Accessing PostgreSQL through JDBC via a Java SSL tunnel

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original in en Chianglin Ng 

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I live in Singapore, a modern multiracial country located in Southeast Asia. I have been using linux for the past 2 years or so. The first distribution that I started out with was redhat 6.2. Today I am using redhat 8.0 at home. I also use debian woody occassionally.

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This article shows how to set up JDBC access for PostgreSQL on redhat 8.0 and how to create a SSL tunnel using Sun's Java Secured Socket Extensions, to enable secured access to a remote postgres database.

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While learning about postgres and JDBC, I came across the problem of accessing a remote database securely via JDBC.    
JDBC connections are unencrypted and a network sniffer can easily pick out sensitive data. There are several ways to prevent this. The postgres manual reveals that one can compile postgres with SSL support or use  SSH tunneling.

Instead of using any of these methods, I would like to use java itself. Sun's Java JDK 1.4.1 includes the java secured socket extensions (JSSE) which can be used to create SSL connections. The JDK also provides a keytool for the creation of public/private keys, digital certificates and keystores. Hence, it is relatively easy to build a pair of java-based proxies that can securely relay network data.

Setting up PostgreSQL for JDBC in redhat 8.0

The instructions provided here are for redhat 8.0 but the general principles are applicable to other distributions. You need to install PostgreSQL and the corresponding JDBC drivers if you haven't done so. On redhat 8, you can use the rpm command or the GUI package management tool. You also need to download and install Sun's JDK 1.4.1. Sun's JDK comes with some encryption restrictions due to US export regulations. To get unlimited strength encryption, you can download the JCE (Java Crytographic Extensions) policy files. Visit Sun's Java website for more information.

I have installed JDK1.4.1 in /opt and set up JAVA_HOME environment variable to point to my JDK directory. I have also updated my PATH to include the directory containing the JDK executables. The following shows the lines that are added to my .bash_profile file. 

JAVA_HOME = /opt/j2sdk1.4.1_01
PATH = /opt/j2sdk1.4.1_01/bin:$PATH

The limited encryption policy files that come with Sun JDK have also been replaced with the unlimited ones in the JCE. To enable java to find the JDBC drivers for postgres, I copy the postgre-jdbc drivers into my Java extensions directory (/opt/j2sdk1.4.1_01/jre/lib/ext). In redhat 8.0, the postgres-jdbc drivers are located in /usr/share/pgsql.

If this is your first postgresql installation, you will have to create a new database and a new postgresql user account. First su to root and start the postgres service. Then change to the default postgres administrator account.

su root
[root#localhost]#/etc/init.d/postgresql start
[root#localhost]# Starting postgresql service: [ OK ]
[root#localhost]# su postgres

Create a new postgres account and database.

Enter name of user to add: chianglin
Shall the new user be allowed to create databases? (y/n) y
Shall the new user be allowed to create more new users? (y/n) y
[bash]$createdb chianglin

I have created a new postgres administrator account that corresponds to my linux user account and a database of the same name. By default when you run the psql tool, it will connect to a database that corresponds to the current linux user account.  Refer to the postgres manual for more details on administering accounts and database. To set a password for your created account, you can run psql and issue ALTER USER command. Log in using your normal user account and start up psql. Issue the following 

ALTER USER chianglin WITH PASSWORD 'test1234' ;

To allow for tcp/ip connections, you need to edit postgresql.conf and set the tcpip_socket option to true. On redhat 8, this file is located at /var/lib/pgsql/data. Change to root and set the following


The last step is to edit the pg_hba.conf file. It specifies the hosts that can connect to the postgres database. I have added a single new host entry specifying the loopback address of my pc and that it is using password authentication. You need to change to root inorder to edit this file. 

host sameuser password

Restart postgres and all your new settings will take effect.

Designing the Java SSL Tunnel

After the previous step, postgres is ready to accept unsecured local JDBC connections.  To access postgres securely from a remote location, some form of relaying is required.

The following diagram shows how this relaying should work.

Figure one showing how the Java proxies should work

The JDBC application will connect to the client proxy which will then relay all the data through a SSL connection to our remote server proxy. The server proxy will simply forward all packets to postgres and send replies via the SSL connection back to the client proxy which will relay them to the JDBC application. This entire process will be transparent to the JDBC application.

From the diagram it can be seen that at the server end, there will be a need to get the data from the incoming secured stream and send it to the local outgoing stream that is connected to the actual server. The reverse is also true, you need to get the data from the local incoming stream connected to the actual server and route it to the secured outgoing stream. The same concept applies for the client.  Threads can be used to implement this. The following diagram shows this

Diagram showing how the 4 relaying threads work

Creating the Keystores, keys and certificates

A SSL connection usually requires server authentication. Client authentication is optional. In this case, I prefer to have both server and client authentication. This means that I will have to create certificates and keys for both the client and server. I do this by using the keytool provided by the Java JDK. I will have a pair of keystores each at the client and server. The first keystore is needed to store the private key of the host and the second is to store the certificates that the host trusts.  

