AccountManagement, PrincipalContext, Principals, And Performance

Often times in trivial AD operations using the *.AccountManagement namespace there is a performance hit in comparison to using ASQ approaches. This has been pretty frustrating to me in the past, as detailed here. In my journeys with these objects though I have determined a better approach. Let’s take the examples from the previous post two methods, GetUser and Get Group. To make these more efficient, we are going to use a combination of PrincipalContext, *Principal, and PrincipalSearcher objects along with a materialized Dictionary object in order to speed things up a bit.

Enough with the filler, let’s look at some code. What we are going to do is create a new PrincipalContext (the static method to hydrate this is discussed in the aforementioned post), then create a new *Principal object consuming the hydrated PrincipalContext in the constructor. The *Principal object will subsequently use the SamAccountName property with a wild card as a search parameter. This *Principal object is then passed into the constructor of a new PrincipalSearcher object so the principal search results can be returned using stuff like FindAll and FindOne. Once the PrincipalSearcher is well formed, we execute a FindAll, ToList to a strongly typed collection with IQueryable support, which allows us to execute a Where clause. The clause leveraged a Regular Expression (ala Regex.IsMatch), and the results are collated in a Dictionary(Of TKey, TValue) according to a specified key selector function. Once the Dictionary is built, a simple if clause is inserted which allows us to find, and return, the object we want! Comparative times of query have shown this cuts down on query time BY 5 TIMES!!!!!!! 

Firstly, the modified GetUser method:


public static UserPrincipal GetUser(string userName)
UserPrincipal userPrincipal = null;
SPSecurity.RunWithElevatedPrivileges(() =>
PrincipalContext principalContext = GetUserPrincipalContext();
var search = new UserPrincipal(principalContext);
search.SamAccountName = userName + ‘*’;
var ps = new PrincipalSearcher(search);
var pr = ps.FindAll().ToList().Where(a =>
Regex.IsMatch(a.SamAccountName, String.Format(@”{0}\D”, userName))).
ToDictionary(a => a.SamAccountName);
pr.Add(userName, Principal.FindByIdentity(principalContext, IdentityType.SamAccountName, userName));
if (pr.ContainsKey(userName))
userPrincipal = (UserPrincipal)pr[userName];
return userPrincipal;


And the GetGroup method:


public static GroupPrincipal GetGroup(string groupName)
GroupPrincipal groupPrincipal = null;
SPSecurity.RunWithElevatedPrivileges(() =>
PrincipalContext principalContext = GetGroupPrincipalContext();
var search = new GroupPrincipal(principalContext);
search.SamAccountName = groupName + ‘*’;
var ps = new PrincipalSearcher(search);
var pr = ps.FindAll().ToList().Where(a =>
Regex.IsMatch(a.SamAccountName, String.Format(@”{0}\D”, groupName))).
ToDictionary(a => a.SamAccountName);
pr.Add(groupName, Principal.FindByIdentity(principalContext, IdentityType.SamAccountName, groupName));
if (pr.ContainsKey(groupName))
groupPrincipal = (GroupPrincipal) pr[groupName];
return groupPrincipal;


The first thing you should notice is that these could be placed in a static method of the PrincipalContext as an extension, which would be a whole lot more succint, but I was just happy I got it to work. I’ll leave that up to someone else.


The Definitive Guide To MOSS Pluggable Authentication Providers

Want To Skip Directly to Implementation? Check out the Universal Provider Framework (free of course) for Universal Membership, Role, and Profile provider schemas, getting you up and running with nearly any custom database type in less than 30 minutes. The following membership providers where defined using the framework for your convenience:

There are a total of six classes that make up the Universal Provider Framework.

Download Visual Studio Project File

SharePointMembershipProvider.cs – View Online | Download Class File

SharePointProfileProvider.cs – View Online | Download Class File

SharePointRoleProvider.cs View Online | Download Class File

SharePointUsersProvider.cs – View Online | Download Class File

GeneralUtilities.cs – View Online | Download Class File

UserData.cs View Online | Download Class File

SQL Pluggable Provider Management
If you are looking for a way to interact with the SQL provider database, you can find the ASP.NET 2.0 Provider Manager and the business layer classes that it uses here.

Restricting Security Features in Previous Versions of SharePoint and Improvements
In previous versions of SharePoint, there were many built-in security mechanisms and features that allowed a granular collaboration environment with varying types of application architecture. Within this antiquated security framework, one of the most frustrating, foremost restrictions was that SharePoint user accounts were required to resolve back to a Windows identity, severely impacting the application extendibility, particularly with perimeter facing deployments. There were workarounds to adapt to the restriction, creating multiple Active Directory trees and local user accounts was exceedingly common, however for large extranets this was not only a management nightmare but lead to poor security protocol management.

