RBAC + ACLs with django-rest-framework and django-guardian

Posted on Dec 3, 2017

Recently, I have been working on a personal project developed in Django. It was the first time I used django-rest-framework, and I got to say: it’s impressive how easy it has become to develop something with it.

Usually, RBAC is something not trivial to implement with the current technologies - lots of times you end up writing custom code here and there. Also, I see more and more often developers assigning roles to users and having a call to an ideal “has_role(whatever_role_here)” method to authorize a user. However, roles and their assignments can change over time: what needs to be checked is the particular permission needed to perform that action, not the role. A little hint here: try to go for a fine-grained, not a coarse-grained permission check, because you never know: an AdminRole may be allowed today to be able to view your billings, but tomorrow you’ll want to limit that action to an AccountingAdminRole - and this implies code changes!

Unfortunately, RBAC doesn’t allow to set specific permissions for individual objects, and sometimes you really need that - for example, you don’t want to allow any user to edit other users’ information. However, django-rest-framework and django-guardian, which is really the missing Django permission/authorization tool thanks to all the extremely useful shortcuts it provides, are two excellent tools that help you use RBAC effectively and overcome this limitation, so that you can extend the “role-delegation” behavior with custom ACLs (to have per-object permissions). In fact, by using the permissions API together with django-guardian, it’s really easy to implement multiple use cases to authorize your users. This way, you can benefit from RBAC, by assigning user/roles/permissions while at the same time you can use ACLs to assign individual permissions. Finally, although this is not really related to RBAC, there is support for third-party packages to do authentication, like JWT, or OAuth2.

In the following paragraphs we will set up authentication, authorization and filters for the entire project - meaning, for all our API endpoints/models exposed via django-rest-framework. The procedure to set custom authorization/filtering for only a few specific classes is described in the official documentation, and it’s really not difficult to set up.

1. Set Authentication type

For simplicity, we will assume we are using Basic/SessionAuthentication. Let’s start by writing down the following:


also, we need to add guardian and rest_framework to the list of INSTALLED_APPS.

After that, we can focus on the authorization part (django-rest-framework calls it permissions).

2. Set Authorization classes

One of the best features django-rest-framework provides is the so called “per-object permissions on models” implemented via the DjangoObjectPermissions class. For example, let’s suppose that User A creates a new Post 123, while User B creates a new Post 456, we want these two users to be able to perform actions only on the the Post they have created - we don’t want User A to access Post 456.

By using DjangoObjectPermissions, we can easily map who can do what on which object. However, as the documentation says, you will need to install django-guardian.

Normally, in addition to the already existing operations that Django supports out of the box, add, change and delete, you’ll probably want to add some limitations on who can view specific objects - this works so good with the concept of filters!

You will need to add the following code somewhere in your project:

from rest_framework import permissions

class CustomObjectPermissions(permissions.DjangoObjectPermissions):
  Similar to `DjangoObjectPermissions`, but adding 'view' permissions.
  perms_map = {
    'GET': ['%(app_label)s.view_%(model_name)s'],
    'OPTIONS': ['%(app_label)s.view_%(model_name)s'],
    'HEAD': ['%(app_label)s.view_%(model_name)s'],
    'POST': ['%(app_label)s.add_%(model_name)s'],
    'PUT': ['%(app_label)s.change_%(model_name)s'],
    'PATCH': ['%(app_label)s.change_%(model_name)s'],
    'DELETE': ['%(app_label)s.delete_%(model_name)s'],

At this point, we have to set this class in the REST_FRAMEWORK map we have declared above:


and have the following to enable django-guardian backend:

    'django.contrib.auth.backends.ModelBackend', # default

So far, we have added some configuration to tell django-rest-framework that we would like to have the possibility to use permissions on individual objects. However, we have not specified yet that we want to limit the objects a logged-in user is allowed to view.

3. Add filtering for ‘view’ operations

django-rest-framework recommends to use DjangoObjectsPermissionFilter. In order to do so, we need to add one more class to the REST_FRAMEWORK map:


4. Add ‘view’ permissions to your models

As already mentioned, Django doesn’t come with a view permission on models. Therefore, we will have to add this manually for each model, like the following code shows:

class UserProfile(models.Model):
  user = models.OneToOneField(settings.AUTH_USER_MODEL,

  class Meta:
    permissions = (
      ('view_userprofile', 'View UserProfile'),

Once we create a User and we give it a UserProfile, the logged-in user will only be able to retrieve his own UserProfile object. Also, don’t forget to create a migration for this and for the models used by django-guardian.

5. Create views and serializers

At the end, of course, we should not forget to create the serializers and views:

class UserProfileViewSet(viewsets.ModelViewSet):
  serializer_class = UserProfileSerializer
  queryset = UserProfile.objects.all()

I leave the serializer implementation up to you. :)

Note: a fully functioning sample can be found here: https://github.com/markon/django-rest-quickstart.

Further Readings