Role-Based Access Control

Overview #

VTAdmin provides an (optional) role-based access control (RBAC) system for deployments that need to, or would like to, restrict access to specific resources to specific users.

In VTAdmin, RBAC is governed by two distinct layers:

  • Authentication: Given a request, determine who is attempting to take an action on a resource
  • Authorization: Given an actor (obtained from the authentication layer), determine if that actor is allowed to take a certain action on a certain resource.

Let's discuss each in turn.

Authentication #

VTAdmin uses a plugin-based architecture for deployments to provide their own authentication implementation specific to their environment and needs.

The authentication plugin is installed as both an HTTP middleware and gRPC interceptor, and must implement the following interface:

type Authenticator interface {
    // Authenticate returns an Actor given a context. This method is called
	// from the stream and unary grpc server interceptors, and are passed the
	// stream and request contexts, respectively.
	// Returning an error from the authenticator will fail the request. To
	// denote an authenticated request, return (nil, nil) instead.
	Authenticate(ctx context.Context) (*Actor, error)
	// AuthenticateHTTP returns an actor given an http.Request.
	// Returning an error from the authenticator will fail the request. To
	// denote an authenticated request, return (nil, nil) instead.
	AuthenticateHTTP(r *http.Request) (*Actor, error)

If running with an authentication plugin installed, VTAdmin will invoke its Authenticate method on all incoming gRPC requests, and its AuthenticateHTTP method on all incoming HTTP requests.

Returning an error from either of these methods will fail the request with an UNAUTHENTICATED code for gRPC requests and an UNAUTHORIZED response for HTTP requests. In order to indicate "no authenticated actor" to the authorization layer, the methods must return (nil, nil) instead.

Available Plugins #

VTAdmin currently provides no authentication plugins out of the box, though this may change in future releases.

However, users are free to define their own implementations suited to the needs of their specific deployment and environment. As an example, here is an authentication plugin that extracts a "user" key from an HTTP cookie or gRPC incoming metadata.

Installing Plugins #

VTAdmin supports two ways of installing an authentication plugin.

For universal support, users may recompile vtadmin-api after adding their authentication plugin file within go/vt/vtadmin/rbac/plugin_<your_authn_name>.go. If following this process, you must ensure to call RegisterAuthenticator("your_authn_name", yourAuthnConstructor()) in an init function. This is the pattern followed by other components of Vitess; tracing plugins are one of many you can refer to.

If you plan to run vtadmin-api on Linux, FreeBSD, or macOS, you can also install your authentication plugin using the Go plugin API. If following this process, your Authenticator must be built with go build -buildmode=plugin, and its main package must expose a function of the following name and type:

package main

import ""

func NewAuthenticator() rbac.Authenticator { return ... /* your implementation here */ }

Configuration #

Finally, to instruct VTAdmin to use your Authenticator, specify its name in the "authenticator" key in your rbac.yaml:

authenticator: "./path/to/" # or just "your_authn_name" (see below)

If the name ends in .so, VTAdmin will assume it is a Go plugin (the second option described in the previous section). VTAdmin will attempt to open the plugin and find a function named NewAuthenticator that returns an rbac.Authenticator implementation. If any of this fails, VTAdmin will refuse to start; attempting to use this option on platforms not supported by the Go plugin API will result in undefined behavior.

Otherwise, VTAdmin will assume it was (re-)compiled with a plugin_<your_authn_name>.go file that invoked RegisterAuthenticator with that name. If there is no plugin registered with that name, VTAdmin will refuse to start.

Authorization #

Unlike authentication, which occurs at the incoming request boundary (both HTTP and gRPC), authorization happens within the vtadmin.API layer itself.

In each method, the API extracts any Actor from the authentication layer, and performs one or more checks to see if that actor is allowed to perform the actions necessary to fulfill the request. We'll go over how this works in more detail, but as an example, here's a snippet of the GetClusters handler:

func (api *API) GetClusters(ctx context.Context, req *vtadminpb.GetClustersRequest) (*vtadminpb.GetClustersResponse, error) {
	clusters, _ := api.getClustersForRequest(nil) // `nil` implies "all clusters"
	resp := &vtadminpb.GetClustersResponse{
		Clusters: make([]*vtadminpb.Cluster, 0, len(clusters)),

	for _, c := range clusters {
		if !api.authz.IsAuthorized(ctx, c.ID, rbac.ClusterResource, rbac.GetAction) {

		resp.Clusters = append(resp.Clusters, &vtadminpb.Cluster{
			Id:   c.ID,
			Name: c.Name,

    return resp, nil

First, it's necessary to note that there's a shim layer in the HTTP/gRPC middlewares that puts any Actor from an authentication plugin into the ctx that gets passed to the method you see here. The details of how this works are not particularly relevant to this documentation, but you can refer to these files if you would like to learn more.

Second, it is possible to run VTAdmin with authorization but without an authentication plugin installed. If you do this, all requests will implicitly be made by the "unauthenticated" actor, and therefore may only access resources that permit the wildcard Subject (more on RBAC configs in a bit!).

