Row Level Security in Postgres and Django

Postgres keeps introducing new things that pique my attention. One of the latest ones of these is Row Level Permissions, which essentially hides rows that a given database user cannot view. There’s a bit more to it than that, a good writeup is at Postgres 9.5 feature highlight: Row-Level Security and Policies.

However, it’s worth noting that the way Django connects to a database uses a single database user. Indeed, if your users table is in your database, then you’ll need some way to connect to it to authenticate. I haven’t come up with a nice way to use the Postgres users for authentication within Django just yet.

I did have an idea about a workflow that may just work.

  • Single Postgres User is used for authentication (Login User).
  • Every Django user gets an associated Postgres User (Session User), that may not log in.
  • This Session User is automatically created using a Postgres trigger, whenever the Django users table is updated.
  • After authentication, a SET SESSION ROLE (or SET SESSION AUTHORIZATION) statement is used to change to the correct Session User for the remainder of the session.

Then, we can implement the Postgres Row Level Security policies as required.

Initially, I had thought that perhaps the Session Users would have the same level of access as the Login User, however tonight it occurred to me that perhaps this could replace the whole Django permissions concept.


We do have a few things we need to work out before this is a done deal.

  • The trigger function that performs the CREATE ROLE statement when the django users table is updated.
  • Some mechanism of handling GRANT and REVOKE statements.
  • Similarly, some mechanism for showing current permissions for the given user.
  • A middleware that sets the SESSION USER according to the django user.

The simplest part of this is the last one, so we will start there. We can (in the meantime) manually create the users and their permissions to see how well it all goes. No point doing work that doesn’t work.

from django.db import connection


class SetSessionAuthorization(object):
    def process_view(self, request, *args, **kwargs):
        if request.user.pk:
          connection.cursor().execute(
            'SET SESSION SESSION AUTHORIZATION "django:{}"'.format(request.user.pk)
          )

We need to add this to our project’s middleware.

You’ll see we are using roles of the form django:<id>, which need to be quoted. We use the user id rather than the username, because usernames may be changed.

We’ll want to create a user for each of the existing Django users: I currently have a single user in this database, with id 1. I also have an existing SUPERUSER with the name django. We need to use a superuser if we are using SET SESSION AUTHORIZATION, which seems to be the best. I haven’t found anything which really does a good job of explaining how this and SET SESSION ROLE differ.

CREATE USER "django:1" NOLOGIN;
GRANT "django:1" TO django;
GRANT ALL ON ALL TABLES IN SCHEMA public TO public;
GRANT ALL ON ALL SEQUENCES IN SCHEMA public TO public;

Note we have just for now enabled full access to all tables and sequences. This will remain until we find a good way to handle this.

We can start up a project using this, and see if it works. Unless I’ve missed something, then it should.

Next, we will turn on row-level-security for the auth_user table, and see if it works.

ALTER TABLE auth_user ENABLE ROW LEVEL SECURITY;

Then try to view the list of users (even as a django superuser). You should see an empty list.

We’ll turn on the ability to see our own user object:

CREATE POLICY read_own_data ON auth_user FOR
SELECT USING ('django:' || id = current_user);

Phew, that was close. Now we can view our user.

However, we can’t update it. Let’s fix that:

CREATE POLICY update_own_user_data ON auth_user FOR
UPDATE USING ('django:' || id = current_user)
WITH CHECK ('django:' || id = current_user);

We should be able to do some magic there to prevent a user toggling their own superuser status.

Let’s investigate writing a trigger function that creates a new ROLE when we update the django user.

CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION create_shadow_role()
RETURNS TRIGGER AS $$

BEGIN

  EXECUTE 'CREATE USER "django:' || NEW.id || '" NOLOGIN';
  EXECUTE 'GRANT "django:' || NEW.id || '" TO django';

  RETURN NULL;

END;

$$
LANGUAGE plpgsql
SECURITY DEFINER
SET search_path =  public, pg_temp
VOLATILE;


CREATE TRIGGER create_shadow_role
  AFTER INSERT ON auth_user
  FOR EACH ROW
  EXECUTE PROCEDURE create_shadow_role();

Note we still can’t create users from the admin (due to the RLS restrictions thata are there), so we need to resort to ./manage.py createsuperuser again.

Having done that, we should see that our new user gets a ROLE:

# \du
                                        List of roles
 Role name │                         Attributes                         │      Member of
───────────┼────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────┼─────────────────────
 django    │ Superuser                                                  │ {django:1,django:6}
 django:1  │ Cannot login                                               │ {}
 django:6  │ Cannot login                                               │ {}
 matt      │ Superuser, Create role, Create DB                          │ {}
 postgres  │ Superuser, Create role, Create DB, Replication, Bypass RLS │ {}

We should be able to write similar triggers for update. We can, for example, shadow the Django is_superuser attribute to the Postgres SUPERUSER attribute. I’m not sure if that’s a super idea or not.

But we can write a simple function that allows us to see if the current django user is a superuser:

CREATE FUNCTION is_superuser()
RETURNS BOOLEAN AS $$

SELECT is_superuser
FROM auth_user
WHERE 'django:' || id = current_user

$$ LANGUAGE SQL;

We can now use this to allow superuser access to all records:

CREATE POLICY superuser_user_select ON auth_user
FOR SELECT USING (is_superuser);

CREATE POLICY superuser_user_update ON auth_user
FOR UPDATE USING (is_superuser)
WITH CHECK (is_superuser);

That gives us a fair bit of functionality. We still don’t have any mechanism for viewing or setting permissions. Because of the way Django’s permissions work, we can’t quite use the same trick but on the auth_user_user_permissions table, because we’d need to also look at the auth_user_groups table and auth_group_permissions.

I’m still not sure if this is a good idea or not, but it is a fun thought process.

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