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Password management in Django

Password management is something that should generally not be reinvented unnecessarily, and Django endeavors to provide a secure and flexible set of tools for managing user passwords. This document describes how Django stores passwords, how the storage hashing can be configured, and some utilities to work with hashed passwords.

How Django stores passwords

Django provides a flexible password storage system and uses PBKDF2 by default.

The password attribute of a User object is a string in this format:

<algorithm>$<iterations>$<salt>$<hash>

Those are the components used for storing a User’s password, separated by the dollar-sign character and consist of: the hashing algorithm, the number of algorithm iterations (work factor), the random salt, and the resulting password hash. The algorithm is one of a number of one-way hashing or password storage algorithms Django can use; see below. Iterations describe the number of times the algorithm is run over the hash. Salt is the random seed used and the hash is the result of the one-way function.

By default, Django uses the PBKDF2 algorithm with a SHA256 hash, a password stretching mechanism recommended by NIST. This should be sufficient for most users: it’s quite secure, requiring massive amounts of computing time to break.

However, depending on your requirements, you may choose a different algorithm, or even use a custom algorithm to match your specific security situation. Again, most users shouldn’t need to do this – if you’re not sure, you probably don’t. If you do, please read on:

Django chooses the algorithm to use by consulting the PASSWORD_HASHERS setting. This is a list of hashing algorithm classes that this Django installation supports. The first entry in this list (that is, settings.PASSWORD_HASHERS[0]) will be used to store passwords, and all the other entries are valid hashers that can be used to check existing passwords. This means that if you want to use a different algorithm, you’ll need to modify PASSWORD_HASHERS to list your preferred algorithm first in the list.

The default for PASSWORD_HASHERS is:

PASSWORD_HASHERS = (
    'django.contrib.auth.hashers.PBKDF2PasswordHasher',
    'django.contrib.auth.hashers.PBKDF2SHA1PasswordHasher',
    'django.contrib.auth.hashers.BCryptSHA256PasswordHasher',
    'django.contrib.auth.hashers.BCryptPasswordHasher',
    'django.contrib.auth.hashers.SHA1PasswordHasher',
    'django.contrib.auth.hashers.MD5PasswordHasher',
    'django.contrib.auth.hashers.CryptPasswordHasher',
)

This means that Django will use PBKDF2 to store all passwords, but will support checking passwords stored with PBKDF2SHA1, bcrypt, SHA1, etc. The next few sections describe a couple of common ways advanced users may want to modify this setting.

Using bcrypt with Django

Bcrypt is a popular password storage algorithm that’s specifically designed for long-term password storage. It’s not the default used by Django since it requires the use of third-party libraries, but since many people may want to use it Django supports bcrypt with minimal effort.

To use Bcrypt as your default storage algorithm, do the following:

  1. Install the bcrypt library. This can be done by running pip install django[bcrypt], or by downloading the library and installing it with python setup.py install.

  2. Modify PASSWORD_HASHERS to list BCryptSHA256PasswordHasher first. That is, in your settings file, you’d put:

    PASSWORD_HASHERS = (
        'django.contrib.auth.hashers.BCryptSHA256PasswordHasher',
        'django.contrib.auth.hashers.BCryptPasswordHasher',
        'django.contrib.auth.hashers.PBKDF2PasswordHasher',
        'django.contrib.auth.hashers.PBKDF2SHA1PasswordHasher',
        'django.contrib.auth.hashers.SHA1PasswordHasher',
        'django.contrib.auth.hashers.MD5PasswordHasher',
        'django.contrib.auth.hashers.CryptPasswordHasher',
    )
    

    (You need to keep the other entries in this list, or else Django won’t be able to upgrade passwords; see below).

That’s it – now your Django install will use Bcrypt as the default storage algorithm.

Password truncation with BCryptPasswordHasher

The designers of bcrypt truncate all passwords at 72 characters which means that bcrypt(password_with_100_chars) == bcrypt(password_with_100_chars[:72]). The original BCryptPasswordHasher does not have any special handling and thus is also subject to this hidden password length limit. BCryptSHA256PasswordHasher fixes this by first first hashing the password using sha256. This prevents the password truncation and so should be preferred over the BCryptPasswordHasher. The practical ramification of this truncation is pretty marginal as the average user does not have a password greater than 72 characters in length and even being truncated at 72 the compute powered required to brute force bcrypt in any useful amount of time is still astronomical. Nonetheless, we recommend you use BCryptSHA256PasswordHasher anyway on the principle of “better safe than sorry”.

