View Source Policies

Policies determine what actions on a resource are permitted for a given actor.



Read and understand the Security guide before proceeding, which explains actors, how to set them, and other relevant configurations.



You'll need to add the extension to your resource, like so:

use Ash.Resource,
  authorizers: [Ash.Policy.Authorizer]



Every policy that applies must pass for a given request. For example, a policy might have a condition action_type(:read) and another one might have a condition like actor_attribute_equals(:admin, true). If both apply (i.e an admin is using a read action), then both policies must pass. A policy can produce one of three results: :forbidden, :authorized, or :unknown. :unknown is treated the same as a :forbidden. A policy contains checks, which determine whether or not the policy passes for a given request.



A bypass policy is just like a policy, except if a bypass passes, then other policies after it do not need to pass. This can be useful for writing complex access rules, or for a simple rule like "an admin can do anything".


The Simplest Policy

Lets start with the simplest policy set:

policies do
  policy always() do
    authorize_if always()

Here, we have a single policy. The first argument to policy is the "condition". If the condition is true, then the policy applies to the request. If a given policy applies, then one of the checks inside the policy must authorize that policy. Every policy that applies to a given request must each be authorized for a request to be authorized.

Within this policy we have a single check, declared with authorize_if. Checks logically apply from top to bottom, based on their check type. In this case, we'd read the policy as "this policy always applies, and authorizes always".

There are four check types, all of which do what they sound like they do:

  • authorize_if - if the check is true, the policy is authorized.
  • authorize_unless - if the check is false, the policy is authorized.
  • forbid_if - if the check is true, the policy is forbidden.
  • forbid_unless - if the check is false, the policy is forbidden.

In each case, if the policy is not authorized or forbidden, the flow moves to the next check.


IMPORTANT! How a decision is reached

Not every check must pass! This is described above, but is very important so another example is provided here. Checks go from top to bottom, and the first one that reaches a decision determines the policy result. For example:

policy action_type(:create) do
  authorize_if IsSuperUser 
  forbid_if Deactivated
  authorize_if IsAdminUser
  forbid_if RegularUserCanCreate
  authorize_if RegularUserAuthorized

We check those from top to bottom, so the first one of those that returns :authorized or :forbidden determines the entire outcome. For example:

authorize_if IsSuperUser # if this is true

# None of the rest of them matter
forbid_if Deactivated 
authorize_if IsAdminUser
forbid_if RegularUserCanCreate
authorize_if RegularUserAuthorized


A realistic policy

In this example, we use some of the provided built in checks.

policies do
  # Anything you can use in a condition, you can use in a check, and vice-versa
  # This policy applies if the actor is a super_user
  # Additionally, this policy is declared as a `bypass`. That means that this check is allowed to fail without
  # failing the whole request, and that if this check *passes*, the entire request passes.
  bypass actor_attribute_equals(:super_user, true) do
    authorize_if always()

  # This will likely be a common occurrence. Specifically, policies that apply to all read actions
  policy action_type(:read) do
    # unless the actor is an active user, forbid
    forbid_unless actor_attribute_equals(:active, true)
    # if the record is marked as public, authorize
    authorize_if attribute(:public, true)
    # if the actor is related to the data via that data's `owner` relationship, authorize
    authorize_if relates_to_actor_via(:owner)



Checks, like policies, evaluate from top to bottom. A check can produce one of three results, the same that a policy can produce. While checks are not necessarily evaluated in order, they logically apply in that order, so you may as well think of it in that way. It can be thought of as a simple step-through algorithm.

For each check, starting from the top:

  • Run the check.
    • If it returns :authorized, the policy is :authorized
    • If it returns :forbidden, the policy is :forbidden
    • If it returns :unknown, the next check down is checked

Builtin Checks

To see what checks are built-in, see Ash.Policy.Check.Builtins

Custom Checks

There are three types of checks. :simple, :filter and :manual. Generally speaking, you will almost always want to write either :simple or :filter checks. They are both a subset of a :manual checks. To implement a manual check, create a module that adopts the Ash.Policy.Check behaviour. Simple and Filter checks are documented below.

Simple Checks

Simple checks are determined at the outset of a request, and can only cause a request to be authorized or unauthorized. See Filter Checks below for more information on writing checks that can be applied as filters.

defmodule MyApp.Checks.ActorIsOldEnough do
  use Ash.Policy.SimpleCheck

  def describe(_) do
    "actor is old enough"

  # The context here has the changeset, query, resource, and api.
  # match? just needs to return true or false, i.e "is the actor old enough"
  def match?(%MyApp.User{age: age}, %{resource: MyApp.Beer}, _) do
    age >= 21

  def match?(_, _, _), do: true
Filter Checks

Many checks won't return a status, but instead return a "filter". Filter checks can be used in policies that may be applied to read, update, and destroy actions. For update and destroy, they apply to the data before the action is run. For reads, they will automatically restrict the returned data to be compliant with the filter. Expression checks, explained in more detail below, are really just Filter Checks.

defmodule MyApp.Checks.ActorOverAgeLimit do
  use Ash.Policy.FilterCheck

  require Ash.Query
  import Ash.Filter.TemplateHelpers, only: [actor: 1]

