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Security and data filtering mechanism for lizard websites
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Protecting and filtering your website with lizard-security

What lizard-security does

Lizard-security is the base for all data related security in "Lizard" Django websites:

  • Base because every Django model that wants to be protected by lizard-security must include a foreign key to lizard-security's DataSet model. This is quite invasive, but there's no real handy way around it.
  • Data related because lizard-security provides row level security. It works mostly on the database level.
  • Lizard because introduces a data set model that you can use to group your data. Those data sets are what you give permission to. This is a pretty big assumption that won't work for every site. It is exactly what we need for the lizard-* family of Django applications, though. Even so, lizard-security will also work fine for many other sites.
  • Lizard also means that it is user friendly and that non-admins can configure it.
  • Django because lizard-security tries to use Django's database model managers, Django's row level security mechanism, Django's admin filtering, Django's permission infrastructure. A good Django citizen.

Defining terms

To get us on the same page, we'll first define some terms. It is way too easy to get confused over the term group, for instance: is it a group of permissions or is it a group of users? So here are the terms:

  • Group. We don't use this term on its own. See permission group.

  • Permission group. This is what we get as group from stock Django. We get permissions and groups: permissions can be grouped in a permission group in the Django admin. It gets confusing as we can assign users to both permissions and permission groups. This behaviour makes it look like a permission group is also a group of users.

    For example, we can create a permission group "cms editors" and group the cms-related permissions in it. And assign couple of users to that permission group. So... is it a group of permissions or users? Or both?

    An important point is that assigning permissions (or permission groups) to users means assigning global permissions. So we cannot group users that can only access one part of the site and not another. Or we'd need sparate permissions like view_north_data, view_east_data...

    For our purpose, we'll treat Django's groups as a permission group, not as a group of users. See the next term, user group.

  • User group. Next to Django's permission groups, lizard-security provides user groups. A user group is, as the name says, a group of users. There are two kinds of users inside a group: regular members and managers. Managers can add and remove members from the group.

  • Permission mapper. We can assign user groups to a permission group in combination with a link to a data set. This means that the user group has the assigned permissions on the data that belongs to that data set. This mechanism is lizard-security's core.

  • Data set. A data set is a small model in the database. Its important property is that other models can have a foreign key to it. This way, those other model instances can indicate that they belong to the data set.

    Data sets are used for filtering, based on a Django permission. You have a permission on something:

    • if that something has a foreign key link to a data set
    • if that data set is assigned the permission you want
    • if you are a member of the user group that is attached to the data set.

Important parts 1: user group

User groups are a relative separate part of lizard-security. As admin, we can add user groups in the admin interface. We then have to assign one or more users as manager of the user group.

We must allow the managers to go to the admin interface by giving them staff status and giving them edit rights on user groups. The admin interface automatically only shows the user groups that such a user is manager of.

A user group manager can add and remove regular members.

Important parts 2: middleware

To use lizard-security, we need to add two middleware classes to our

  • tls.TLSRequestMiddleware from django-tls. (Lizard-security depends on django-tls, so the Python package gets installed automatically). Django-tls places the request object in a so-called thread local storage, making the request available to Django's model layer without passing it around manually (which often isn't possible or practicable).
  • lizard_security.middleware.SecurityMiddleware that we provide ourselves. Our security middleware stores user group membership information in the request. And it determines the data sets we have access to and stores that information in the request, too.

We must place lizard-security's middleware below Django's AuthenticationMiddleware as we need the login data to do our work. Here's an example setting:


Important parts 3: custom model manager that filters

Lizard-security provides a custom model manager that does one extra thing: it filters models with a data_set foreign key to lizard-security's DataSet model.

  • Models with an empty data set are available to all.
  • Models with a data set are only accessible to users with those data set IDs in the request. Those IDs are normally set by our middleware.

Important parts 4: permission handling

Lizard-security does not handle global permissions. By design, it only handles object permissions. It has has_perm() integration, so we can use the regular Django permission calls.

If we only want to know if we can access an object, we can use lizard-security's view permission to ask for that lizard_security.can_view_lizard_data.

The permission handling is done by an authentication backend; which must be enabled in our settings:


Important parts 5: admin middleware

The objects we're allowed to see are already filtered by our custom model manager, so the admin middleware doesn't need to filter those.

However, often managers won't have global access to data, but only within certain datasets. The admin middleware gives them access to the admin interface; Django's default admin only looks at global permissions and we also take the permission mappers into account.

Usage in our project

If we have any app in our project that uses lizard-security, we need to add the two middleware classes (SecurityMiddleware and TLSRequestMiddleware) at the bottom of MIDDLEWARE_CLASSES in our


Lizard-security's permission backend needs to be enabled in our


Any models of ours that we want to protect with lizard-security's data set mechanism needs four changes:

  • A data_set foreign key is needed to be able to say which data set the objects belong to.
  • We need to tell Django we support object permissions.
  • Lizard-security's special object manager must be set to gain the extra filtering (for using geo object manager in combination with lizard-security use FilteredGeoManager)
  • We want to use (or subclass) lizard-security's special admin class.

Example usage

Here's an example illustrating the use of lizard-security. Remember to put lizard-security in your INSTALLED_APPS list, above the apps that use lizard-security.:

from django.db import models
from django.contrib import admin

from lizard_security.manager import FilteredManager
from lizard_security.models import DataSet
from lizard_security.admin import SecurityFilteredAdmin

class Something(models.Model):
    supports_object_permissions = True
    data_set = models.ForeignKey(DataSet,
    objects = FilteredManager(), SecurityFilteredAdmin)

Example usage of the filtered Something:

  • Add a permission group (Auth.Group) named "edit-something" and add permissions add, change, delete of the model Something.
  • Add a user "editor" (Auth.User) and make sure the checkbox "staff" is checked. With the staff status you can log in to the admin interface with this user.
  • Make a data set (lizard_security.DataSet), named "Editable".
  • Make a user group (lizard_security.UserGroup), named "all editors" and add "editor" to the list of managers.
  • Make an entry in the permission mapper (lizard_security.PermissionMapper) for the user group "all editors", the data set "Editable", the permission group "edit-something" and give it the name "Something Editable".

Results if you log in as editor:

  • A call to Something.objects.all() will return all objects where data set is "Editable" and where no data set is defined. Note that if you empty the permission group "edit-something", you will still get the same result. This is because a member in the permission mapper automatically gets the view permission.
  • If you go to the admin screen you will see the same. Note that if you empty the permission group, you will not see anything in the admin screen. The admin screen has extra filtering on model class which depend on the permission group.
  • If you try to save an object, you must have the add/change permission.
  • If you are not logged in, you will not see items of data set "Editable".

Development on lizard-security

Lizard-security must be solid as a rock. Therefore I've kept the code coverage at 100%. If you develop on lizard-security, keep the coverage at 100%.

We need to be quite conservative at adding features or corner case tweaks. If you add one: do it in a branch. We're using Git for a reason.

Lizard-security is available on github. This is also where you can report bugs or suggestions.

The documentation is online at .

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