Third, and most important: note that being unauthorized to access to a (cluster, resource, action) does not fail the overall request. If a request involves multiple clusters, and the actor is permitted to access a subset of them, the request will proceed for those clusters. If a user tries to access a cluster they are not permitted to, including a cluster that does not exist, they will be unable to tell if (1) there is simply no data; (2) they do not have access to the cluster; or (3) the cluster exists at all. This is by design, to prevent a malicious actor from being able to enumerate resources by brute force and interpreting the authorization failure responses.

Configuration #

Authorization rules are specified as a list under the rules key of your rbac.yaml configuration file. Each rule is a 4-key map, corresponding to the 4-tuple of (resource, cluster, subject, action).

In order to allow more consisely-expressed configurations, each "rule" element actually takes a list of clusters, subjects, and actions (but only a singular resource!), as well as a wildcard (*) to stand in for "any {resource|cluster|subject|action}". At startup, vtadmin-api will expand these rulesets and wildcards into the individual 4-tuples discussed previously.

Example #

For example, take the following configuration:

  - resource: "*"
    - "get"
    - "ping"
    subjects: ["*"]
    clusters: ["*"]

  - resource: "*"
    - "create"
    - "delete"
    - "put"
    - "user:andrew"
    - "role:admin"
    clusters: ["*"]

  - resource: "Shard"
    - "emergency_failover_shard"
    - "planned_failover_shard"
    - "role:admin"
    - "local"

This permits the following:

  1. Any subject can get or ping any resource in any cluster.
  2. Any user with the name "andrew" or role of "admin" can create, delete, or put any resource in any cluster.
  3. Any user with the role of "admin" can perform both emergency and planned failover operations on a Shard in only the cluster with the id of "local".

Clusters and Subjects #

cluster and subject values depend entirely on the details of your particular vtadmin deployment. Possible values for cluster, aside from the wildcard, are the id of any cluster you inform vtadmin-api of (either via flags at start time or dynamically).

subject values should be prefixed with either user: or role:. In the case of user:, vtadmin's authorization check will verify the actor's Name value matches. In the case of role:, it will verify that one of the actor's Roles values matches. In code:

func (r *Rule) Allows(clusterID string, action Action, actor *Actor) bool {
	if r.clusters.HasAny("*", clusterID) {
		if r.actions.HasAny("*", string(action)) {
			if r.subjects.Has("*") {
				return true

			if actor == nil {
				return false

			if r.subjects.Has(fmt.Sprintf("user:%s", actor.Name)) {
				return true

			for _, role := range actor.Roles {
				if r.subjects.Has(fmt.Sprintf("role:%s", role)) {
					return true

	return false

Note that if you are using just authorization without authentication, you must use the wildcard subject in your rules.

Resources and Actions #

The following table lists all current resources vtadmin has, and the actions that can be performed on them. Note that it's technically possible to specify a rule for an action that cannot actually be performed on a particular resource (e.g. an action of planned_failover_shard on a resource of Schema), but this has no effect on the rest of your rules.

APIRule(s) Needed (<action>, <resource>) form
CreateKeyspace(create, Keyspace)
CreateShard(create, Shard)
DeleteKeyspace(delete, Keyspace)
DeleteShards(delete, Shard)
DeleteTablet(delete, Tablet)
EmergencyFailoverShard(emergency_failover_shard, Shard)
FindSchema(get, Schema)
GetBackups(get, Backup)
GetCellInfos(get, CellInfo)
GetCellsAliases(get, CellsAlias)
GetClusters(get, Cluster)
GetGates(get, VTGate)
GetKeyspace(get, Keyspace)
GetKeyspaces(get, Keyspace)
GetSchema(get, Schema)
GetSchemas(get, Schema)
GetShardReplicationPositions(get, ShardReplicationPosition)
GetSrvVSchema(get, SrvVSchema)
GetSrvVSchemas(get, SrvVSchema)
GetTablet(get, Tablet)
GetTablets(get, Tablet)
GetVSchema(get, VSchema)
GetVSchemas(get, VSchema)
GetVtctlds(get, Vtctld)
GetWorkflow(get, Workflow)
GetWorkflows(get, Workflow)
PingTablet(ping, Tablet)
PlannedFailoverShard(planned_failover_shard, Shard)
RefreshState(put, Tablet)
RefreshTabletReplicationSource(refresh_tablet_replication_source, Tablet)
ReloadSchemas(reload, Schema)
RunHealthCheck(get, Tablet)
SetReadOnly(manage_tablet_writability, Tablet)
SetReadWrite(manage_tablet_writability, Tablet)
StartReplication(manage_tablet_replication, Tablet)
StopReplication(manage_tablet_replication, Tablet)
TabletExternallyPromoted(tablet_externally_promoted, Shard)
VTExplain(get, VTExplain)
ValidateKeyspace(put, Keyspace)
ValidateSchemaKeyspace(put, Keyspace)
ValidateVersionKeyspace(put, Keyspace)