Test case for postgres group permissions
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We have a postgres server for a shared hosting environment, or an organization with semi-autonomous business units. For the rest of the discussion, we'll use the shared hosting scenario to simplify things.

The primary security concern is that hosting customers should not be able to see or modify each other's data. This is non-negotiable.

Of secondary importance is that each customer should be able to have one or more groups, consisting of its employees and (potentially) our employees who are able to modify everything in that customers databases. These databases will eventually be used for something, so let's additionally require that there will be a read-only user assigned to each database.

Finally, our tertiary concern is that of convenience and maintainability. The addition of a new database or user should be accomplished in constant time. In other words, if there are 100 databases and 100 users already, adding another of each should be just as fast as it was when there was 1 database and 1 user.

I believe these constraints can be demonstrated with only two groups: the admins (us), and customer's developers. If I've made a mistake, it will have to be amended with an additional customer (and group).

The Goal

We should be able to run the scripts in pg-test and have them work, considering the previous few paragraphs. Can you modify pg-test/02-create-permissions so that the rest of the tests pass?

Running the Tests

These two tests will create system and postgres users on your machine. They are designed to run as root, with local trust authentication to a Postgres instance on localhost.

They should clean up after themselves, and I don't think they'll damage anything, but you'd be nuts to run the scripts without reading what they do first.

To run the tests, simply 'cd' into the directory, and run the scripts in order. On my machine, this is how the filesystem tests (POSIX ACL support required) are run:

sudo ./01-create-actors.sh
sudo ./02-create-acls.sh
sudo ./03-run-tests.sh
sudo ./04-add-new-user-and-retest.sh
sudo ./05-destroy-actors.sh

There's no output, which means that the test succeeded. The postgres test, on the other hand, fails at step #4:

sudo ./01-create-actors.sh
sudo ./02-create-permissions.sh
sudo ./03-run-tests.sh
sudo ./04-add-new-user-and-retest.sh
ERROR: alice can't modify dba2's table.
sudo ./05-destroy-actors.sh


We will use a few groups to illustrate the requirements.

  • admins

    These guys can modify anything on the server, but the objects they create should not necessarily be shared to others.

  • customer-devs

    All employees of our customer, as well as the server admins (the DBAs). They should be able to access anything in their own databases.


The following users will be used to illustrate the examples.

  • dba1 (admins, customer-devs)

    The first system administrator. He can do whatever he wants on the server, but if he creates an object in one of the customer's databases, it should be visible to and writable by their group.

  • dba2 (admins, customer-devs)

    Same as dba1.

  • anonymous

    The website user that will be used to read (only) data from the customer's databases. In reality, this would be several different users, but that would only unnecessarily complicate things.

  • alice (customer-devs)

    An employee of our customer. Everything she creates in one of the customer's databases should be writable by bob and vice-versa.

  • bob (customer-devs)

    Another customer employee. Everything he creates in one of their databases should be writable by alice and vice-versa.

Filesystem Examples


In Windows, to accomplish everything above, you only need to create those three groups. When you create a new directory for the customer, you,

  1. Grant read/write permissions to the customer-devs group.
  2. Grant read-only permissions to the anonymous user.
  3. Replace all entries on child objects with the default (in case the directory was non-empty).


With Linux, it's a little more work to meet the full requirements. The setgid strategy will fall apart if you have more than one group with different requirements. But we can use POSIX ACLs to achieve the same thing. When you create a new directory for the customer,

  1. Grant read/write permissions to the customer-devs group:

    setfacl -m group:customer-devs:rwx <dir>

  2. Grant read-only permissions to the anonymous user:

    setfacl -m user:anonymous:rx <dir>

  3. Set customer-devs defaults for newly-created files:

    setfacl -d -m group:customer-devs:rwx <dir>

  4. Set anonymous defaults for newly-created-files:

    setfacl -d -m user:anonymous:rx <dir>

If the directory is non-empty here, find/xargs can be used. This is what the filesystem test does, and it works.

Database Examples

Microsoft SQL Server

This sort of arrangement can be achieved easily in MSSQL, although there are three different ways to do it.

If you're using Active Directory authentication, you can simply grant the permissions to an Active Directory group. So if you have AD groups "admins" and "customer-devs", you can right click on a database and grant those groups permission to whatever you want.

If you're using SQL logins, in MSSQL 2012 and later you can create new roles at the server level. Then it's no more difficult than with AD logins: right click on the database, hit properties, and grant permissions to the (server-level) role.


Postgres has no (obvious?) way to achieve this. The closest I was able to come can be found in the pg-test/02-create-permissions.sh file. It is not pretty; and doesn't fully work besides. When a new user is created in 04-add-new-user-and-retest.sh, some manual work is required to grant him the correct permissions.

If there are 100 databases on the server already, that could be a lot of error-prone work.

Is there a way to modify 02-create-permissions.sh so that 04-add-new-user-and-retest.sh will work?