so whenever you call ktadd to export a key, it is a good time to change it to a fresh value for added security.

In any case, if you want to prevent this key randomization for some reason, use ktadd ... -norandkey. The -norandkey option is available from the kadmin.local shell. If/when you are using kadmin instead, the option -norandkey is available with package krb5-user version 1.15 and above (check with dpkg -l krb5-user). Also, it requires that the admin user has "extract-keys" privilege. This privilege must be granted to principals in /etc/krb5kdc/kadm5.acl explicitly as it is not included in "*". If you want to do this, your entry in /etc/krb5kdc/kadm5.acl should look like either of these (they are identical):

*/admin *e

*/admin admcilspe

If you made the change just now, remember to also restart the admin server:

sudo invoke-rc.d krb5-admin-server restart


kadmin -p root/admin
Authenticating as principal root/admin@EXAMPLE.COM with password.

addprinc -policy service -randkey host/

Principal "host/" created.

ktadd -k /etc/krb5.keytab host/

Entry for principal host/ with kvno 2, encryption type aes256-cts-hmac-sha1-96 added to keytab WRFILE:/etc/krb5.keytab.
Entry for principal host/ with kvno 2, encryption type aes128-cts-hmac-sha1-96 added to keytab WRFILE:/etc/krb5.keytab.


Now let's open the file /etc/ssh/sshd_config and modify or add the following lines:

GSSAPIAuthentication yes
GSSAPICleanupCredentials yes
GSSAPIKeyExchange yes
UsePAM yes

And to apply changes to the SSH server, run:

sudo invoke-rc.d ssh restart

PAM configuration

The next step in this article pertains to integrating Kerberos into the system authentication procedure. We want Kerberos tickets to be issued for users as they log in, without the need to run kinit manually after login.

On GNU/Linux and derivatives, this is done by simply altering Linux-PAM configuration in /etc/pam.d/ on all machines where the users are logging in.

As we have explained in The role of Kerberos within a network, Kerberos alone does not help replace the usual password files (/etc/passwd, /etc/shadow or /etc/group). For now, your "kerberized" users will have to be present in both system password files and in Kerberos. (For a solution to that problem, see the next article in the series, the OpenLDAP Guide.)

Our Linux-PAM configuration will be defined so that either the usual password authentication or Kerberos authentication will need to succeed for the user to log in. This way, both users that will have no Kerberos entry (the system ones, such as root, daemon, bin, sync, sys, ...) and those that will (regular user accounts), will be able to log in.

System password in /etc/shadow will be tried first. If you want Kerberos tickets to be issued, this type of authentication must fail for regular users (otherwise their "system login" would succeed — resulting in the Kerberos part being skipped altogether and no tickets issued).

The most common way to make regular users have only one password (and that one being in Kerberos) is to replace their system password in /etc/shadow with a literal "*K*", which is not a valid password and also by spoken convention indicates that the "real" password is stored in Kerberos. This password can be set either by editing /etc/shadow file directly (i.e. with sudo vipw -s) or by invoking sudo usermod -p '*K*' USERNAME. Since maintaining this "*K*" convention is not an easy task if you don't have custom user management scripts, you can also just forget about it and lock out any user's system password with sudo usermod -L USERNAME.

Let's install the necessary Kerberos PAM module:

sudo apt install libpam-krb5

Let's configure Linux-PAM. PAM configuration is quite fragile, so use the provided examples that have been verified to work. For any modifications, you will want to look at PAM Configuration File Syntax and pay special attention to seemingly insignificant variations — with PAM, they often make a whole world of difference.

To minimize the chance of locking yourself out of the system during PAM configuration phase, ensure right now that you have at least one root terminal window open and a copy of the files available before starting on PAM configuration changes. To do so, execute the following in a cleanly started shell and leave the terminal open:

sudo su -
cd /etc
cp -a pam.d pam.d,orig

::: note If you break logins with an invalid PAM configuration, the above will allow you to simply revert to a known-good state by using the open root terminal and executing:

cp -a pam.d,orig/* pam.d/


You do not need to copy this configuration to your files. Your files should already be adjusted based on your debconf answers. But here's an example how the active parts of these config files should look like, for reference:


account [success=1 new_authtok_reqd=done default=ignore]
account requisite             
account required              
account required               minimum_uid=1000


auth    [success=2 default=ignore] minimum_uid=1000
auth    [success=1 default=ignore] nullok_secure try_first_pass
auth    requisite             
auth    required              
#auth   optional              


password        [success=2 default=ignore] minimum_uid=1000
password        [success=1 default=ignore] obscure use_authtok try_first_pass sha512
password        requisite             
password        required              
# and here are more per-package modules (the "Additional" block)
#password        optional


session [default=1]           
session requisite             
session required              
session optional               minimum_uid=1000
session required

