🐣 Elixir authorization and resource-loading library for Plug applications.
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An authorization library in Elixir for Plug applications that restricts what resources the current user is allowed to access, and automatically loads resources for the current request.

Inspired by CanCan for Ruby on Rails.

Read the docs


For the latest master:

defp deps do
  {:canary, github: "cpjk/canary"}

For the latest release:

defp deps do
  {:canary, "~> 1.1.1"}

Then run mix deps.get to fetch the dependencies.


Canary provides three functions to be used as plugs to load and authorize resources:

load_resource/2, authorize_resource/2, and load_and_authorize_resource/2.

load_resource/2 and authorize_resource/2 can be used by themselves, while load_and_authorize_resource/2 combines them both.

In order to use Canary, you will need, at minimum:

Then, just import Canary.Plugs in order to use the plugs. In a Phoenix app the best place would probably be inside controller/0 in your web/web.ex, in order to make the functions available in all of your controllers.


Loads the resource having the id given in conn.params["id"] from the database using the given Ecto repo and model, and assigns the resource to conn.assigns.<resource_name>, where resource_name is inferred from the model name.

For example,

plug :load_resource, model: Project.Post

Will load the Project.Post having the id given in conn.params["id"] through YourApp.Repo, into conn.assigns.post


Checks whether or not the current_user for the request can perform the given action on the given resource and assigns the result (true/false) to conn.assigns.authorized. It is up to you to decide what to do with the result.

For Phoenix applications, Canary determines the action automatically.

For non-Phoenix applications, or to override the action provided by Phoenix, simply ensure that conn.assigns.canary_action contains an atom specifying the action.

In order to authorize resources, you must specify permissions by implementing the Canada.Can protocol for your User model (Canada is included as a light weight dependency).


Authorizes the resource and then loads it if authorization succeeds. Again, the resource is loaded into conn.assigns.<resource_name>.

In the following example, the Post with the same user_id as the current_user is only loaded if authorization succeeds.

Usage Example

Let's say you have a Phoenix application with a Post model, and you want to authorize the current_user for accessing Post resources.

Let's suppose that you have a file named lib/abilities.ex that contains your Canada authorization rules like so:

defimpl Canada.Can, for: User do
  def can?(%User{ id: user_id }, action, %Post{ user_id: user_id })
    when action in [:show], do: true

  def can?(%User{ id: user_id }, _, _), do: false

and in your web/router.ex: you have:

get "/posts/:id", PostController, :show
delete "/posts/:id", PostController, :delete

To automatically load and authorize on the Post having the id given in the params, you would add the following plug to your PostController:

plug :load_and_authorize_resource, model: Post

In this case, on GET /posts/12 authorization succeeds, and the Post specified by conn.params["id] will be loaded into conn.assigns.post.

However, on DELETE /posts/12, authorization fails and the Post resource is not loaded.

Excluding actions

To exclude an action from any of the plugs, pass the :except key, with a single action or list of actions.

For example,

Single action form:

plug :load_and_authorize_resource, model: Post, except: :show

List form:

plug :load_and_authorize_resource, model: Post, except: [:show, :create]

Authorizing only specific actions

To specify that a plug should be run only for a specific list of actions, pass the :only key, with a single action or list of actions.

For example,

Single action form:

plug :load_and_authorize_resource, model: Post, only: :show

List form:

plug :load_and_authorize_resource, model: Post, only: [:show, :create]

Note: Passing both :only and :except to a plug is invalid. Canary will simply pass the Conn along unchanged.

Overriding the default user

Globally, the default key for finding the user to authorize can be set in your configuration as follows:

config :canary, current_user: :some_current_user

In this case, canary will look for the current user record in conn.assigns.some_current_user.

The current user key can also be overridden for individual plugs as follows:

plug :load_and_authorize_resource, model: Post, current_user: :current_admin

Specifying resource_name

To specify the name under which the loaded resource is stored, pass the :as flag in the plug declaration.