The following shows the creation of a keystore, a private key and a public self-signed certificate for the server.

keytool -genkey -alias serverprivate -keystore servestore -keyalg rsa -keysize 2048

Enter keystore password: storepass1
What is your first and last name?
[Unknown]: ServerMachine
What is the name of your organizational unit?
[Unknown]: ServerOrg
What is the name of your organization?
[Unknown]: ServerOrg
What is the name of your City or Locality?
[Unknown]: Singapore
What is the name of your State or Province?
[Unknown]: Singapore
What is the two-letter country code for this unit?
[Unknown]: SG
Is CN=ServerMachine, OU=ServerOrg, O=ServerOrg, L=Singapore, ST=Singapore, C= [no]: yes
Enter key password for <serverprivate>
(RETURN if same as keystore password): prikeypass0 </serverprivate>

Notice that passwords are requested twice. The first one is for the keystore and the second is for the private key. Once this has been done, export the server public certificate, which the client will use to authenticate the server, to a file.

keytool -export -alias serverprivate -keystore -rfc servestore -file server.cer

The above will export the server self-signed public certificate into the file server.cer. At the client end import this file into a keystore that stores all the public certificates which the client trusts.

keytool -import -alias trustservercert -file server.cer -keystore clienttruststore

The above command will import the server public certificate into a keystore called clientruststore. If this store doesn't yet exist, it will be created and you will be prompted to enter a password for the store. 

At this stage, your system will be able to faciliate a SSL connection which provides for server authentication.
Since I also want to authenticate the client, I will need to create a private/public key for the client in a new client keystore, export out the client public certificate and import it into a new server keystore at the server end.

At the end of this process, there should be two keystores in the server, one for holding its private key and the other for holding the certificates it trust. It is the same for the client.

In order to run the example code which I provide later, it is essential that you set the same password for each keystore that you create on a particular machine. This means that the two keystores in the server should have the same password. The same goes to the 2 keystores in the client. 

You can refer to Sun's documentation to learn more about using keytool.

Implementing the classes

My classes will make use of the Sun's Java Secured Socket extensions. The Sun JSSE reference guide is available at For a ssl connection, you need to get an instance of a SSLContext object provided by JSSE. Initialize this SSLContext with the settings you want and obtain a Secured SocketFactory class from it. The socketfactory can be used to create the ssl sockets.

For my implementation, there will be a client and a server proxy class to construct the SSL tunnel. Since they will both be using a SSL connection, they shall inherit from a base SSLConnection class. This class will be responsible for setting up the initial SSLContext that will be used by both the client and server proxies. Finally, we need another class to implement the relaying threads. A total of 4 classes in all.
The following shows the code snippet from SSLConnection class

Snippet from SSLConnection class

/* initKeyStore method to load the keystores which contain the private key and the trusted certificates */

public void initKeyStores(String key , String trust , char[] storepass)
      // mykey holding my own certificate and private key, mytrust holding all the certificates that I trust
  try {
      //get instances of the Sun JKS keystore
     mykey = KeyStore.getInstance("JKS" , "SUN");
     mytrust = KeyStore.getInstance("JKS", "SUN");

    //load the keystores
   mykey.load(new FileInputStream(key)  ,storepass);
   mytrust.load(new FileInputStream(trust) ,storepass );
 catch(Exception e) {

/* initSSLContext method to obtain a  SSLContext and initialize it with the SSL protocol and data from the keystores */
public void initSSLContext(char[] storepass , char[] keypass) {
    //get a SSLContext from Sun JSSE
    ctx = SSLContext.getInstance("TLSv1" , "SunJSSE") ;
    //initializes the keystores
    initKeyStores(key , trust , storepass) ;

    //Create the key and trust manager factories for handing the cerficates
    //in the key and trust stores
    TrustManagerFactory tmf = TrustManagerFactory.getInstance("SunX509" ,

    KeyManagerFactory kmf = KeyManagerFactory.getInstance("SunX509" ,
    kmf.init(mykey , keypass);

    //initialize the SSLContext with the data from the keystores
    ctx.init(kmf.getKeyManagers() , tmf.getTrustManagers() ,null) ;
    catch(Exception e) {


The initSSLContext method creates a SSLContext from Sun JSSE. During the creation, you can specify the SSL protocol to use. In this case, I have chosen to use TLS (Transport Layer Security) version 1. Once an instance of the SSLContext is obtained, it is initialzed with the data from the keystores.

