Java TACACS+ API (complete for client use, and a framework for developing a server)
Latest commit 278fc20 Feb 4, 2017 @AugurSystems committed on GitHub Merge pull request #3 from imecimore/unencrypted-payload
Allow TacacsClient to create a session with unencrypted payload.


This is a Java API for the TACACS+ protocol. (GitHub did not allow the '+' character in the project name.) It is intended for use as a TACACS+ client integrated into your product, but the code includes a skeleton for developing a server too.

The original TACACS (no plus) protocol was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense. It was later enhanced by Cisco, becoming TACACS+. TACACS is an acronym for Terminal Access Controller Access Control Service. It is used by network departments for access control to IT network equpment, e.g. routers. In general it provides authentication (validate a "user" ID), authorization (return permissions/roles for the authenticated "user"), and accounting (log stuff related to the "user" activity). Collectively, this is abbreviated as AAA. For more information, try the Wikipedia page:


This Java API was developed to integrate our customers' existing TACACS+ servers as the AAA service for our product, TrapStationTM — a fancy SNMP trap forwarder. Existing open-source Java implementations of TACACS+ clients at the time (2016) were not complete enough for our purposes. (Although we thank them for their open source, which helped us more-quickly understand the formal specifications.)

Understanding TACACS+

You will need a good understanding of TACACS+. The IETF documentation is the best source, although necessarily technical. At this time (2016), the "The TACACS+ Protocol" draft document is being actively updated, after sitting idle for nearly two decades. Eventually, it may become an official RFC, published at: Until then, the latest draft of the documentation is at:

Getting Started

A TACACS+ client will contact a server to authenticate a user, and possibly retrieve attributes that can be used to determine that user's authorizations within your application. And your application might want to record some logs of user activity. If this sounds like what you want, look at the ExampleClient class. Everything needed to integrate a Java-based application to use TACACS+ for AAA purposes should be in this API for you.

A TACACS+ server must handle requests from users, which may be software applications, or more likely, networking equipment (routers, etc.). A server must respond to requests based on its configuration (a database, files, whatever). A good server may have a GUI to aid configuration, manage logs, etc. If this sounds like you, then look at the TacacsServer class, which creates a socket server to handle incoming requests. It decodes the packets into the appropriate Java objects, and then the SessionServer class blindly returns negatory responses to the client. (This "skeleton" worked fine for testing this API's client features.) To develop a real server, you'll need to replace those dummy responses with code that references a configuration system and policies that you design. This API will give you a head start — a good step beyond fiddling with the bits and bytes of the protocol.

Code Overview

There is a separate Java class for each type of packet sent or received. All packet types for developing a client or server are fully implemented.

The IETF document specifies many flags and values with formal upper-case names, organized hierarchically (mostly). In this API, they are all encapsulated in the TAC_PLUS Java class, which contains a bunch of nested enumerations. It looks ugly! However, in use, it makes your code very readable since the names nicely mirror the documentation, and your IDE's code-completion tool will like the scoped enumerations since they will help you logically reference these constants. For example, to use the flag documented as TAC_PLUS_AUTHEN_LOGIN, the Java code would reference the enumeration TAC_PLUS.AUTHEN.LOGIN

As noted above, you should start exploring the code from either ExampleClient, or TacacsServer and SessionServer.


This implementation was developed based on the IETF draft document version "draft-ietf-opsawg-tacacs-00" dated December 15, 2015. Updates in 2016 are mostly for clarification, but also include support for TLS encryption. TLS has not been addressed in this code, except for adding a related flag in the enumeration of constants.


There is an executable referenced in the jar that will login via command-line, via PAP. The command requires two arguments: the TACACS+ server's address, and the shared secret key. Example usage is below. Note that the error message in quotes is coming from your TACACS+ server, not this TACACS+ library.


$ java -jar tacacs.jar secretKEY

Username: user1

Password: ******
> "User does not belong to specified group"
TACACS+: Login success? false


$ java -jar tacacs.jar secretKEY

Username: user1

Password: ******
TACACS+: Login success? true

TACACS+: Authorization success? true

TACACS+ Wishes

For the most part, TACACS+ is a clean single query/reply exchange between a client and server. A notable exception is the ASCII authentication sub-type, in which the server can reply with a question. (Note that ASCII here is just the name of the authentication type; it doesn't have a strong relation to the ASCII character encoding, other than there's some text that passes back and forth.) Most importantly, the ASCII authentication type is interactive... The client code has to reply with an answer, obtained either from some client configuration or from actual user interaction. In typical scenarios, the client tries to login with just an ID, then the server asks for a password. For this simple ID/password example, your client could choose to use the PAP authentication type instead of ASCII, since PAP provides for an ID and password in one packet, and the server replies with a simple pass/fail response. However, ASCII also exists for more advanced purposes, such as two-factor authentication. For example, the server might transmit a unique code number to the user's phone, while prompting the user to enter the code into the client app, which would then send it back to the TACACS+ server, thus completing a secondary proof of identity.

For cases like two-factor authentication, ASCII is the only option in TACACS+. Yet ASCII's interactive nature is an oddball. It works so much differently than the other authentication types. That makes the code more complex. We wish interactive authentication was defined as a completely separate part of the protocol, with its own family of packet types. Maybe even a new packet type for each and every unique authentication protocol that comes along over time. It would have made this and future API implementations significantly less complex, easier to maintain, and therefore less susceptible to bugs.

Furthermore, in the interactive ASCII authentication process, the server provides the exact text to be presented for any user prompt. It just seems weird that your client's user-facing interactions would be controlled by a foreign server, but that's how it works. Ideally, each server-initiated request would have it's own code number, so the client could present suitable prompts based on locale, user's language, client design style, etc.

We've made these arguments to the authors of the new draft specification. They were sympathetic, although their hands are tied for historical/compatibility reasons. Maybe these shortcomings can be addressed if/when a version 2.0 of the TACACS+ protocol is designed.

Feedback & Support

We'd love to hear from you if you're using this library, have suggestions, (or even if you found a better library). Please contact Augur Systems.