The HTTP WWW-Authenticate response header defines the HTTP authentication methods ("challenges") that might be used to gain access to a specific resource.

Note: This header is part of the General HTTP authentication framework, which can be used with a number of authentication schemes. Each "challenge" lists a scheme supported by the server and additional parameters that are defined for that scheme type.

A server using HTTP authentication will respond with a 401 Unauthorized response to a request for a protected resource. This response must include at least one WWW-Authenticate header and at least one challenge, to indicate what authentication schemes can be used to access the resource (and any additional data that each particular scheme needs).

Multiple challenges are allowed in one WWW-Authenticate header, and multiple WWW-Authenticate headers are allowed in one response. A server may also include the WWW-Authenticate header in other response messages to indicate that supplying credentials might affect the response.

After receiving the WWW-Authenticate header, a client will typically prompt the user for credentials, and then re-request the resource. This new request uses the Authorization header to supply the credentials to the server, encoded appropriately for the selected "challenge" authentication method. The client is expected to select the most secure of the challenges it understands (note that in some cases the "most secure" method is debatable).

Header type Response header
Forbidden header name no


At least one challenge must be specified. Multiple challenges may be specified, comma-separated, in a single header, or in individual headers:

// Challenges specified in single header
WWW-Authenticate: challenge1, ..., challengeN

// Challenges specified in multiple headers
WWW-Authenticate: challenge1
WWW-Authenticate: challengeN

A single challenge has the following format. Note that the scheme token (<auth-scheme>) is mandatory. The presence of realm, token68 and any other parameters depends on the definition of the selected scheme.

// Possible challenge formats (scheme dependent)
WWW-Authenticate: <auth-scheme>
WWW-Authenticate: <auth-scheme> realm=<realm>
WWW-Authenticate: <auth-scheme> token68
WWW-Authenticate: <auth-scheme> auth-param1=token1, ..., auth-paramN=auth-paramN-token    
WWW-Authenticate: <auth-scheme> realm=<realm> token68
WWW-Authenticate: <auth-scheme> realm=<realm> token68 auth-param1=auth-param1-token , ..., auth-paramN=auth-paramN-token 
WWW-Authenticate: <auth-scheme> realm=<realm> auth-param1=auth-param1-token, ..., auth-paramN=auth-paramN-token 
WWW-Authenticate: <auth-scheme> token68 auth-param1=auth-param1-token, ..., auth-paramN=auth-paramN-token

For example, Basic authentication allows for optional realm and charset keys, but does not support token68.

WWW-Authenticate: Basic
WWW-Authenticate: Basic realm=<realm>
WWW-Authenticate: Basic realm=<realm>, charset="UTF-8"



The Authentication scheme. Some of the more common types are (case-insensitive): Basic, Digest, Negotiate and AWS4-HMAC-SHA256.

Note: For more information/options see HTTP Authentication > Authentication schemes

realm=<realm> Optional

A string describing a protected area. A realm allows a server to partition up the areas it protects (if supported by a scheme that allows such partitioning), and informs users about which paricular username/password are required. If no realm is specified, clients often display a formatted hostname instead.

<token68> Optional

A token that may be useful for some schemes. The token allows the 66 unreserved URI characters plus a few others. According to the specification, it can hold a base64, base64url, base32, or base16 (hex) encoding, with or without padding, but excluding whitespace.

Other than <auth-scheme> and the key realm, authorization parameters are specific to each authentication scheme. Generally you will need to check the relevant specifications for these (keys for a small subset of schemes are listed below).


<realm> Optional

As above.

charset="UTF-8" Optional

Tells the client the server's preferred encoding scheme when submitting a username and password. The only allowed value is the case-insensitive string "UTF-8". This does not relate to the encoding of the realm string.


<realm> Optional

String indicating which username/password to use. Minimally should include the host name, but might indicate the users or group that have access.

domain Optional

A quoted, space-separated list of URI prefixes that define all the locations where the authentication information may be be used. If this key is not is not specified then the authentication information may be used anywhere on the web root.


A server-specified quoted string that the server can use to control the lifetime in which particular credentials will be considered valid. This must be uniquely generated each time a 401 response is made, and may be regenerated more often (for example, allowing a digest to be used only once). The specification contains advice on possible algorithms for generating this value. The nonce value is opaque to the client.


A server-specified quoted string that should be returned unchanged in the Authorization. This is opaque to the client. The server is recommended to include Base64 or hexadecimal data.

stale Optional

A case-insensitive flag indicating that the previous request from the client was rejected because the nonce used is too old (stale). If this is true the request can be re-tried using the same username/password encrypted using the new nonce. If it is any other value then the username/password are invalid and must be re-requested from the user.

algorithm Optional

Algorithm used to produce the digest. Valid non-session values are: "MD5" (default if not specified), "SHA-256", "SHA-512". Valid session values are: "MD5-sess", "SHA-256-sess", "SHA-512-sess".


Quoted string indicating the quality of protection supported by the server. This must be supplied, and unrecognised options must be ignored.

  • "auth": Authentication
  • "auth-int": Authentication with integrity protection
charset="UTF-8" Optional

Tells the client the server's preferred encoding scheme when submitting a username and password. The only allowed value is the case-insensitive string "UTF-8".

userhash Optional

A server may specify "true" to indicate that it supports username hashing (default is "false")


Basic authentication

A server that only supports basic authentication might have a WWW-Authenticate response header which looks like this:

WWW-Authenticate: Basic realm="Access to the staging site", charset="UTF-8"

A user-agent recieving this header would first prompt the user for their username and password, and then re-request the resource: this time including the (encoded) credentials in the Authorization header. The Authorization header might look like this:

Authorization: Basic YWxhZGRpbjpvcGVuc2VzYW1l

For "Basic" authentication the credentials are constructed by first combining the username and the password with a colon (aladdin:opensesame), and then by encoding the resulting string in base64 (YWxhZGRpbjpvcGVuc2VzYW1l).

Note: See also HTTP authentication for examples on how to configure Apache or Nginx servers to password protect your site with HTTP basic authentication.

Digest authentication with SHA-256 and MD5

Note: This example is taken from RFC 7616 "HTTP Digest Access Authentication" (other examples in the specification show the use of SHA-512, charset, and userhash).

The client attempts to access a document at URI "http://www.example.org/dir/index.html" that is protected via digest authentication. The username for this document is "Mufasa" and the password is "Circle of Life" (note the single space between each of the words).

The first time the client requests the document, no Authorization header field is sent. Here the server responds with an HTTP 401 message that includes a challenge for each digest algorithm it supports, in its order of preference (SHA256 and then MD5)

HTTP/1.1 401 Unauthorized
WWW-Authenticate: Digest
    realm="[email protected]",
    qop="auth, auth-int",
WWW-Authenticate: Digest
    realm="[email protected]",
    qop="auth, auth-int",

The client prompts the user for their username and password, and then responds with a new request that encodes the credentials in the Authorization header field. If the client chose the MD5 digest the Authorization header field might look as shown below:

Authorization: Digest username="Mufasa",
    realm="[email protected]",

If the client chose the SHA-256 digest the Authorization header field might look as shown below:

Authorization: Digest username="Mufasa",
    realm="[email protected]",


Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP/1.1): Authentication (HTTP/1.1)
# header.www-authenticate

Browser compatibility

BCD tables only load in the browser

See also