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CanCan is an authorization library for Ruby on Rails which restricts what resources a given user is allowed to access. All permissions are defined in a single location (the Ability class) and not duplicated across controllers, views, and database queries.


In Rails 3, add this to your Gemfile.

gem "cancan"

In Rails 2, add this to your environment.rb file.

config.gem "cancan"

Alternatively, you can install it as a plugin.

rails plugin install git://

Getting Started

CanCan expects a current_user method to exist. If you have not already, set up some authentication (such as Authlogic or Devise). See Changing Defaults if you need different behavior.

Next create a class called Ability in “models/ability.rb” or anywhere else in the load path. It should look similar to this.

class Ability
  include CanCan::Ability

  def initialize(user)
    if user.admin?
      can :manage, :all
      can :read, :all

The current_user is passed in to this method which is where the abilities are defined. See the “Defining Abilities” section below for more information.

The current user's permissions can be accessed using the “can?” and “cannot?” methods in the view and controller.

<% if can? :update, @article %>
  <%= link_to "Edit", edit_article_path(@article) %>
<% end %>

See Checking Abilities for more information

The “authorize!” method in the controller will raise an exception if the user is not able to perform the given action.

def show
  @article = Article.find(params[:id])
  authorize! :read, @article

Setting this for every action can be tedious, therefore the load_and_authorize_resource method is provided to automatically authorize all actions in a RESTful style resource controller. It will use a before filter to load the resource into an instance variable and authorize it for each action.

class ArticlesController < ApplicationController

  def show
    # @article is already loaded and authorized

See Authorizing Controller Actions for more information

If the user authorization fails, a CanCan::AccessDenied exception will be raised. You can catch this and modify its behavior in the ApplicationController.

class ApplicationController < ActionController::Base
  rescue_from CanCan::AccessDenied do |exception|
    flash[:alert] = exception.message
    redirect_to root_url

See Exception Handling for more information.

Defining Abilities

As shown above, the Ability class is where all user permissions are defined. The current user model is passed into the initialize method so the permissions can be modified based on any user attributes. CanCan makes no assumption about how roles are handled in your application. See Role Based Authorization for an example.

The can method is used to define permissions and requires two arguments. The first one is the action you're setting the permission for, the second one is the class of object you're setting it on.

can :update, Article

You can pass an array for either of these parameters to match any one. In this case the user will have the ability to update or destroy both articles and comments.

can [:update, :destroy], [Article, Comment]

Use :manage to represent any action and :all to represent any class. Here are some examples.

can :manage, Article   # has permissions to do anything to articles
can :read, :all        # has permission to read any model
can :manage, :all      # has permission to do anything to any model

You can pass a hash of conditions as the third argument to further define what the user is able to access. Here the user will only have permission to read active projects which he owns.

can :read, Project, :active => true, :user_id =>

See Defining Abilities with Hashes for more information.

Blocks can also be used if you need more control.

can :update, Project do |project|

If the block returns true then the user has that ability for that project, otherwise he will be denied access. See Defining Abilities with Blocks for more information.

Aliasing Actions

You will usually be working with four actions when defining and checking permissions: :read, :create, :update, :destroy. These aren't the same as the 7 RESTful actions in Rails. CanCan automatically adds some default aliases for mapping those actions.

alias_action :index, :show, :to => :read
alias_action :new, :to => :create
alias_action :edit, :to => :update

Notice the edit action is aliased to update. This means if the user is able to update a record he also has permission to edit it. You can define your own aliases in the Ability class.

alias_action :update, :destroy, :to => :modify
can :modify, Comment
can? :update, Comment # => true

The alias_action method is an instance method and usually called in initialize. See Custom Actions for information on adding other actions.

Fetching Records

It is possible to fetch records which the user has permission to read using the accessible_by scope in Active Record.

@articles = Article.accessible_by(current_ability)

Since version 1.4 this is done automatically when loading resources in the index action, so one rarely needs to do it manually.

This will only work when abilities are defined using hash conditions, not blocks. See Fetching Records for more information.

Additional Docs

Questions or Problems?

If you have any issues with CanCan which you cannot find the solution to in the documentation, please add an issue on GitHub or fork the project and send a pull request.

To get the specs running you should call bundle and then rake. Specs currently do not work in Ruby 1.9 due to the RR mocking framework.

Special Thanks

CanCan was inspired by declarative_authorization and aegis. Also many thanks to the CanCan contributors. See the CHANGELOG for the full list.