5.7. Row Security Policies

In addition to the SQL-standard privilege system available through GRANT, tables can have row security policies that restrict, on a per-user basis, which rows can be returned by normal queries or inserted, updated, or deleted by data modification commands. This feature is also known as Row-Level Security. By default, tables do not have any policies, so that if a user has access privileges to a table according to the SQL privilege system, all rows within it are equally available for querying or updating.

When row security is enabled on a table (with ALTER TABLE ... ENABLE ROW LEVEL SECURITY), all normal access to the table for selecting rows or modifying rows must be allowed by a row security policy. (However, the table's owner is typically not subject to row security policies.) If no policy exists for the table, a default-deny policy is used, meaning that no rows are visible or can be modified. Operations that apply to the whole table, such as TRUNCATE and REFERENCES, are not subject to row security.

Row security policies can be specific to commands, or to roles, or to both. A policy can be specified to apply to ALL commands, or to SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, or DELETE. Multiple roles can be assigned to a given policy, and normal role membership and inheritance rules apply.

To specify which rows are visible or modifiable according to a policy, an expression is required that returns a Boolean result. This expression will be evaluated for each row prior to any conditions or functions coming from the user's query. (The only exceptions to this rule are leakproof functions, which are guaranteed to not leak information; the optimizer may choose to apply such functions ahead of the row-security check.) Rows for which the expression does not return true will not be processed. Separate expressions may be specified to provide independent control over the rows which are visible and the rows which are allowed to be modified. Policy expressions are run as part of the query and with the privileges of the user running the query, although security-definer functions can be used to access data not available to the calling user.

Superusers and roles with the BYPASSRLS attribute always bypass the row security system when accessing a table. Table owners normally bypass row security as well, though a table owner can choose to be subject to row security with ALTER TABLE ... FORCE ROW LEVEL SECURITY.

Enabling and disabling row security, as well as adding policies to a table, is always the privilege of the table owner only.

Policies are created using the CREATE POLICY command, altered using the ALTER POLICY command, and dropped using the DROP POLICY command. To enable and disable row security for a given table, use the ALTER TABLE command.

Each policy has a name and multiple policies can be defined for a table. As policies are table-specific, each policy for a table must have a unique name. Different tables may have policies with the same name.

When multiple policies apply to a given query, they are combined using either OR (for permissive policies, which are the default) or using AND (for restrictive policies). This is similar to the rule that a given role has the privileges of all roles that they are a member of. Permissive vs. restrictive policies are discussed further below.

As a simple example, here is how to create a policy on the account relation to allow only members of the managers role to access rows, and only rows of their accounts:

CREATE TABLE accounts (manager text, company text, contact_email text);


CREATE POLICY account_managers ON accounts TO managers
    USING (manager = current_user);

The policy above implicitly provides a WITH CHECK clause identical to its USING clause, so that the constraint applies both to rows selected by a command (so a manager cannot SELECT, UPDATE, or DELETE existing rows belonging to a different manager) and to rows modified by a command (so rows belonging to a different manager cannot be created via INSERT or UPDATE).

If no role is specified, or the special user name PUBLIC is used, then the policy applies to all users on the system. To allow all users to access only their own row in a users table, a simple policy can be used:

CREATE POLICY user_policy ON users
    USING (user_name = current_user);

This works similarly to the previous example.

To use a different policy for rows that are being added to the table compared to those rows that are visible, multiple policies can be combined. This pair of policies would allow all users to view all rows in the users table, but only modify their own:

CREATE POLICY user_sel_policy ON users
    USING (true);
CREATE POLICY user_mod_policy ON users
    USING (user_name = current_user);

In a SELECT command, these two policies are combined using OR, with the net effect being that all rows can be selected. In other command types, only the second policy applies, so that the effects are the same as before.

Row security can also be disabled with the ALTER TABLE command. Disabling row security does not remove any policies that are defined on the table; they are simply ignored. Then all rows in the table are visible and modifiable, subject to the standard SQL privileges system.

