A pluggable authentication module (PAM) is a mechanism to integrate multiple low-level authentication schemes into a high-level application programming interface (API). It allows programs that rely on authentication to be written independent of the underlying authentication scheme.
PAM was first proposed by Sun Microsystems in an Open Software Foundation Request for Comments (RFC) 86.0 dated October 1995. It was adopted as the authentication framework of the Common Desktop Environment. As a stand-alone open-source infrastructure, PAM first appeared in Red Hat Linux 3.0.4 in August 1996 in the Linux PAM project. PAM is currently supported in the AIX operating system, DragonFly BSD, FreeBSD, HP-UX, Linux, macOS, NetBSD and Solaris.
Since no central standard of PAM behavior exists, there was a later attempt to standardize PAM as part of the X/Open UNIX standardization process, resulting in the X/Open Single Sign-on (XSSO) standard. This standard was not ratified, but the standard draft has served as a reference point for later PAM implementations (for example, OpenPAM).