Other bcrypt implementations

There are several other implementations that allow bcrypt to be used with Django. Django’s bcrypt support is NOT directly compatible with these. To upgrade, you will need to modify the hashes in your database to be in the form bcrypt$(raw bcrypt output). For example: bcrypt$$2a$12$NT0I31Sa7ihGEWpka9ASYrEFkhuTNeBQ2xfZskIiiJeyFXhRgS.Sy.

Increasing the work factor

The PBKDF2 and bcrypt algorithms use a number of iterations or rounds of hashing. This deliberately slows down attackers, making attacks against hashed passwords harder. However, as computing power increases, the number of iterations needs to be increased. We’ve chosen a reasonable default (and will increase it with each release of Django), but you may wish to tune it up or down, depending on your security needs and available processing power. To do so, you’ll subclass the appropriate algorithm and override the iterations parameters. For example, to increase the number of iterations used by the default PBKDF2 algorithm:

  1. Create a subclass of django.contrib.auth.hashers.PBKDF2PasswordHasher:

    from django.contrib.auth.hashers import PBKDF2PasswordHasher
    
    class MyPBKDF2PasswordHasher(PBKDF2PasswordHasher):
        """
        A subclass of PBKDF2PasswordHasher that uses 100 times more iterations.
        """
        iterations = PBKDF2PasswordHasher.iterations * 100
    

    Save this somewhere in your project. For example, you might put this in a file like myproject/hashers.py.

  2. Add your new hasher as the first entry in PASSWORD_HASHERS:

    PASSWORD_HASHERS = (
        'myproject.hashers.MyPBKDF2PasswordHasher',
        'django.contrib.auth.hashers.PBKDF2PasswordHasher',
        'django.contrib.auth.hashers.PBKDF2SHA1PasswordHasher',
        'django.contrib.auth.hashers.BCryptSHA256PasswordHasher',
        'django.contrib.auth.hashers.BCryptPasswordHasher',
        'django.contrib.auth.hashers.SHA1PasswordHasher',
        'django.contrib.auth.hashers.MD5PasswordHasher',
        'django.contrib.auth.hashers.CryptPasswordHasher',
    )
    

That’s it – now your Django install will use more iterations when it stores passwords using PBKDF2.

Password upgrading

When users log in, if their passwords are stored with anything other than the preferred algorithm, Django will automatically upgrade the algorithm to the preferred one. This means that old installs of Django will get automatically more secure as users log in, and it also means that you can switch to new (and better) storage algorithms as they get invented.

However, Django can only upgrade passwords that use algorithms mentioned in PASSWORD_HASHERS, so as you upgrade to new systems you should make sure never to remove entries from this list. If you do, users using unmentioned algorithms won’t be able to upgrade. Passwords will be upgraded when changing the PBKDF2 iteration count.

Manually managing a user’s password

The django.contrib.auth.hashers module provides a set of functions to create and validate hashed password. You can use them independently from the User model.

check_password(password, encoded)

If you’d like to manually authenticate a user by comparing a plain-text password to the hashed password in the database, use the convenience function check_password(). It takes two arguments: the plain-text password to check, and the full value of a user’s password field in the database to check against, and returns True if they match, False otherwise.

make_password(password[, salt, hashers])

Creates a hashed password in the format used by this application. It takes one mandatory argument: the password in plain-text. Optionally, you can provide a salt and a hashing algorithm to use, if you don’t want to use the defaults (first entry of PASSWORD_HASHERS setting). Currently supported algorithms are: 'pbkdf2_sha256', 'pbkdf2_sha1', 'bcrypt_sha256' (see Using bcrypt with Django), 'bcrypt', 'sha1', 'md5', 'unsalted_md5' (only for backward compatibility) and 'crypt' if you have the crypt library installed. If the password argument is None, an unusable password is returned (a one that will be never accepted by check_password()).

is_password_usable(encoded_password)

Checks if the given string is a hashed password that has a chance of being verified against check_password().

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