The following code snippet is from the SSLRelayServer class which will run on the same machine as the postgres database. It will relay all client data coming from the SSL connection to postgres and vice versa.

SSLRelayServer class

/* initSSLServerSocket method will get the SSLContext via its super class SSLConnection. It will then create a  SSLServerSocketFactory object that will be used to create a SSLServerSocket. */

public void initSSLServerSocket(int localport) {
           //get the ssl socket factory
           SSLServerSocketFactory ssf = (getMySSLContext()).getServerSocketFactory();

            //create the ssl socket
           ss = ssf.createServerSocket(localport);
   catch(Exception e) {

// begin listening on SSLServerSocket and wait for incoming client connections
public void startListen(int localport , int destport) {

    System.out.println("SSLRelay server started at " + (new Date()) + "  " +
                     "listening on port " + localport + "  " +  "relaying to port " + destport );

 while(true) {
      try {
         SSLSocket incoming = (SSLSocket) ss.accept();
         incoming.setSoTimeout(10*60*1000); // set 10 minutes time out
         System.out.println((new Date() ) + " connection from " + incoming );
         createHandlers(incoming, destport); // create 2 new threads to handle the incoming connection
    catch(IOException e ) {

RelayApp class, the client proxy, is similar to SSLRelayServer. It inherits from SSLConnection and uses 2 threads to do the actual relaying. The difference is that it creates a SSLSocket to connect to the remote host rather than a  SSLServerSocket for listening to incoming connections. The last class that we need is the thread that does the actual relaying. It simply read data from a inputstream and write them out to a outputstream. 

The full example code for the four classes are available here (example285-0.1.tar.gz).  

Running the proxies and testing

On the client, you will need these files, and On the server side, you need, and Put them together in a directory. To compile the client proxy, issue the following command.


To compile the server proxy, issue the following


On your server machine running postgres, you can fire up SSLRelayServer with 6 command line arguments. They are

  1. Full path to the keystore holding the server private key that you created earlier with keytool
  2. Full path to your server's keystore holding the trusted client certificate
  3. Password of your keystores
  4. Password of your server private key
  5. Port that this relay server will listen on
  6. Port which to forward data to( port of the actual server ,in this case postgresql which has a default of 5432)

java SSLRelayServer servestore trustclientcert storepass1 prikeypass0 2001 5432

Once the server proxy is running, you can start the client proxy. The client proxy will take in 7 arguments, the additional being the hostname or IP address of the server you are connecting to. The arguments are

  1. Full path to the keystore holding the client private key
  2. Full path to the client's keystore holding the trusted server certificate
  3. Password of your keystore
  4. Password of your client private key
  5. Hostname or IP address of the server
  6. Port number of the destination relay server ( in the above example , it is 2001)
  7. Port number of application that you are relaying for , in this case postgresql , so you should set it to 5432

java RelayApp clientstore trustservercert clistorepass1 cliprikeypass0 localhost 2001 5432

Once the SSL tunnel is established. You can start up your JDBC application and connect to postgres in the usual way. The entire relaying process will be transparent to your JDBC application. This article is already too long and I shall not provide examples for a JDBC application here. The postgres manual and sun tutorial contains many examples on JDBC.

If you want to run everything on a single machine during testing, you can do so too. There are two ways to do this,  either set your postgres database to listen on a different port, or you can set the port number that RelayApp is relaying for to another port. I shall use the latter to illustrate a simple test. First, quit RelayApp, you will have to send it the kill signal by pressing [ctrl] c. You also use the same method to stop the SSLRelayServer proxy.

Fire up RelayApp again with the following command. The only change is the last port number, it is 2002 now.

java RelayApp clientstore trustservercert clistorepass1 cliprikeypass0 localhost 2001 2002

The best application to use for testing will be psql itself. We will be relaying all psql traffic to postgres through our tunnel. Issue the following command to start psql for testing.

psql -h localhost -p 2002

The command directs psql to connect to localhost at port 2002 which our RelayApp is listening. After entering your postgres password, you can start executing SQL commands as usual and test the SSL connection that is now doing the relaying.

A note on security

It isn't a good idea to specify passwords as command line argument if you are sharing a pc. This is because someone executing the command ps -auxww will be able to see the full command string of your process, including the passwords. It is better to store the passwords in an encrypted form on another file and let your java app read from there. Alternatively you can use Java Swing to create a dialog box that prompts for password.


It is simple to use Sun JSSE for the creation of a  SSLtunnel that can be used by postgres. In fact, any other applications that require a secured connection can probably use this SSL tunnel.  There are so many ways to add encryption to your connection, just fire up your favourite linux editor and start coding. Have fun !

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