# If elogind and libpam-elogind are installed:
#session optional              
# Or if machine uses systemd:
#session optional

If you have edited PAM configuration manually, restart the services you will be connecting to (SSH in our example). This isn't strictly necessary, but it will verify early that the services can start properly as they will certainly re-read the PAM configuration.

Installing kerberized clients

We can install one of the most commonly used clients nowadays - SSH:

sudo apt install openssh-client

Testing the connection

As we have taken care of all the pre-requisites, we can try connecting.

(Just make sure that the user you will be connecting as actually exists on the machine. If you went with our example of <jirky>, make sure "jirky" is a valid, existing system user. You can do so with sudo adduser --disabled-password jirky.)

Obtain Kerberos ticket (you can do this as any user):

kinit jirky

Password for jirky@EXAMPLE.COM: PASSWORD

Verify you hold the Kerberos ticket with klist -f and then try connecting:


Welcome to Ubuntu 14.04.2 LTS (GNU/Linux 3.13.0-55-generic x86_64)

 * Documentation:

New release '16.04.2 LTS' available.
Run 'do-release-upgrade' to upgrade to it.

You have new mail.
Connection closed.

Congratulations! You have a working Kerberos setup.

If anything is not working, proceed immediately below to Troubleshooting Kerberos connection — it contains an extensive list of possible errors and the corresponding solutions!

Or if everything is working, then you can skip that section and head directly to PKINIT.

Troubleshooting Kerberos connection

(Some of the items in this section refer to old "rsh" examples that used to be documented before the guide was updated to use SSH. Some of the errors these tools used to report are still valid, so they are left in the list as-is along with other items.)

As mentioned in the section Conventions, for any troubleshooting it is imperative that you are tailing the log files with:

sudo tail -n0 -F /var/log/{*log,dmesg,messages,kerberos/{krb5kdc,kadmin,krb5lib}.log}

krb_sendauth failed: You have no tickets cached


Trying krb4 rlogin...
krb_sendauth failed: You have no tickets cached

You have no valid Kerberos tickets, which can be verified by running klist (the output will either be empty or show expired tickets). Obtain a new ticket using kinit:


Error: Server not found in Kerberos database


error getting credentials: Server not found in Kerberos database
OR:'s password:

This means that the authentication failed, and the client exited with an error, or there was a fallback to asking the usual user password.

This error is usually accompanied by the following in the logs:

krb5kdc[6454]: TGS_REQ (8 etypes {18 17 20 19 16 23 25 26}) LOOKING_UP_SERVER: authtime 0,  jirky@EXAMPLE.COM for host/something@EXAMPLE.COM, Server not found in Kerberos database

As explained in The role of Kerberos within a network, both the users and the services must have an appropriate principal entry in the Kerberos database. While users are in the form of <NAME/ROLE>, services are in form <SERVICE-NAME/HOSTNAME>. So you need to add a principal for service "host" (common name for all shell services), on host where the service is provided — <>.

So the authentication is failing not because of the user, but because the service cannot authenticate to Kerberos.

Pay attention to the error in the log files where it says host/something@EXAMPLE.COM. That’s the name of the principal which is being looked up, but not found in the Kerberos database.

Simply enter Kerberos admin shell and add the missing principal exactly as it is reported in the error:

sudo kadmin.local   # OR: kadmin -p root/admin
Authenticating as principal root/admin@EXAMPLE.COM with password.

addprinc -policy service -randkey host/something@EXAMPLE.COM

Principal "host/something@EXAMPLE.COM" created.

ktadd -k /etc/krb5.keytab host/something@EXAMPLE.COM

kadmin.local: quit

Error: No such file or directory


Couldn't authenticate to server: Server rejected authentication (during sendauth exchange)
Server returned error code 60 (Generic error (see e-text))
Error text sent from server: No such file or directory

The above error indicates that we should pay attention to the "e-text" (error text returned to the client). The error text tells us, in kind of a confusing way (since there is no filename reported), that the /etc/krb5.keytab file on the server is missing altogether. This file needs to exist and contain the service key. The way to obtain the file and the key is to follow the recipe from Error: Server not found in Kerberos database.