Below is a larger example of how this feature can be used in production environments. The table passwd emulates a Unix password file:

-- Simple passwd-file based example
  user_name             text UNIQUE NOT NULL,
  pwhash                text,
  uid                   int  PRIMARY KEY,
  gid                   int  NOT NULL,
  real_name             text NOT NULL,
  home_phone            text,
  extra_info            text,
  home_dir              text NOT NULL,
  shell                 text NOT NULL

CREATE ROLE admin;  -- Administrator
CREATE ROLE bob;    -- Normal user
CREATE ROLE alice;  -- Normal user

-- Populate the table

-- Be sure to enable row level security on the table

-- Create policies
-- Administrator can see all rows and add any rows
CREATE POLICY admin_all ON passwd TO admin USING (true) WITH CHECK (true);
-- Normal users can view all rows
CREATE POLICY all_view ON passwd FOR SELECT USING (true);
-- Normal users can update their own records, but
-- limit which shells a normal user is allowed to set
  USING (current_user = user_name)
    current_user = user_name AND
    shell IN ('/bin/bash','/bin/sh','/bin/dash','/bin/zsh','/bin/tcsh')

-- Allow admin all normal rights
-- Users only get select access on public columns
  (user_name, uid, gid, real_name, home_phone, extra_info, home_dir, shell)
  ON passwd TO public;
-- Allow users to update certain columns
  (pwhash, real_name, home_phone, extra_info, shell)
  ON passwd TO public;

As with any security settings, it's important to test and ensure that the system is behaving as expected. Using the example above, this demonstrates that the permission system is working properly.

-- admin can view all rows and fields
postgres=> set role admin;
postgres=> table passwd;
 user_name | pwhash | uid | gid | real_name |  home_phone  | extra_info | home_dir    |   shell
 admin     | xxx    |   0 |   0 | Admin     | 111-222-3333 |            | /root       | /bin/dash
 bob       | xxx    |   1 |   1 | Bob       | 123-456-7890 |            | /home/bob   | /bin/zsh
 alice     | xxx    |   2 |   1 | Alice     | 098-765-4321 |            | /home/alice | /bin/zsh
(3 rows)

-- Test what Alice is able to do
postgres=> set role alice;
postgres=> table passwd;
ERROR:  permission denied for table passwd
postgres=> select user_name,real_name,home_phone,extra_info,home_dir,shell from passwd;
 user_name | real_name |  home_phone  | extra_info | home_dir    |   shell
 admin     | Admin     | 111-222-3333 |            | /root       | /bin/dash
 bob       | Bob       | 123-456-7890 |            | /home/bob   | /bin/zsh
 alice     | Alice     | 098-765-4321 |            | /home/alice | /bin/zsh
(3 rows)

postgres=> update passwd set user_name = 'joe';
ERROR:  permission denied for table passwd
-- Alice is allowed to change her own real_name, but no others
postgres=> update passwd set real_name = 'Alice Doe';
postgres=> update passwd set real_name = 'John Doe' where user_name = 'admin';
postgres=> update passwd set shell = '/bin/xx';
ERROR:  new row violates WITH CHECK OPTION for "passwd"
postgres=> delete from passwd;
ERROR:  permission denied for table passwd
postgres=> insert into passwd (user_name) values ('xxx');
ERROR:  permission denied for table passwd
-- Alice can change her own password; RLS silently prevents updating other rows
postgres=> update passwd set pwhash = 'abc';

All of the policies constructed thus far have been permissive policies, meaning that when multiple policies are applied they are combined using the OR Boolean operator. While permissive policies can be constructed to only allow access to rows in the intended cases, it can be simpler to combine permissive policies with restrictive policies (which the records must pass and which are combined using the AND Boolean operator). Building on the example above, we add a restrictive policy to require the administrator to be connected over a local Unix socket to access the records of the passwd table:

CREATE POLICY admin_local_only ON passwd AS RESTRICTIVE TO admin
    USING (pg_catalog.inet_client_addr() IS NULL);

We can then see that an administrator connecting over a network will not see any records, due to the restrictive policy:

=> SELECT current_user;
(1 row)

=> select inet_client_addr();
(1 row)

=> SELECT current_user;
(1 row)

=> TABLE passwd;
 user_name | pwhash | uid | gid | real_name | home_phone | extra_info | home_dir | shell
(0 rows)

=> UPDATE passwd set pwhash = NULL;

Referential integrity checks, such as unique or primary key constraints and foreign key references, always bypass row security to ensure that data integrity is maintained. Care must be taken when developing schemas and row level policies to avoid covert channel leaks of information through such referential integrity checks.

