Case study: PL/pgSQL procedures for provisioning roles with privileges on only the current database
The scenario—role provisioning
One significant reason to use PL/pgSQL subprograms, rather than simply to let client-side code issue top-level SQL, is to implement an API for an overall application's database functionality and to hide all of the implementation details behind that API so that client-side code that connects as a dedicated client role:
- can execute the subprograms that jointly define the API
- cannot even see, let alone use, other artifacts like tables and various "helper" subprograms that the API subprograms call
Indeed, the self-evident value of this approach is one of the main reasons that the developers of various RDBMSs, in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, invested the not inconsiderable effort that it took to implement support for user-defined subprograms.
This scheme is easily implemented by distributing the ownership of the application's database objects among several roles, by distributing their locations among several schemas, and by granting privileges only where these are needed.
This approach is sometimes referred to as a "hard shell" encapsulation of the database functionality. A self-contained, fully tested, working code example of the scheme is included in the ysql-case-studies GitHub repository. Look for the hard-shell case study. It takes just seconds to download and unzip the entire repository and to find the hard-shell directory at the top level. It has its own README.
The present section illustrates an approach that is used throughout the ysql-case-studies code corpus for all of the case studies and for the multitenancy infrastructure that hosts them:
- Use PL/pgSQL security definer subprograms to encapsulate role-provisioning SQL statements so that their effect can be constrained to conform to carefully designed rules of practice.
The role-provisioning paradigm
Role provisioning is informed by these critical rules of practice:
- Databases are conventionally named d0, d1, ...d42,... and so on. (The names are never used in code. They're used only at session creation time.)
- So-called local roles are allowed to connect only to exactly one database and optionally to own objects only in that database.
- Local roles are systematically named like this: d42$mgr, d42$data, d42$code, d42$api, d42$client, and so on. This convention ensures that the choice of the information-bearing part of the names, the so-called nicknames (mgr, data, code, api, and client in the present example), can be freely chosen without any risk of collision with local roles for other databases.
- The idea is this:
- The database has no public schema. The connect privilege on this database is granted to all of the local roles; and the create privilege on this database is granted to all of the local roles except for the client role.
- The data role owns tables, indexes, and where appropriate, other closely related objects like triggers and domains. The data role grants usage on the schema(s) where its objects are located—together with appropriate privileges (like select, insert, update, and delete on tables) to the code role.
- The code role owns the security definer user-defined subprograms that implement the application's functionality. The code role grants usage on the schema(s) where those of its subprograms that explicitly expose the API (but not their helper subprograms) are located—together with execute on those subprograms to the api role.
- The api role owns security definer subprograms that do nothing more than act as invocation shims for those code-owned subprograms that expose the API. This pass-through scheme ensures that the intention is explicit (i.e. that the helpers are invisible to roles that invoke the api-owned subprograms. The api role grants usage on the schema(s) where its API-defining subprograms are located—together with execute on those subprograms, to the client role.
- The client role is the only role whose name and password is known to the engineers who implement client-side code. And the client role owns no schema.
- This privilege and owner scheme has the outcome that client-side sessions that connect as the client role cannot create new objects and cannot change any of the objects that implement the overall application's database functionality. Such sessions, by construction, can do nothing more than invoke the api-owned subprograms that implement the designed functionality. Notice that they simply cannot make unintended changes to the content of the data-owned tables.
An example of the use of this scheme is demonstrated in the section Using the "hard-shell" approach to separate the code that opens a cursor from the code that fetches the rows.
Notice that, according to the larger design aims, yet more roles that just these might be needed. And, of course, the might all have names which better reflect the overall purpose that do these generic role names.
Use a suitable playground cluster. First, create a sandbox database with a non-colliding name that follows the convention, say d42:
\c yugabyte yugabyte set client_min_messages = warning; \set db d42 drop database if exists :db; create database :db;
Notice, in the code that follows, that the name d42 is never used. Rather, because the database name is needed only at "connect" time, the psql meta-command \c to create a session can use the psql variable db. This means that if the name that you first consider happens to collide with the name of an existing database, or if you just prefer another name like d17, then you can simply replace it in the single point of definition of the psql variable db of definition.