MOSS 2.0 Security Request Flow and IIS Handshaking

The IIS / ASP.NET 2.0 security process flow is relatively straightforward from when a client initiates the authentication handshake for proper verification and routing to the relevant MOSS web application and MOSS zone.

  1. When the request first begins the handshaking process, IIS will ensure that the incoming client request comes from an IP/host that is allowed access to the domain. If this condition the packets are rejects and the request is rejected by the MOSS server.
  2. Assuming that there are relevant IIS authentication routines (such as basic, integrated, digest, etc.) the MOSS IIS instance will perform that specific authentication.
    1. If you select anonymous authentication, IIS does not perform any authentication by default. There is further configuration required to get anonymous authentication to work with MOSS>
    2. If you select basic authentication, users must provide a Windows username and password to connect. This information is sent across the network in clear text, by which it is natively insecure. Therefore, this typically means that SSL will be used.
    3. If you select digest authentication, users must still provide a Windows username and password to connect. The difference that exists between this and bsic authentication is that the password presented will still be hashed after it is sent by the user. Since this is still an IIS authentication routines, the user Windows accounts wil still need to be stored in a network accessible Active Directory.
    4. If you select Windows integrated authentication, users still have a Windows username and password, however the authentication routine will depend Kerberos or typical challenge/response (NTLM). There are some further settings that are needed in Internet Explorer to make the user experience seamless when leveraging Integrated Windows Authentication.
  3. If there is no configuration done in IIS it will leverage anonymous access so client authentication handshake requests will be automatically passed through and authenticated as legit users (although this will not allow access to MOSS, since the Windows membership provider will be used by default). These types of authentication are set on a per virtual server basis, whereas the MOSS authentication providers can be set on a per web application basis (via zones), and multiple site collections can exist in varying web applications, on n number of virtual servers (it is important to remember that the concept of always having to resolve to a Windows identity doesn’t necessarily have to exist in MOSS).
  4. The first thing that MOSS will do when the authentication request is passed to it will see whether impersonation is enabled.This is how MOSS functions with the varying authentication providers, which allows ASP.NET to acts as an authenticated user.
  5. Finally, the identity from the previous step is used to authorize resources from the Microsoft Office Server System. This is based on the authentication providers that are configured as well as varying assets that can affect the authentication providers such as zones and web application policies. The MOSS resources obtained don’t even has to be restricted to the MOSS webforms, since Code Access Security (CAS) can enable exposure to such things such as keys, disks, and various other server resources.

One of the chief improvements in the new revision of SharePoint (Microsoft Office Server System, or MOSS) is the membership and user model which builds off the revamped ASP.NET 2.0 membership model providing user credentials and user roles functionality (with the addition of seven new server-side controls, membership classes to retrieve and update user information within a database, and role management functionality). This new SharePoint /ASP.NET 2.0 membership model presents state-of-the-art provider APIs that allow a SharePoint environment to talk with a variety of backend corporate user account systems, some providers being provided by default whereas others require creating a custom provider, or simply downloading an already created one from Forms-based authentication, the subject of another article, integrate extremely well with this pluggable model, however they are not dependent on each other and can work as independent pieces of technology depending on requirements.

The membership architecture can depicted well visually, as shown in the following diagram:

So How Does This Membership Model Exactly Work?

There are three main pieces that build the application architecture of a membership provider in ASP.NET 2.0. There is the membership API, the membership provider, and the provider specific storage. The actual logic process of the membership model is very simplistic because of its relatively straight-forward design pattern that provides a high layer of abstraction. Instead of being restricted when using the provider API by simply providing methods to tap into a data store through it, the API is flexible and can be molded by a developer, along with definition of the user member storage mechanism.
public class MembershipProvider : ProviderBase
// Public properties
public abstract string ApplicationName { get; set; } public abstract bool
EnablePasswordReset { get; } public abstract bool EnablePasswordRetrieval {
get; } public abstract bool RequiresQuestionAndAnswer { get; }
// Public methods
public override void Initialize (string name, NameValueCollection config);
public abstract bool ValidateUser (string name, string password);
public abstract bool ChangePassword (…);
public abstract MembershipUser CreateUser (…);
public abstract bool DeleteUser (string name, bool deleteAllRelatedData);
public abstract string GetPassword (string name, string answer);
public abstract MembershipUser GetUser (string name, bool userIsOnline);
public abstract string ResetPassword (string name, string answer); public
abstract void UpdateUser (MembershipUser user);



The main class within the membership API is the membership class. The membership class only contains static methods, and it doesn’t require an object instance. Though the controls handle the majority of desired functionally, ASP.NET 2.0 provides public methods of the Membership class to expand the developer’s control. A few of these include:

Adds an arbitrary user to the MOSS membership data store
Removes an arbitrary user from the MOSS membership data store
Generates a random password of a specified length for access into MOSS
Retrieves a collection of MembershipUser objects representing all currently registered users for the pluggable based MOSS environment
Retrieves a MembershipUser object representing a user
Updates information for a specified user
Validates logins based on user names and passwords
Changes MOSS user’s password
ChangePassword- QuestionAndAnswer
Changes the MOSS users question and answer used for password recovery
Get Password
Retrieves a MOSS user password
Resets a MOSS user password by setting it to a new random password
These members reference the MembershipUser class, which represents a user stored in the Membership data system. As stated before, this MembershipProvider class can be extended to create a custom providers for a variety of systems, allowing you extend the way that users can authenticate to your SharePoint environment.
As an example of how these methods work, lets look at how one could programmatically create a user for your MOSS environment to consume. This method could be hooked to any number of pluggable providers, depending on your backend membership data store:
For the first portion of the code, you simply need to call the CreateUser method and fill in the appropriate string entries to populate the membership database with relevant information about the user:
try {
Membership.CreateUser (“Adam”, “Buenz”,;

Following, you should allow there to be some flexibility to be procured for handling if a user does not meet any of the standard criteria. This can be accomplished by leveraging MembershipCreateUserException.StatusCode along with a switch case.

catch (MembershipCreateUserException e)

Following, build the switch case then to handle the various types of exceptions that may occur when you are creating the user. These can vary heavily so it is best to be as robust as possible whilst writing them:
For example, we could do the following starting off with the switch case to parse the status code:
switch (e.StatusCode)

Following we can build out the various types of exceptions that may occur, some of them are the more obvious:

Check whether there is a duplicate username that exists

Check whether there is a duplicate email address that exists

Check whether there is an invalid password entered

The above exception, where we are checking the user password, also has to be implemented programmatically, and can be bound to some of the initial sign on events to validate the password format as users enter into the MOSS instance. For example, it is common for passwords with an organization to require a certain length of characters. This can be achieved by using some regular expressions. Regular expressions are just a way to implement pattern matching within your code, and are supported by all .NET compliant languages.


void OnValidateCredentials (Object sender, CancelEventArgs e)

Then, just create a if statement to start the regex pattern:
if (!Regex.IsMatch (LoginControl.Password, “[a-zA-Z0-9]{8,}”) )

If they don’t meet the requirements, and use a cancel, e.Cancel = true; (whose full setting is CancelEventArgs.Cancel), you can simply display them a message using LoginControl.InstructionText, such as:
LoginControl.InstructionText = “Passwords must be 8 characters at least”

Then setting the e.CancelEventArgs.Cancel to true:
e.Cancel = true;

Along with multiple other types of various exceptions that could occur depending on your implementation.

The schema when using the SQL membership provider provides some great insight into how the database is structured with a pluggable membership provider:

In relation to the membership model for MOSS under pluggable authentication schemes, there are some unique events that are fired in order to facilitate the login process (this events can all be manipulated if you want to provide a custom login procedure to users):


Event that is triggered when a user trips the login process in order to authenticate the user by validating arbitrary passed credentials to MOSS

Event that can optionally be tripped following a login to MOSS

Prevalidation of user credentials in order to implement properly formed entry

Event that is tripped if a user does not enter appropriate credentials to MOSS

For your login page, you will get a default one by MOSS if you use the internet presence template. However, if you need to create your own there are a variety of Visual Studio controls that are available for you to exploit in order to build your own, and a variety that will allow you to customize and enhance a very standard login procedure.

User Interface for altering MOSS pluggable passwords

User Interface for creating new MOSS pluggable user accounts

User Interface for entering and validating MOSS pluggable user names and passwords

Displays authenticated MOSS user names

User Interface for logging in and logging out out of the MOSS instance

Displays different views based on MOSS login status and roles

User Interface for recovering forgotten MOSS instance passwords  

The Role ManagementProvider
The Role Management provider offers three built-in providers:

  • AuthorizationStoreRoleProvider
  • SqlRoleProvider
  • WindowsTokenRoleProvider

The role provider can be depicted visually as well:

These providers produce a lot more functionality over anything available within previous versions of SharePoint, as well as traditional .NET 1.1 applications (roles typically required the use of the Application_AuthenticateRequest method), which still required developers to leverage the custom roles passing through the ASP.NET HTTP pipelines. The purpose of roles is fairly straightforward, it allows a developer the option of creating rules that can control access to various pieces of content within your MOSS environment. A user does not have to be bound to just one role, but can in fact belong to n number of roles as they are defined by a developer. Programmatically, it is straightforward in adding a user to your MOSS role provider.