Error: Key table entry not found


Couldn't authenticate to server: Server rejected authentication (during sendauth exchange)
Server returned error code 60 (Generic error (see e-text))
Error text sent from server: Key table entry not found

The server did accept the connection, but the e-text "Key table entry not found" indicates that the service principal (created earlier, host/ is not listed in the keytab file on SSH server. Follow the recipe in Error: Server not found in Kerberos database.

(If, as part of following the above pointer, you don’t know which principal name to use, start with the literal word “something”, and when you get the next error, the needed principal name will be printed in the logs. Then you can copy-paste the name and add it correctly.)

Error: Key version number for principal in key table is incorrect


Couldn't authenticate to server: Server rejected authentication (during sendauth exchange)
Server returned error code 60 (Generic error (see e-text))
Error text sent from server: Key version number for principal in key table is incorrect

The service key has changed on the Kerberos server, and the service did not succeed in proving its identity to the Kerberos server — the file /etc/krb5.keytab on the service's machine did not contain the correct key.

The most common reasons why the key has changed was either an intentional key/password change, or the key got randomized automatically when ktadd was used, as mentioned earlier in the guide under Installing kerberized services.

You can read more on ktadd behavior in kadmin(8){.citerefentry}. Follow the ktadd part of the recipe in Error: Server not found in Kerberos database to solve it.

Error: Client not found in Kerberos database while getting initial credentials

kinit root/admin

kinit(v5): Client not found in Kerberos database while getting initial credentials

This is Kerberos way of saying "User not found". You either misspelled the principal name ("root/admin" in this case), or you didn't add the principal to the kerberos database in the first place. Adding a principal is performed using the addprinc command as shown in Creating first privileged principal or Creating first unprivileged principal.

Error: Client not found in Kerberos database while initializing kadmin interface

kadmin -p root/admin

kadmin: Client not found in Kerberos database while initializing kadmin interface

This is Kerberos way of saying "User not found". You either misspelled the principal name ("root/admin" in this case), or you didn't add the principal to the kerberos database in the first place. Adding a principal is performed using the addprinc command as shown in Creating first privileged principal or Creating first unprivileged principal.

Error: Decrypt integrity check failed


Couldn't authenticate to server: Server rejected authentication (during sendauth exchange)
Server returned error code 31 (Decrypt integrity check failed)
Error text sent from server: Decrypt integrity check failed

This is Kerberos way of saying "Password incorrect". In this case, it means that the service key changed on the server, and your your ticket cache no longer contains the ticket with the correct key. Running kdestroy; kinit should obtain a new ticket and solve the problem.

Error: Unsupported key table format version number while adding key to keytab

kadmin: ktadd -k /etc/krb5.keytab host/

kadmin: Unsupported key table format version number while adding key to keytab

This usually happens when the local file to which you want to export the key (/etc/krb5.keytab) is in an incorrect format.

The most common reason why this would happen is if you have tried to create an empty file (using touch or similar commands) beforehand, and then export a key into it.

To verify that this is indeed the case, try running klist on the existing file to which you are attempting to export the key:

sudo klist -k /etc/keytab

klist: Unsupported key table format version number while starting keytab scan

The solution is to delete the incorrectly created keytab file and let the ktadd create it automatically, or to choose a different keytab file to which the intended key should be exported.

Error: Wrong principal in request


Couldn't authenticate to server: Server rejected authentication (during sendauth exchange)
Server returned error code 60 (Generic error (see e-text))
Error text sent from server: Wrong principal in request



kadmin -p root/admin

==> kerberos/krb5kdc.log <==
Jan 07 01:47:35 ubuntu krb5kdc[20837](info): AS_REQ (4 etypes {18 17 16 23}) SERVER_NOT_FOUND: root/admin@EXAMPLE.COM for kadmin/, Server not found in Kerberos database

This error is emitted in the krb5kdc log file when the principal reported (kadmin/ is missing in the Kerberos database. It usually happens when you are setting up a Kerberos server using a chosen hostname that does not match the hostname reported by the system command hostname.

