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Keep content managers’ Django admin access up-to-date with role-based permissions

Django’s built-in permissions system is great if you want fine-grained control of the permissions content managers should have. The allowlist-based approach where users have no permissions by default and must be granted each permission individually makes a lot of sense to me and is easy to understand.

When we build a CMS at Feinheit we often use the Django administration panel as a CMS. Unfortunately, Django doesn’t provide a way to specify that content managers should have all permissions in the pages and articles app (just as an example). Adding all current permissions in a particular app is straightforward when using the filter_horizontal interface but keeping the list up-to-date later isn’t. When we add an additional content block plugin we always have to remember to also update the permissions after deploying the change – and often, deployment happens some time after the code has been written, e.g. because clients want to approve the change first. What happens all too often is that the manual step of updating permissions gets forgotten.

This has annoyed me (intermittently) for a long time and my preferred solution has always been to give superuser permissions to everyone and trust them to not make changes which they aren’t supposed to according to the Trusted Users Editing Structured Content principle which was mentioned in a Django book I read early in my Django journey.

The basic ideas of my role-based permissions implementation

A recent project has resurfaced this annoyance and I did finally bite the bullet and implement a solution for this in the form of a django-authlib extension. The basic ideas are:

All users are assigned a single role: Single roles sound inflexible, but is good enough for my default use case. Examples for roles could be default (no additional permissions granted), content managers (grant access to the pages and articles apps) or maybe deny auth (deny access to users, groups and permissions).

The permission check is implemented using a single callable: A custom backend is provided whose only job is to call the correct callable for the user’s current role.

The callable either returns a boolean or raises PermissionDenied to prevent other backends from granting access: No new ideas here, it’s exactly what Django’s authentication backends are supposed to do.

Permission checkers for the most common scenarios are bundled: django-authlib only ships one permission checker right now, allow_deny_globs, which allows specifying a list of permission name globs to allow and to deny. Deny overrides allow as is probably expected.

Using roles in your own project

Specify the available roles in your settings and add the authentication backend:

from functools import partial
from authlib.roles import allow_deny_globs
from django.utils.translation import gettext_lazy as _

    "default": {"title": _("default")},
    "staff": {
        "title": _("editorial staff"),
        "callback": partial(

    # This is the necessary additional backend
    # Maybe you want to use authlib's email authentication ...
    # ... or the standard username & password combination:

You have to extend your user model (you have to use a custom user model if you’re not using django-authlib’s little_user.User):

from authlib.roles import RoleField

class User(AbstractUser):
    # ...
    role = RoleField()

And that’s basically it.

Of course the globbing is flexible, you could also allow users to view all objects:

partial(allow_deny_globs, allow={"*.view_*"})

Or you could block users from deleting anything:

partial(allow_deny_globs, deny={"*.delete_*"})

And as mentioned above, you can also combine allow and deny (deny wins over allow) or even provide your own callables. If you provide your own callable it must accept user, perm and obj (which may be None) as keyword arguments. Implementing such a callable is probably less work than implementing an authentication backend yourself; I had to do more work than initially expected because only implementing .has_perm isn’t sufficient if you want to see any apps and models in the admin index page. The current allow_deny_globs implementation is nice and short:

def allow_deny_globs(user, perm, obj, allow=(), deny=()):
    for rule in deny:
        if fnmatch(perm, rule):
            raise PermissionDenied
    return any(fnmatch(perm, rule) for rule in allow)