Permissions framework

Last updated 2 months ago

Misago brings its own ACL (Access Control Lists) framework for implementing permissions and this document explains to how to use and extend it with your own permissions.

Checking permissions

Permissions are stored on special models named "roles" and assigned to users either directly or trough ranks. Guest users always have permissions from "Guest" role, and users always have permissions form "Member" role.

There are two kinds of objects in Misago: aware and unaware of their ACL's. Aware objects have acl property containing dict with their permissions for given ACL, while unaware objects don't. Instances of User and AnonymousUser classes are always ACL aware, while other objects need you to make them aware of their ACLs through use of add_acl functions ofered by misago.acl module. However this is not always needed (or possible), in which cases you have to introspect user's acl attribute directly.

ACLs are simple dictionaries, and their contents differ depending on objects they are belonging to. This means that to see if forum is visible to user, you have to perform following check:

if user.acl['forums'].get(, {}).get('can_see'):
# huzzah, we can see forum!

Above snippet is edge example of checking forum permission, and luckily we have few alternatives:

if in userl.acl_cache['visible_forums']:
# Not really shorter, but simpler to remember and works in django templates!
from misago.acl import add_acl
add_acl(user, forums)
for forum in forums
if forum.acl['can_see']:
# Now model instances in forums queryset are aware of their ACLs!
# ACL's are easy to check in templates too now!

Because ACL framework is very flexible, different features can have different ways to check their permissions.

Misago comes with its own debug page titled Misago User ACL that is available from Django Debug Toolbar menu. This page display user roles permissions as well as final ACL assigned to current user.

Permissions cache

Construction of User's ACLs can be costful process, especially once you start installing extensions adding new features to your site. Because of this, Misago is not assinging ACLs to Users, but to combinations of roles. This means that each individual uses has own "ACL key", that allows Misago to associate this user roles with valid ACL cache.

ACL's are cached in two places: in remote cache storage, for use between requests, and in thread memory, so you don't have to write your own caches and checks when you are checking multiple users ACL's during single request.

ACL cache is versioned and rebuilded when cache version is different than current ACL version, which happens when models being part of ACL framework are edited or deleted.

Extending permissions system

ACL framework extensions are modules registered in MISAGO_ACL_EXTENSIONS setting. By convention, those modules are either named "permissions", or they are located in "permissions" package.

Misago checks module for following functions:


Required. This function is called when change permissions form for role is being build for view. It's expected to return Form type or none, if provider is not recognizing role type (eg. there is no sense in adding profiles visibility permissions to forums role form).


Misago provides custom YesNoSwitch form field that renders nice "Yes/No" switch as input. This field is simple wrapper around TypedChoiceField that coerces to int. If you use use it for your permissions, make sure your ACL implementation handles their values as 1 or 0, not as True or False, or your forms will break!

Make sure that all fields in your form have initial value, or your form will make tests suite fail because it will be unable to mock POST requests to admin forms correctly.

build_acl(acl, roles, key_name)

Required. Is used in process of building new ACL. Its supplied dict with incomplete ACL, list of user roles and name of key under which its permissions values are stored in roles permissions attributes. Its expected to access roles permissions attributes which are dicts of values coming from permission change forms and return updated acl dict.


Optional. Is called by providers registry after provider module was imported, to allow it to register annotators and serializers for ACL's. Receives only one argument:

  • registry - istance of PermissionProviders that imported module.

Registering Annotators and Serializers

When module's register_with function is called, its passed PermissionProviders instance that exposes following methods:

acl_annotator(hashable_type, func)

Registers func as ACL annotator for hashable_type.

acl_serializer(hashable_type, func)

Registers func as ACL serializer for hashable_type.


Returns list of annotators registered for type of obj or empty list is none exist.


Returns list of serializers registered for type of obj or empty list is none exist.


Annotators are functions called when object is being made ACL aware. It always receives two arguments:

  • user - user asking to make target aware of its ACL's

  • target - target instance, guaranteed to be an single object, not list or other iterable (like queryset)


Serializers are functions called when ACL-aware object is being prepared for JSON serialization. Because python's dict type isnt 1:1 interchangeable with JSON, serializers allow ACL extensions to perform additional convertion or cleanup before model's ACL is serialized. They always receive single argument:

  • serialized_acl - ACL that will be JSON serialized

Example serializer for extension setting dict using integers for keys could for example remove this dictionary from ACL to avoid problems during ACL serialization:

def serialize_forums_acl(user_acl):
user_acl.pop('forums', None)


Consider those three simple permission sets:

roles_permissions = (
{'can_be_knight': False},
{'can_be_knight': True},
{'can_be_knight': False},

In order to obtain final ACL, one or more ACLs have to be sum together. Such operation requires loop over ACLs which compares values of dicts keys and picks preffered ones.

This problem can be solved using simple implementation:

final_acl = {'can_be_knight': False}
for acl in roles_permissions:
if acl['can_be_knight']:
final_acl['can_be_knight'] = True

But what if there are 20 permissions in ACL? Or if we are comparing numbers? What if complex rules are involved like popular "greater beats lower, zero beats all"? This brings need for more suffisticated solution and Misago provides one in forum of misago.acl.algebra module.

This module provides utilities for summing two acls and supports three most common comparisions found in web apps:

  • greater: True beats False, 42 beats 13

  • lower: False beats True, 13 beats 42

  • greater or zero: 42 beats 13, zero beats everything

  • lower non zero: 13 beats 42, everything beats zero

sum_acls(result_acl, acls=None, roles=None, key=None, **permissions)

This function adds ACLs to result_acl using set or rules provided as additional kwargs. Alternatively, it access iterable of roles and extension key.

Example usage is following:

from misago.acl import algebra
user_acls = [
'can_see': 0,
'can_hear': 0,
'max_speed': 10,
'min_age': 16,
'speed_limit': 50,
'can_see': 1,
'can_hear': 0,
'max_speed': 40,
'min_age': 20,
'speed_limit': 0,
'can_see': 0,
'can_hear': 1,
'max_speed': 80,
'min_age': 18,
'speed_limit': 40,
defaults = {
'can_see': 0,
'can_hear': 0,
'max_speed': 30,
'min_age': 18,
'speed_limit': 60,
final_acl = algebra.sum_acls(
defaults, acls=user_acls,

As you can see because tests are callables, its easy to extend sum_acls support for new tests specific for your ACLs.