  # A description is not necessary, as it will be derived from the filter, but one could be added
  # def describe(_opts), do: "Actor is over the age limit"

  # filter checks don't have the `context` available to them
  def filter(_options) do
    Ash.Query.expr(age_limit <= ^actor(:age))
Expression Checks

A simple way to define a policy is by using expr/1 in the policy. For example:

authorize_if expr(exists(role, name == "owner"))

Keep in mind that, for create actions, many expr/1 checks won't make sense, and may return false when you wouldn't expect. Expression (and other filter) policies apply to "a synthesized result" of applying the action, so related values won't be available. For this reason, you may end up wanting to use other checks that are built for working against changesets, or only simple attribute-based filter checks. Custom checks may also be warranted here.

Referencing the actor

In expression policies, the actor template can be used (other templates that may work in filter expressions, for example, are not available). For example:

authorize_if expr( == ^actor(:id))
Using exists

Lets compare the following expressions:

Filtering on related data by directly referencing the relationship

friends.first_name == "ted" and friends.last_name == "dansen"

Filtering on related data using exists/2

exists(friends, first_name == "ted") and exists(friends, last_name == "dansen")

In policies (and often any time you mean "a related thing exists where some condition is true") you should generally prefer filter checks, it is advised to use exists/2 when referring to relationships, because of the way that the policy authorizer may mix & match your policies when building filters. This is also true when adding filters to actions. If you use exists, then your policies can be used in filters without excluding unnecessary data, i.e exists(friends, first_name == "ted") and exists(friends, last_name == "dansen") means "you have one friend with the first_name "ted" and one friend with the last_name "dansen". For instance, imagine a scenario where you have an action like this:

read :friends_of_ted do
  filter expr(friends.first_name == "ted")

And someone calls it like so:

|> Ash.Query.for_read(:friends_of_ted)
|> Ash.Query.filter(friends.last_name == "dansen")

The resulting filter is friends.first_name == "ted" and friends.last_name == "dansen". This means that there must be one friend with the name "ted dansen". Sometimes that is what you mean to do, but generally speaking I would expect the above code to say "friends of ted that also have a friend with the last name "dansen"". To accomplish that, we can rework the example like so:

read :friends_of_ted do
  filter expr(exists(friends, first_name == "ted"))

# Calling it
|> Ash.Query.for_read(:friends_of_ted)
|> Ash.Query.filter(exists(friends, last_name == "dansen"))


Access Type

The default access type is :filter. In most cases this will be all you need. In the example above, if a user made a request for all instances of the resource, it wouldn't actually return a forbidden error. Instead, it attaches the appropriate filter to fetch data that the user can see. If the actor attribute active was false, then the request would be forbidden (because there is no data for which they can pass this policy). However, if active is true, the authorizer would attach the following filter to the request:

public or owner == ^actor(:_primary_key)

To understand what actor(:_primary_key) means, see the Filter Templates section in Ash.Filter

Additionally, some checks have more expensive components that can't be checked before the request is run. To enable those, use the access_type :runtime. All checks that can be implemented as filters or strict checks will still be done that way, but this enables checks to run their check/4 callback if necessary.


Policy Breakdowns



Policy breakdowns can be fetched on demand for a given forbidden error (either an Ash.Error.Forbidden that contains one ore more Ash.Error.Forbidden.Policy errors, or an Ash.Error.Forbidden.Policy error itself), via

Here is an example policy breakdown from tests:

Policy Breakdown
A check status of `?` implies that the solver did not need to determine that check.
Some checks may look like they failed when in reality there was no need to check them.
Look for policies with `✘` and `✓` in check statuses.

A check with a `⬇` means that it didn't determine if the policy was authorized or forbidden, and so moved on to the next check.
`🌟` and `⛔` mean that the check was responsible for producing an authorized or forbidden (respectively) status.

If no check results in a status (they all have `⬇`) then the policy is assumed to have failed. In some cases, however, the policy
may have just been ignored, as described above.

  Admins and managers can create posts | ⛔:
    authorize if: actor.admin == true | ✘ | ⬇    
    authorize if: actor.manager == true | ✘ | ⬇

To remove the help text, you can pass the help_text?: false option, which would leave you with:

Policy Breakdown
  Admins and managers can create posts | ⛔:
    authorize if: actor.admin == true | ✘ | ⬇    
    authorize if: actor.manager == true | ✘ | ⬇


Including in error message



The following configuration should only ever be used in development mode!



For security reasons, authorization errors don't include any extra information, aside from forbidden. To have authorization errors include a policy breakdown (without help text) use the following config.

config :ash, :policies, show_policy_breakdowns?: true



It is generally safe to log authorization error details, even in production. This can be very helpful when investigating certain classes of issue.

To have ash automatically log each authorization failure, use

config :ash, :policies, log_policy_breakdowns: :error # Use whatever log level you'd like to use here

To have ash log all policies breakdowns, even successful ones (this will be lots of noise, and should only be used for dev testing)

config :ash, :policies, log_successful_policy_breakdowns: :error # Use whatever log level you'd like to use here