CredentialCache.DefaultNetworkCredentials is empty and so is Thread.CurrentPrincipal.Identity.Name

I was working on a simple console application in C# that issued HTTP DELETE requests to WebDAV to delete expired documents from the file system. Once completed, this was to run periodically as a job. However, I kept getting back 401 Unauthorized on the DELETE requests. While troubleshooting the issue, I went down the rabbit hole and learned some interesting things. I was passing in CredentialCache.DefaultNetworkCredentials as my HttpRequest credentials. So as a sanity check, I tried viewing it in the debugger to make sure the program was passing in my credentials, only to find that CredentialCache.DefaultNetworkCredentials.UserName was blank.

Well, it turns out that you can’t actually view the credentials unless you set them manually yourself. According to the MSDN documentation:

“The ICredentials instance returned by DefaultCredentials cannot be used to view the user name, password, or domain of the current security context.”

So I tried checking the value of Thread.CurrentPrincipal.Identity.Name instead. This was blank as well. Upon further reading, I determined that this was due to the principal policy not being explicitly set to WindowsPrincipal. Once I did so, Thread.CurrentPrincipal.Identity.Name correctly displayed my windows login ID:


It is helpful to review what an application domain is before proceeding. In Windows, every application runs as its own process, complete with its own set of resources. By isolating applications via processes, this minimizes the risk that one badly coded application can negatively impact others. In the Common Language Runtime, application domains provide an even more granular level of isolation. A single process (the application host) can run multiple application domains, each with the same level of isolation that separate processes would have, minus any of the overhead.
Because every app domain is separate from one another, each has its own Principal object. This object represents the current security context that the code is running as. The PrincipalPolicy is an enum that indicates how this principal object is to be created for the given app domain. Setting it to WindowsPrincipal will map the principal object to the Windows user that the application host is executing as. By default, the PrincipalPolicy will be UnauthenticatedPrincipal, which will set Name to empty string.

After doing some more digging, I also found out that I could use WindowsIdentity.GetCurrent().Name to determine what user the program was executing as:


Having finally proven to myself that my program was running as the correct user, I eventually figured out the issue. It was completely unrelated to the code of course; I had simply forgotten to enable Windows Authentication in IIS. I didn’t mind the time sink, as it proved to be quite educational.