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Where to store the connection string is a challenge that every application using a relational database has to solve. This is a simple persistence problem, with a chicken and an egg twist. When a relational database is the chosen source of persistence, it s the default location for storing information. The connection string, however, is needed to get to your location of persistence. This, coupled with the fact that sensitive security information is often stored in the connection string, and that the string frequently needs to change as you move from development to staging to production, presents a problem that needs some careful consideration to solve. You can hard code the connection string in a public, static string of some type in the application. This means the string becomes compiled into the application, which can have the feel of being more secure than storing somewhere in a flat file. Keep in mind, though, that .NET libraries are compiled to Common Intermediate Language (CIL) code, which can easily be decompiled. Here s a line of code from a data access layer containing sensitive authentication information: SqlConnection cn = new SqlConnection("server=.;database=pubs;uid=sa;pwd=password"); And here s the resulting, compiled, CIL code (viewed via ILDASM): IL_0007: ldstr "server=.;database=pubs;uid=sa;pwd=password" IL_000c: newobj instance void [System.Data]System.Data.SqlClient.SqlConnection::.ctor(string) Not really secure. Don t fool yourself into thinking that it is. To show you how connection strings can easily be secured, we re first going to look at a new feature the connectionStrings element in the Framework for connection string management. You need to see this feature in order to work your way back to how to protect connection strings. Take a look at the connectionStrings element in the configuration file: <connectionStrings> <add name="localPubs" connectionString="server=.;database=pubs;uid=sa;pwd=123123"/> <add name="productionPubs" connectionString="server=prodBox;database=pubs;uid=web_db_user;pwd=ab@2de3"/> </connectionStrings> This gives you a dedicated place in the configuration file for storing connection strings. The feature just acknowledges the fact that today a lot of folks are storing these strings in the appSettings element. By breaking it out into its own section, you separate the sensitive connection information from any other values you re storing within appSettings. Later you ll
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CHAPTER 10 MANAGED PROVIDERS OF DATA ACCESS
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see how this enables you to encrypt this sensitive information, without having to also encrypt other less sensitive information in appSettings. There s also now a dedicated method for retrieving connection strings from configuration. It s a static method of the ConfigurationManager type named ConnectionStrings (you can see this code in UseConnStr.aspx of the Web10 project). protected void Page_Load(object sender, EventArgs e) { string sConn = ConfigurationManager.ConnectionStrings["localPubs"].ToString(); SqlConnection cn = new SqlConnection(sConn); SqlCommand cm = new SqlCommand("select * from authors", cn); GridView gv = new GridView(); cn.Open(); gv.DataSource = cm.ExecuteReader(CommandBehavior.CloseConnection); gv.DataBind(); this.form1.Controls.Add(gv); } Changing a connection string in a configuration file as you move from environment to environment (QA to staging, for example) can be a dicey proposition. Someone could make a typo and the system would fail to connect in the new environment. It would be better to change a simple string describing the environment as the application moves through the development process. <appSettings> <add key="EnvironmentName" value="local"/> </appSettings> <connectionStrings> <add name="local" connectionString="server=.;database=pubs;uid=sa;pwd=123123"/> <add name="production" connectionString="server=prodBox;database=pubs;uid=db_user;pwd=ab@2de3#"/> </connectionStrings> Now the connection strings portion of the configuration file can remain constant as the application moves across environments. The only thing that needs changing is the EnvironmentName value in appSettings. You then change the code to use the appSetting as the key for retrieving the connection string (see this code in UseConnStr.aspx of the Web10 project). string Environment = ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["EnvironmentName"].ToString(); string Conn = ConfigurationManager.ConnectionStrings[Environment].ToString(); SqlConnection cn = new SqlConnection(Conn); SqlCommand cm = new SqlCommand("select * from authors", cn); This also better isolates the connection strings, making it easier to encrypt this portion of the configuration document and leave it encrypted, leaving the only thing that needs to be changed in the unencrypted appSettings portion of the file.
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