Add the missing kadmin principal as follows:

sudo kadmin.local
Authenticating as principal root/admin@EXAMPLE.COM with password.

addprinc -randkey -requires_preauth -allow_tgs_req  kadmin/

WARNING: no policy specified for kadmin/; defaulting to no policy
Principal "kadmin/" created.



kadmin -p root/admin

==> kerberos/krb5kdc.log <==
Jan 07 01:47:35 ubuntu krb5kdc[20837](info): TGS_REQ (7 etypes {18 17 16 23 1 3 2}) UNKNOWN_SERVER: authtime 1376929169, root/admin@EXAMPLE.COM for kadmin/, Server not found in Kerberos database

Try solving this one using advice from the previous step, or from Error: Server not found in Kerberos database.

Error: klogind: not authorized to login to account


klogind: User root/admin@EXAMPLE.COM is not authorized to login to account root.

This error is emitted when the Kerberos principal name ("root/admin") does not exactly match the name of the user account to which it wants to log in to ("root"), and when the login allowance for that principal has not been added to file ~/.k5login.

To add the permission, if you want it, insert the principal's full name to the file ~/.k5login in the target account's home directory:

echo 'root/admin@EXAMPLE.COM' >> ~root/.k5login

Error: Connection Refused

krb5-rsh -PN

connect to address Connection refused
Trying krb4 rlogin...
connect to address Connection refused
trying normal rlogin (/usr/bin/netkit-rlogin)
exec: No such file or directory

Let's take a look at this. First of all, you can see that krb5-rsh has some fallbacks built-in. It first tries to connect using the Kerberos 5 protocol, then Kerberos 4, and then using the normal, non-kerberized rsh. We are only interested in the krb5 result. If any of the other two methods succeed (the krb4 or plain rsh), it's still not what we want (and you will probably want to disable them somehow, because no one setting up a new Kerberos realm should be running krb4 or unprotected rsh).

So where's the problem? Assuming that you did everything right (installed krb5-rsh-server and restarted inetd), the problem is very simple. Namely, by default, kerberized servers in Debian do not accept unencrypted connections! So, on next attempt, add -x on the command line.

krb5-rsh -PN -x

Error: Generic preauthentication failure while getting initial credentials

kinit jirky

kinit: Generic preauthentication failure while getting initial credentials

If using PKINIT, make sure that package krb5-pkinit is installed: apt-get install krb5-pkinit.

Error: Pre-authentication failed: Invalid argument while getting initial credentials

kinit jirky -X pkinit_identities=FILE:jirkycert.pem,jirkykey.pem

kinit: Pre-authentication failed: Invalid argument while getting initial credentials

Data for pkinit_identities setting was not specified or it is invalid. If you are relying on settings from /etc/krb5.conf, make sure there is a line such as pkinit_identities = FILE:/path/to/cert.pem,/path/to/key.pem. If you are relying on settings passed on command line, instead of pkinit_identities use X509_user_identity, such as kinit -V -X X509_user_identity=FILE:/path/to/cert.pem,/path/to/key.pem.



In proper, infrastructure-based networks, users would authenticate to Kerberos once (at system login), and access all other services automatically and transparently from there.

However, traditionally with Kerberos this implied typing in a password, preventing use of more advanced login methods like smartcards, etc.

Also, often times users' desktops are installed ad-hoc and are not part of any formal infrastructure. Similarly, users might not want to bother setting up their machines as Kerberos clients, or might not even want to care about authentication systems used behind the scenes. Such ad-hoc approaches are often characterized by users simply installing SSH private-public keys for achieving passwordless logins to remote systems. But in SSH key-based (passwordless) logins, there are no passwords involved and so there is nothing available for the KDC servers to verify and use as basis for issuing TGTs.

So, while smartcards and SSH keys can be used for passwordless login, users who log in this way will not be able to automatically obtain Kerberos tickets. They will need to manually run kinit, which effectively gets them back to password-based authentication. Additionally, this two-step approach may be even more unsuitable for hosts that rely on Kerberos for granting filesystem access, such as those using OpenAFS.