Next, connect to that database and create the "manager" role as a local role for it with no special attributes and with a name that follows the convention—d42$mgr:
\c :db yugabyte set client_min_messages = warning; drop schema public; do $body$ declare mgr_name constant text not null := current_database()||'$mgr'; begin begin execute format('drop owned by %I', mgr_name); exception when undefined_object then null; end; execute format('drop role if exists %I', mgr_name); execute format('create role %I login password $$m$$ ', mgr_name); execute format('grant connect, create on database %I to %I', current_database(), mgr_name); execute format('create schema mgr authorization %I', mgr_name); end; $body$; \set quoted_db '\'':db'\'' select :quoted_db||'$mgr' as mgr \gset
Notice how the psql variable db is used to define the psql variable mgr to express the name d42$mgr. This technique completes the practice that allows the entire corpus of .sql scripts that jointly install an application's database backend can be insulated from sensitivity to the database's name.
Using PL/pgSQL in a do statement to create and configure the manager role for database d42 brings these advantages:
The role name of the manager for database d42, d42$mgr, is declared as mgr_name by prepending the name that the current_database() built-in function returns to the nickname mgr, separating the two components of the name with the $ sign.
mgr_name is then re-used five times in these SQL statements: drop owned by, drop role, create role, grant connect, create on database_, and create schema.
The current_database() function is used also to ensure that d42$mgr is a local role for the database d42.
The fact that the drop owned by statement must be used before the drop role statement, and the fact that drop owned by statement has no if exists syntax can be accommodated so that role provisioning, first dropping the to-be-created role, always completes silently. This is achieved by implementing the drop owned by statement within a tightly enclosing block statement that has a handler for the undefined_object ("role does not exist") exception.
Next, set up the "manager" role to be able to provision ordinary roles in the database for which it's a local role. Remain connected as the superuser yugabyte in order to create the security definer procedure mgr.re_create_role() that will allow d42$mgr to provision local roles for the database d0. Notice that d42$mgr doesn't have the authority directly to use the SQL statements that this needs. This perfectly illustrates the value of security definer subprograms.
Because provisioned local roles might need the ability to revoke or grant privileges on objects that they own, the security invoker procedures revoke_all_from_public() and mgr.grant_priv() are created first.
create procedure mgr.revoke_all_from_public( object_kind in text, object in text) security invoker set search_path = pg_catalog, pg_temp language plpgsql as $body$ declare kind constant text not null := case when lower(object_kind) = 'view' then 'table' else object_kind end; begin execute format('revoke all on %s %s from public', kind, object); end; $body$; call mgr.revoke_all_from_public('procedure', 'mgr.revoke_all_from_public'); create procedure mgr.grant_priv( priv in text, object_kind in text, object in text, grantee_nickname in text) security invoker set search_path = pg_catalog, pg_temp language plpgsql as $body$ declare kind constant text not null := case when lower(object_kind) = 'view' then 'table' else object_kind end; r_name constant text not null := case when grantee_nickname = 'public' then 'public' else current_database()||'$'||grantee_nickname end; begin execute format('grant %s on %s %s to %I', priv, kind, object, r_name); end; $body$; call mgr.revoke_all_from_public('procedure', 'mgr.grant_priv'); create procedure mgr.re_create_role(nickname in text, passwd in text, cr_on_db in boolean) set search_path = pg_catalog, pg_temp security definer language plpgsql as $body$ declare r_name constant text not null := current_database()||'$'||nickname; begin begin execute format('drop owned by %I', r_name); exception when undefined_object then null; end; execute format('drop role if exists %I', r_name); execute format($$create role %I login password '%s'$$, r_name, passwd); execute format('grant connect on database %I to %I', current_database(), r_name); if cr_on_db then execute format('grant create on database %I to %I', current_database(), r_name); end if; call mgr.grant_priv('usage', 'schema', 'mgr', nickname); call mgr.grant_priv('execute', 'procedure', 'mgr.revoke_all_from_public', nickname); call mgr.grant_priv('execute', 'procedure', 'mgr.grant_priv', nickname); end; $body$; call mgr.revoke_all_from_public('procedure', 'mgr.re_create_role'); call mgr.grant_priv('execute', 'procedure', 'mgr.re_create_role', 'mgr');
Finally, create four local roles to support a minimal demonstration of the hard shell approach:
\c :db :mgr set client_min_messages = warning; call mgr.re_create_role('data', 'd', true); call mgr.re_create_role('code', 'c', true); call mgr.re_create_role('api', 'a', true); call mgr.re_create_role('client', 'k', false);