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PBAC in PostgreSQL

PBAC in PostgreSQL

pbac in postgresql

Policy-Based Access Control (PBAC) is a strong method for setting and enforcing access rules and conditions. This article will show you how to use PBAC in PostgreSQL to control access to your data. Examples will be provided to demonstrate its effectiveness.

Understanding PBAC

PBAC is an access control model that relies on policies to determine access rights. These policies set rules for users to follow to access certain resources or perform specific actions. PBAC makes it easy to control access by setting rules based on user roles, resource details, and context. It’s flexible and centralized for efficient management.

In PostgreSQL, you can implement PBAC using a combination of built-in features and extensions. Let’s delve into the key components and techniques involved in implementing PBAC in your PostgreSQL database.

Using Row-Level Security for PBAC

Row-Level Security in PostgreSQL lets you control who can see certain rows in a table by using set rules. RLS allows you to define policies that determine which rows a user can access based on their role or other attributes.

Here’s an example of how to enable RLS and create a policy that restricts access to rows based on a user’s role:

CREATE TABLE employees (
name TEXT,
department TEXT,
salary NUMERIC
CREATE POLICY role_based_access ON employees
USING (current_user = 'manager' OR department = 'HR');

In this example, we create an `employees` table and enable RLS on it. The `CREATE POLICY` statement defines the `role_based_access` policy. Managers can see all rows, but other users can only see rows with the department ‘HR’.

This policy allows users with the `manager` role to see all rows in the `employees` table. Other users can only see rows where the `department` is `’HR’`. This shows how RLS can implement PBAC based on user roles.

Leveraging Security Definer Functions

Another approach to implementing PBAC in PostgreSQL is through the use of security definer functions. Security definer functions allow you to execute database operations with the permissions of the function owner. This is instead of using the permissions of the user who invoked the function. This enables you to encapsulate access control logic within the function and enforce PBAC rules.

Here’s an example of creating a security definer function to control access to specific columns:

CREATE TABLE sensitive_data (
user_id INTEGER,
sensitive_info TEXT
CREATE FUNCTION get_sensitive_info(p_user_id INTEGER) RETURNS TEXT AS $$
IF current_user = 'admin' OR p_user_id = (SELECT id FROM users WHERE username = current_user) THEN
RETURN (SELECT sensitive_info FROM sensitive_data WHERE user_id = p_user_id);
RAISE EXCEPTION 'Access denied';

In this example, we have a `sensitive_data` table that contains sensitive information associated with user IDs. The `get_sensitive_info` function is defined as a security definer function.

The function needs a `user_id` input. It checks if the user is an `admin` or the owner of the sensitive data. If the condition is met, the function returns the sensitive information; if not, it raises an exception indicating access denial.

Security definer functions control access to sensitive data by encapsulating PBAC rules in the function logic. These rules are based on user roles and ownership.

Implementing PBAC with PostgreSQL Extensions

PostgreSQL provides several extensions that can assist in implementing PBAC. One such extension is `pgPolicy`, which offers a declarative approach to defining and enforcing access control policies.

Here’s an example of using `pgPolicy` to implement PBAC:

customer_id INTEGER,
total_amount NUMERIC
CREATE POLICY orders_policy ON orders
USING (current_user = (SELECT username FROM customers WHERE id = customer_id));

In this example, we create an `orders` table and enable the `pgPolicy` extension. The `orders_policy` is defined using the `CREATE POLICY` statement provided by `pgPolicy`. The policy restricts access to rows in the `orders` table based on the `customer_id`. It ensures that users can only access orders that belong to them.

The `pgPolicy` extension makes it easier to define and manage access control policies in your PostgreSQL database. With this extension, database administrators can easily create and enforce rules for data access and actions. This helps protect sensitive information by allowing only authorized users to access or change specific data.

Additionally, the `pgPolicy` extension also facilitates the implementation of Policy-Based Access Control within your database. PBAC is a detailed access control model that provides precise control over access permissions through specific policies and conditions.

Performance Considerations

When implementing PBAC in PostgreSQL, it’s important to consider the performance impact of access control policies. Complex policies and extensive row-level filtering can affect query performance. Here are a few tips to optimize performance:

  • Use indexes strategically: Create indexes on columns that are frequently used in policy conditions to speed up policy evaluation.
  • Minimize policy complexity: Keep your policies as simple as possible to reduce the overhead of policy evaluation. Avoid using complex subqueries or joins within policy conditions.
  • Be cautious when using security definer functions. They can be helpful for organizing access control logic, but be mindful of their impact on performance. Ensure that security definer functions are optimized and used only when necessary.
  • Monitor and tune performance: Regularly monitor the performance of your PostgreSQL database and identify any bottlenecks related to PBAC. Use explain and analyze to examine query plans and optimize queries accordingly.

Testing and Auditing PBAC

Implementing Policy-Based Access Control in PostgreSQL is a critical step in ensuring the security of your database. Just implementing PBAC is not sufficient. Thorough testing is necessary to ensure that access control policies are working correctly.

Testing various scenarios and edge cases is crucial to validate the correctness and effectiveness of your PBAC implementation. This means checking different user roles, permissions, and access levels to ensure only authorized users can access specific data.

It’s important to test for vulnerabilities in your PBAC setup to prevent unauthorized access and data breaches. By conducting comprehensive testing, you can identify and address any issues before they become security risks.

Testing your PBAC implementation is important for enhancing the security of your PostgreSQL database and safeguarding sensitive information from unauthorized access.

In addition to testing, auditing plays a vital role in maintaining the security of your PostgreSQL database. Enable logging and auditing mechanisms to track access attempts, policy violations, and other relevant events. Regularly review audit logs to detect any suspicious activities or unauthorized access attempts.


PBAC is a robust approach to securing sensitive data in PostgreSQL databases. You can create detailed access control rules in PostgreSQL by using features like Row-Level Security and security definer functions. These rules are based on predefined conditions.

Using PBAC in PostgreSQL helps you control access in one place. It enforces strong security measures and keeps your data safe from unauthorized access. However, it’s essential to consider performance implications and thoroughly test and audit your PBAC implementation to ensure its effectiveness.

By using the tips in this article, you can add PBAC to your PostgreSQL database and make your application more secure. Make sure to regularly check and update your access control rules to match changing security needs and keep your security strong.


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