This week's book giveaway is in the OCAJP 8 forum. We're giving away four copies of OCA Java SE 8 Programmer I Study Guide and have Edward Finegan & Robert Liguori on-line! See this thread for details.
You can use a role name declared by a <security-role> rule as a parameter to the isUserInRole() method. For example, with the following snippet of a web.xml entry:
The servlet secret can call isUserInRole("mgr") or isUserInRole("manager") -- they will give the same behavior. Basically, security-role-ref acts to create an alias, but isn't necessary. That is what you'd naturally expect, but the API 2.2 specification could be interpreted as implying that you could only use roles explicitly declared in a <security-role-ref> alias rule. (If that doesn't make sense to you, don't worry about it; just be aware that things are now guaranteed to work as they should.)