For example,

plug :load_and_authorize_resource, model: Post, as: :new_post

will load the post into conn.assigns.new_post

Preloading associations

Associations can be preloaded with Repo.preload by passing the :preload option with the name of the association:

plug :load_and_authorize_resource, model: Post, preload: :comments

Non-id actions

For the :index, :new, and :create actions, the resource passed to the Canada.Can implementation should be the module name of the model rather than a struct.

For example, when authorizing access to the Post resource,

you should use

def can?(%User{}, :index, Post), do: true

instead of

def can?(%User{}, :index, %Post{}), do: true

You can specify additional actions for which Canary will authorize based on the model name, by passing the non_id_actions opt to the plug.

For example,

plug :authorize_resource, model: Post, non_id_actions: [:find_by_name]

Implementing Canada.Can for an anonymous user

You may wish to define permissions for when there is no logged in current user (when conn.assigns.current_user is nil). In this case, you should implement Canada.Can for nil like so:

defimpl Canada.Can, for: Atom do
  # When the user is not logged in, all they can do is read Posts
  def can?(nil, :show, %Post{}), do: true
  def can?(nil, _, _), do: false

Nested associations

Sometimes you need to load and authorize a parent resource when you have a relationship between two resources and you are creating a new one or listing all the children of that parent. By specifying the :persisted option with true you can load and/or authorize a nested resource. Specifying this option overrides the default loading behavior of the :index, :new, and :create actions by loading an individual resource. It also overrides the default authorization behavior of the :index, :new, and create actions by loading a struct instead of a module name for the call to Canada.can?.

For example, when loading and authorizing a Post resource which can have one or more Comment resources, use

plug :load_and_authorize_resource, model: Post, id_name: "post_id", persisted: true, only: [:create]

to load and authorize the parent Post resource using the post_id in /posts/:post_id/comments before you create the Comment resource using its parent.

Specifing database field

You can tell Canary to search for a resource using a field other than the default :id by using the :id_field option. Note that the specified field must be able to uniquely identify any resource in the specified table.

For example, if you want to access your posts using a string field called slug, you can use

plug :load_and_authorize_resource, model: Post, id_name: "slug", id_field: "slug"

to load and authorize the resource Post with the slug specified by conn.params["slug"] value.

If you are using Phoenix, your web/router.ex should contain something like:

resources "/posts", PostController, param: "slug"

Then your URLs will look like:


instead of


Handling unauthorized actions

By default, when an action is unauthorized, Canary simply sets conn.assigns.authorized to false. However, you can configure a handler function to be called when authorization fails. Canary will pass the Plug.Conn to the given function. The handler should accept a Plug.Conn as its only argument, and should return a Plug.Conn.

For example, to have Canary call Helpers.handle_unauthorized/1:

config :canary, unauthorized_handler: {Helpers, :handle_unauthorized}

Handling resource not found

By default, when a resource is not found, Canary simply sets the resource in conn.assigns to nil. Like unauthorized action handling , you can configure a function to which Canary will pass the conn when a resource is not found:

config :canary, not_found_handler: {Helpers, :handle_not_found}

You can also specify handlers on an an individual basis (which will override the corresponding configured handler, if any) by specifying the corresponding opt in the plug call:

plug :load_and_authorize_resource Post,
  unauthorized_handler: {Helpers, :handle_unauthorized},
  not_found_handler: {Helpers, :handle_not_found}

Tip: If you would like the request handling to stop after the handler function exits, e.g. when redirecting, be sure to call Plug.Conn.halt/1 within your handler like so:

def handle_unauthorized(conn) do
  |> put_flash(:error, "You can't access that page!")
  |> redirect(to: "/")
  |> halt

Note: If both an :unauthorized_handler and a :not_found_handler are specified for load_and_authorize_resource, and the request meets the criteria for both, the :unauthorized_handler will be called first.


MIT License. Copyright 2016 Chris Kelly.