In some contexts it is important to be sure that row security is not being applied. For example, when taking a backup, it could be disastrous if row security silently caused some rows to be omitted from the backup. In such a situation, you can set the row_security configuration parameter to off. This does not in itself bypass row security; what it does is throw an error if any query's results would get filtered by a policy. The reason for the error can then be investigated and fixed.

In the examples above, the policy expressions consider only the current values in the row to be accessed or updated. This is the simplest and best-performing case; when possible, it's best to design row security applications to work this way. If it is necessary to consult other rows or other tables to make a policy decision, that can be accomplished using sub-SELECTs, or functions that contain SELECTs, in the policy expressions. Be aware however that such accesses can create race conditions that could allow information leakage if care is not taken. As an example, consider the following table design:

-- definition of privilege groups
CREATE TABLE groups (group_id int PRIMARY KEY,
                     group_name text NOT NULL);

  (1, 'low'),
  (2, 'medium'),
  (5, 'high');

GRANT ALL ON groups TO alice;  -- alice is the administrator
GRANT SELECT ON groups TO public;

-- definition of users' privilege levels
CREATE TABLE users (user_name text PRIMARY KEY,
                    group_id int NOT NULL REFERENCES groups);

  ('alice', 5),
  ('bob', 2),
  ('mallory', 2);

GRANT ALL ON users TO alice;
GRANT SELECT ON users TO public;

-- table holding the information to be protected
CREATE TABLE information (info text,
                          group_id int NOT NULL REFERENCES groups);

  ('barely secret', 1),
  ('slightly secret', 2),
  ('very secret', 5);


-- a row should be visible to/updatable by users whose security group_id is
-- greater than or equal to the row's group_id
  USING (group_id <= (SELECT group_id FROM users WHERE user_name = current_user));
  USING (group_id <= (SELECT group_id FROM users WHERE user_name = current_user));

-- we rely only on RLS to protect the information table
GRANT ALL ON information TO public;

Now suppose that alice wishes to change the slightly secret information, but decides that mallory should not be trusted with the new content of that row, so she does:

UPDATE users SET group_id = 1 WHERE user_name = 'mallory';
UPDATE information SET info = 'secret from mallory' WHERE group_id = 2;

That looks safe; there is no window wherein mallory should be able to see the secret from mallory string. However, there is a race condition here. If mallory is concurrently doing, say,

SELECT * FROM information WHERE group_id = 2 FOR UPDATE;

and her transaction is in READ COMMITTED mode, it is possible for her to see secret from mallory. That happens if her transaction reaches the information row just after alice's does. It blocks waiting for alice's transaction to commit, then fetches the updated row contents thanks to the FOR UPDATE clause. However, it does not fetch an updated row for the implicit SELECT from users, because that sub-SELECT did not have FOR UPDATE; instead the users row is read with the snapshot taken at the start of the query. Therefore, the policy expression tests the old value of mallory's privilege level and allows her to see the updated row.

There are several ways around this problem. One simple answer is to use SELECT ... FOR SHARE in sub-SELECTs in row security policies. However, that requires granting UPDATE privilege on the referenced table (here users) to the affected users, which might be undesirable. (But another row security policy could be applied to prevent them from actually exercising that privilege; or the sub-SELECT could be embedded into a security definer function.) Also, heavy concurrent use of row share locks on the referenced table could pose a performance problem, especially if updates of it are frequent. Another solution, practical if updates of the referenced table are infrequent, is to take an ACCESS EXCLUSIVE lock on the referenced table when updating it, so that no concurrent transactions could be examining old row values. Or one could just wait for all concurrent transactions to end after committing an update of the referenced table and before making changes that rely on the new security situation.

For additional details see CREATE POLICY and ALTER TABLE.