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B.5 The Keytab Binary File Format

The keytab file format is described in the file keytab.txt, included in verbatim below.

The Kerberos Keytab Binary File Format
Copyright (C) 2006 Michael B Allen <mba2000>
Last updated: Fri May  5 13:39:40 EDT 2006

The MIT keytab binary format is not a standard format, nor is it
documented anywhere in detail. The format has evolved and may continue
to. It is however understood by several Kerberos implementations including
Heimdal and of course MIT and keytab files are created by the ktpass.exe
utility from Windows. So it has established itself as the defacto format
for storing Kerberos keys.

The following C-like structure definitions illustrate the MIT keytab
file format. All values are in network byte order. All text is ASCII.

  keytab {
      uint16_t file_format_version;                    /* 0x502 */
      keytab_entry entries[*];

  keytab_entry {
      int32_t size;
      uint16_t num_components;    /* sub 1 if version 0x501 */
      counted_octet_string realm;
      counted_octet_string components[num_components];
      uint32_t name_type;   /* not present if version 0x501 */
      uint32_t timestamp;
      uint8_t vno8;
      keyblock key;
      uint32_t vno; /* only present if >= 4 bytes left in entry */

  counted_octet_string {
      uint16_t length;
      uint8_t data[length];

  keyblock {
      uint16_t type;

The keytab file format begins with the 16 bit file_format_version which
at the time this document was authored is 0x502. The format of older
keytabs is described at the end of this document.

The file_format_version is immediately followed by an array of
keytab_entry structures which are prefixed with a 32 bit size indicating
the number of bytes that follow in the entry. Note that the size should be
evaluated as signed. This is because a negative value indicates that the
entry is in fact empty (e.g. it has been deleted) and that the negative
value of that negative value (which is of course a positive value) is
the offset to the next keytab_entry. Based on these size values alone
the entire keytab file can be traversed.

The size is followed by a 16 bit num_components field indicating the
number of counted_octet_string components in the components array.

The num_components field is followed by a counted_octet_string
representing the realm of the principal.

A counted_octet_string is simply an array of bytes prefixed with a 16
bit length. For the realm and name components, the counted_octet_string
bytes are ASCII encoded text with no zero terminator.

Following the realm is the components array that represents the name of
the principal. The text of these components may be joined with slashs
to construct the typical SPN representation. For example, the service
principal HTTP/ would consist of name components
"HTTP" followed by "".

Following the components array is the 32 bit name_type (e.g. 1 is
practice the name_type is almost certainly 1 meaning KRB5_NT_PRINCIPAL.

The 32 bit timestamp indicates the time the key was established for that
principal. The value represents the number of seconds since Jan 1, 1970.

The 8 bit vno8 field is the version number of the key. This value is
overridden by the 32 bit vno field if it is present.

The keyblock structure consists of a 16 bit value indicating the keytype
(e.g. 3 is des-cbc-md5, 23 is arcfour-hmac-md5, 16 is des3-cbc-sha1,
etc). This is followed by a counted_octet_string containing the key.

The last field of the keytab_entry structure is optional. If the size of
the keytab_entry indicates that there are at least 4 bytes remaining,
a 32 bit value representing the key version number is present. This
value supersedes the 8 bit vno8 value preceeding the keyblock.

Older keytabs with a file_format_version of 0x501 are different in
three ways:

  1) All integers are in host byte order [1].
  2) The num_components field is 1 too large (i.e. after decoding,
     decrement by 1).
  3) The 32 bit name_type field is not present.

[1] The file_format_version field should really be treated as two
    separate 8 bit quantities representing the major and minor version
    number respectively.

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