To solve this problem, PKINIT was developed as a preauthentication mechanism for Kerberos 5. It uses X.509 (PKI) certificates to authenticate KDCs to clients and vice versa. Additionally, PKINIT can also be used to enable anonymity support, allowing clients to communicate securely with the KDCs or application servers without authenticating as a particular client principal.

Server configuration

PKINIT configuration on the server requires package krb5-pkinit, some additional configuration files, X.509 certificate for Certificate Authority, and X.509 certificate for KDC.

For anonymous PKINIT, a KDC certificate is required. It is possible to use a commercially issued server certificate if that is what you have, but our example will show generating all certificates ourselves.

Package krb5-pkinit

sudo apt-get install krb5-pkinit


Create file /etc/krb5kdc/extensions.kdc with the following content:






Create file /etc/krb5kdc/extensions.client with the following content:





Certificate Authority (CA) files

Create Certificate Authority key and certificate as follows:

sudo su -

mkdir -p /etc/krb5

cd /etc/krb5kdc/

openssl genrsa -out cakey.pem 8192
openssl req -key cakey.pem -new -x509 -out ../krb5/cacert.pem -days 3650

All values asked during certificate creation can remain blank. Answer all fields with a dot (.) for this.

File /etc/krb5/cacert.pem needs to be present on all KDCs and client machines. Because of this, expiration time of 10 years (3650 days) was used in the above example. File cacert.key, as all private keys, must be carefully protected, and it will be used when creating KDC and client certificates.

KDC files

Create KDC key, certificate request, and signed certificate as follows:

cd /etc/krb5kdc/

openssl genrsa -out kdckey.pem 8192
openssl req -key kdckey.pem -new -out kdccert.req

env REALM=EXAMPLE.COM openssl x509 -req -in kdccert.req -CAkey cakey.pem -CA ../krb5/cacert.pem \
  -out kdccert.pem -days 3650 -extfile extensions.kdc -extensions kdc_cert -CAcreateserial

rm kdccert.req

All values asked during certificate creation can remain blank. Answer all fields with a dot (.) for this.

File kdccert.pem needs to be copied to all KDCs. Because of this, expiration time of 10 years (3650 days) was used in the above example. File kdckey.pem, as all private keys, must be carefully protected.

At this point you can examine the CA or KDC certificates with openssl x509 -in ../krb5/cacert.pem -text -noout. OpenSSL will not know how to display the principal name in the Subject Alternative Name extension, so it will appear as othername:<unsupported>. This is fine.

KDC configuration

After all the files above are in place, add the following to /etc/krb5kdc/kdc.conf into any section (either inside "[kdcdefaults]", or inside "[realms]" under the subsection for your realm):

pkinit_identity = FILE:/etc/krb5kdc/kdccert.pem,/etc/krb5kdc/kdckey.pem
pkinit_anchors = FILE:/etc/krb5/cacert.pem
kdc_tcp_ports = 88

And restart the KDC server:

sudo invoke-rc.d krb5-kdc restart

Client configuration


Each client who wishes to authenticate against the KDC in this way will need a certificate. Certificate for our example user <jirky> can be created as follows:

cd /etc/krb5kdc/

openssl genrsa -out jirkykey.pem 8192
openssl req -key jirkykey.pem -new -out jirky.req

env REALM=EXAMPLE.COM CLIENT=jirky openssl x509 \
    -CAkey cakey.pem -CA ../krb5/cacert.pem -req -in jirky.req \
    -extensions client_cert -extfile extensions.client \
    -days 3650 -out jirkycert.pem

rm jirky.req

All values asked during certificate creation can remain blank. Answer all fields with a dot (.) for this.

The first two commands can be executed on any host. The third command needs to be executed on the CA machine where cakey.pem exists. In our case this is the same machine as KDC, in the directory /etc/krb5kdc/.

Files jirkycert.pem and jirkykey.pem will need to be present on the machine from which the client will be authenticating.

As usual, you can examine the certificate with openssl x509 -in jirkycert.pem -text -noout. OpenSSL will not know how to display the principal name in the Subject Alternative Name extension, so it will appear as othername:<unsupported>. This is fine.