Firstly, you have to declare the user in a string in order to enable storage of the unique name that will later be passed into the AddUserToRole method. This is done by just declaring a string as such:
string name = Membership.GetUser (“Adam Buenz”).Username;

In the above we are declaring a string with the name, name. Then we are using the GetUser method in and passing in the username of “Adam Buenz” to get that user. Following, we have to add that user to the MOSS role provider by using the AddUserToRole method:
Roles.AddUserToRole (name, “I Love SharePoint Security”);

In the above we are simply passing in the string that we declared before, then declaring what group we are going to add the user to, in this case the role “I Love SharePoint Security”)
They are not a required feature, however when using a pluggable membership provider are easy to implement and manage, allowing you very granular control over your access security.
In order to get the role manager working, it is necessary to enable it. With your MOSS installation, since it will initially target itself to Windows Identities (even the initial authentication provider will be as such), this is disabled. To enable it, locate this section:

Just change the “false” node in the role manager section to true, as depicted below:

< configuration >
< system.web >
< roleManager enabled=”false” / >
< /system.web >
< /configuration >
enable it so it is true:
< configuration >
< system.web >
< roleManager enabled=”true” / >
< /system.web >
< /configuration >



This can either be done through the WAT (Website Administration Tool) or through directly editing the web.config.


One of the features talked about in the overview article is that role cookies can be encrypted. This cookie comes from using the roles class which produces a role caching property. Assuming that the user roles are too large to fit in the cookie or there are some other restrictions, the cookie will store the most frequently used roles.

There are several role methods that related to the new functionality that can be exposed in SharePoint now through the role provider:

Adds a MOSS user to a role

Creates a new MOSS role (see example for instance of using this)

Deletes an existing MOSS role

Gets a collection of MOSS roles for which a user resides

Gets the collection of MOSS users belonging to a specified MOSS role

Indicates whether a MOSS user belongs to a specified MOSS role

Removes a MOSS user from the specified MOSS role

When a user enters a SharePoint environment where there is role checking being used, it will firstly check whether the encrypted cookie mentioned before is available for consumption. This is because frequent checks for the role manager service will result in performance issues, if instead all the relevant roles of the user is held in a tamper-proof cookie (the cookie must remain encrypted and tamper-proof otherwise someone could spoof it), it is much quicker for SharePoint to access this information. By default, this cookie will be held for 30 minutes (as shown in the below attributes), however how long it is held onto can be manipulated through the web.config file of the arbitrary SharePoint site.
Within the web.config, there are several settings related to how the SharePoint cookie will interact with the user, some of these are fairly self-evident, however explanation of each have been included for brevity:

< roleManager enabled=”true” cacheRolesInCookie=”true” / >

To enable the cookie, you must enable the cacheRolesInCookie directive, as shown above. There are also the following attributes that are available for you to use for your MOSS cookies: 

  • cookieName=”.MOSSROLES” – what is the name of this cookie?
  • cookieTimeout=”30″ – how long should this cookie last (what is the cookie lifetime?)
  • cookiePath=”/” – what is the path to the cookie?
  • cookieRequireSSL=”false” – does this cookie require SSL
  • cookieSlidingExpiration=”true” – should expired cookies be renewed?
  • createPersistentCookie=”false” – should we implement persistence for the MOSS cookies?
  • cookieProtection=”All” – what is the cookie protection level?

If this cookie is not located on the client machine, SharePoint will instead make calls through the API the role provider leverages in order to determine the role of the user, and match whether the request matches the role in the environment. If the request is successful, the request will be written back to the encrypted (if the cookie is specified to be encrypted, this again is not a requirement) with the most recently requested role. If so, it will replace the last role stored in the cookie with the most recently requested role. Using this model, the role lookup processes is automated and can be immediately consumed by a SharePoint environment with no custom development needed, only configuration and implementation.

Going Beyond Using The Provider For Authentication
Once you have the provider setup, you can begin to build some pretty neat administration tools that can access the data layer that you can wrap to consume the data. One really neat use of this is building management applications that take advantage of the user options that exist in the environment. For example, sometimes you want to give other administrators within your environment the option of managing the pluggable users in your environment within an easy to use client. For example, lets assume that you are going to build a WinForms client to accomplish this task.

Here is the data access layer class files that I used to access the SQL pluggable provider that build out the WinForms client that allow management of all the custom users that are added to the SharePoint environment.

Once you have these classes define that build the data access layer, you can start to do some pretty neat management from within a WinForms client that ease the amount of visibility that you have over the users in your SharePoint environment.