Shibboleth IdP - Docker Debugging Tricks & Techniques

Posted by Misagh Moayyed on October 14, 2020 · 5 mins read ·

One of the more popular ways of packaging and running the Shibboleth Identity Provider is with Docker. A Docker-based build environment can be particularly useful during development and testing, especially when building add-ons and extending the capabilities of the identity provider with custom code. A build powered by Docker can simulate the deployment environment by packaging the Shibboleth Identity Provider in an Apache Tomcat server with the proper TLS setup, an LDAP server for authentication and attribute release, and maybe a sample service provider and more in a recyclable automated way.

When building this sort of development environment, it’s often very helpful to attach a debugger to the running Shibboleth IdP container to step into the code and diagnose issues. This implies that the container and the server environment hosting the IdP web application must be prepped and capable of responding to debugger requests from the host machine.

Apache Tomcat Remote Debugging

Apache Tomcat that hosts the Shibboleth Identity Provider’s web application can be configured to allow a development environment like eclipse or IntelliJ IDEA to connect and attach remotely using JPDA (Java Platform Debugger Architecture) and step into the code. In doing so, there are two adjustments that must be applied to the Apache Tomcat configuration.

First, JPDA_ADDRESS and JPDA_TRANSPORT (optional) should be defined as environment variables. The address should be a port number (default is 8000) which is the entry point for Tomcat debugging interfaces to which an external debugger from a development environment can be attached.

export JPDA_ADDRESS=5005
export JPDA_TRANSPORT=dt_socket
JDK Note
Note that from Java 9, the JDWP socket connector accepts only local connections by default. To bypass this restriction for development purposes, specially if the Shibboleth container is running against JDK 11, the JPDA address must be specified as export JPDA_ADDRESS="*:5005" instead.

Next, the command used to run Apache Tomcat must be altered to invoke JPDA:

bin/ jpda run

Docker Configuration

You may also consider exposing port 5005 in the Dockerfile that builds the Shibboleth Identity Provider’s image:


Port Mappings

Finally, you must make sure that port 5005 is properly mapped when you run the Shibboleth Identity Provider container. The development environment I have today is backed by the Gradle build tool and a special plugin that empowers it with Docker. To handle the port mappings, my build.gradle file contains this block:

task runShibContainer(type: DockerRunTask) {
    dependsOn buildShibImage

    imageName = "test/shib"
    containerName = "shib"
    containerConfiguration = [
     "ExposedPorts": ["8443/tcp": [:]],
     "HostConfig"  : [
          "PortBindings": [
               "8443/tcp": [["HostPort": "9443"]],
               "5005/tcp": [["HostPort": "5005"]]
          "Links"       : ["ldap:ldap"]

The important bit in the above block is the mapping of port 5005 to the container’s, which will act as the port for debugger requests.

Development Environment

Once the container is up and running, you should be able to configure a Remote Run/Debug Configuration in your IDEA development environment to attach a debugger to port 5005:


Other IDEs such as eclipse or NetBeans can be configured all the same.


I hope this review was of some help to you and I am sure that both this post as well as the functionality it attempts to explain can be improved in any number of ways. Please know that all other use cases, scenarios, features, and theories certainly are possible as well. Feel free to engage and contribute as best as you can.

Happy Coding,

Misagh Moayyed