Since PKINIT is a preauthentication mechanism for Kerberos, preauthentication must be enabled on principals wishing to authenticate using PKINIT.

This may already be a default setting thanks to this line in /etc/krb5kdc/kdc.conf:


        default_principal_flags = +preauth

If this setting is not present, you can add it to the config file to serve as the default, and/or you can check individual principals for presence of this flag:

sudo kadmin.local
Authenticating as principal root/admin@EXAMPLE.COM with password.

getprinc jirky


modprinc +requires_preauth jirky


Authentication keys

Sometimes it can be useful to remove all traditional authentication keys for a principal in the Kerberos database, to easier debug PKINIT-specific issues.

Also, if users will only ever authenticate using PKINIT, they don't need Kerberos keys at all.

Deleting keys for users, or creating users with no keys in the first place, can be done using the following commands:

sudo kadmin.local
Authenticating as principal root/admin@EXAMPLE.COM with password.

purgekeys -all jirky

addprinc +requires_preauth -nokey jirky2


KDC and client certificates

Client hosts must be configured to trust the issuing authority for the KDC certificate, and the authenticating clients need to have access to their own certificate and private key. This can be defined in either /etc/krb5.conf which is read by all Kerberos clients, or in-place during invocation of kinit and similar commands.

Specifying the CA cert in /etc/krb5.conf may be convenient because this file can and should be world-readable, but client keys are inherently private in nature and are best not kept or listed in a single place.

Therefore, for cacert.pem we will use /etc/krb5.conf and for client certificates and keys we will use in-place specification. So, we add this to /etc/krb5.conf:


        # For own certificate:
        pkinit_anchors = FILE:/etc/krb5/cacert.pem

        # Or for commercial certificate:
        #pkinit_anchors = DIR:/etc/ssl/certs
        #pkinit_eku_checking = kpServerAuth
        #pkinit_kdc_hostname = hostname.of.kdc.certificate,...


And we move jirky’s files to their home directory:

cd /etc/krb5kdc/
mv jirkycert.pem jirkykey.pem ~jirky/
## And also adjust permissions so that user can read them


Finally, we are able to test client authentication using PKINIT!

As mentioned, in addition to eventual principal name, we will specify the location of the corresponding client certificate and private key:

cd # To change to user's home directory, or where the jirkycert.pem/jirkykey.pem files are


kinit jirky -X X509_user_identity=FILE:jirkycert.pem,jirkykey.pem

klist -f
Ticket cache: FILE:/tmp/krb5cc_1001
Default principal: jirky@EXAMPLE.COM

Valid starting       Expires              Service principal
08/05/2023 19:33:50  08/06/2023 05:33:50  krbtgt/EXAMPLE.COM@EXAMPLE.COM
        renew until 08/06/2023 19:33:50, Flags: FPRIA

If the KDC and client were properly configured, the above command kinit has succeeded without asking for a password, and obtained tickets can be verified with klist -f!


At this point, you have a functional Kerberos installation, including PKINIT, which is certainly an advanced configuration!

You can rely on either system login or manually running kinit in obtaining Kerberos tickets and accessing Kerberized services. One of those services is the passwordless, Kerberos-secured SSH login that we've demonstrated in this guide.

With a good foundation we've built, for further information on Kerberos, please refer to other available resources:

Remember that, as explained in this Guide, your user accounts still need to be created locally on all hosts the users wish to access. To solve that problem and achieve true centralized logins, follow the next article in the series, the OpenLDAP Guide.

If you have followed the OpenLDAP Guide first and have come here to set up Kerberos as an afterthought, run sudo dpkg-reconfigure libpam-ldap to choose "Unix authentication" and "Kerberos authentication" instead of "LDAP Authentication", and re-visit the OpenLDAP Guide to verify that the resulting PAM configuration files have actually been re-generated and look like the Kerberos-related examples shown there.

If you have followed this MIT Kerberos 5 Guide only as a pre-requisite for installing OpenAFS and do not want to use LDAP in combination, proceed to another article in the series, the OpenAFS Guide.


MIT Kerberos

Heimdal Kerberos

Kerberos consortium

Kerberos specifics:

Kerberos release

Kerberos database realm KDC principal

secret key TGT

Glue layer:


PAM Configuration File Syntax

Related infrastructural technologies: