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Authorization library for WSGI applications

Project description

Knave: a library for authorization in WSGI apps

Knave is similar in design and scope to repoze.what.

Knave does not depend on any particular authentication package (it works well with repoze.who, but should work equally well with any authentication mechanism)


To start using knave, you need to define roles and permissions:

from knave.acl import Role, Permission, ACL
from knave.roles import StaticRoleProvider

class Permissions:

    #: Can manage user accounts
    USER_MANAGE = Permission('user_manage')

    #: Can author articles
    ARTICLE_CREATE = Permission('article_create')

    #: Can publish articles
    ARTICLE_PUBLISH = Permission('article_publish')

class Roles:

    ADMINS = Role('admins')
    EDITORS = Role('editors')

Then you can map permissions to the roles that should be authorized for them:

role_permssions = {
    Permissions.USER_MANAGE: {Roles.ADMINS},
    Permissions.ARTICLE_CREATE: {Roles.ADMINS, Roles.EDITORS},
    Permissions.ARTICLE_PUBLISH: {Roles.ADMINS, Roles.EDITORS},

Finally, you need to tell knave which users belong to which roles. The demonstration purposes we’ve used a static mapping of user names to roles:

role_provider = StaticRoleProvider({
    'spike': {Roles.ADMINS},
    'harry': {Roles.EDITORS}

You can subclass knave.roles.RoleProvider to look up role membership from a dynamic source such as a database.

With everything defined, you can link all this together in an ACL:

acl = ACL([role_provider], role_permssions)

Once you have created an acl, you can use its role_provider method to add more RoleProviders using a class decorator syntax:

class MyRoleProvider(RoleProvider):

    def member_subset(self, roles, identity, context=None):

If your role provider acts on a single role, you can also supply this as role as an argument to ACL.role_provider and use it to decorate a function returning a boolean value:

owner_role = Role('owner')

def is_owner(identity, context):
    return context and == identity

WSGI Middleware

You should use knave.middleware.KnaveMiddleware to link the ACL into your WSGI application:

from knave import KnaveMiddleware

app = KnaveMiddleware(app, acl)

This middleware makes it possible for your app to access the ACL from within a WSGI request, eg:

def wsgi_app(environ, start_response):

    if ACL.of(environ).test(Permissions.USER_MANAGE):

The middleware also takes care of catching any knave.predicates.Unauthorized exceptions and returning an HTTP 401 response instead.

Integrating with an authentication system

By default knave looks at the WSGI environ REMOTE_USER key to retrieve the identity of the current user.

You can change this behaviour by supplying a different identity_adapter when configuring your ACL.

If you are using repoze.who, there is a built in adapter for this:

import knave.identity
acl = ACL(..., identity_adapter=knave.identity.RepozeWhoIdentityAdapter())

If you have a custom authentication layer, you may need to write your own IdentityAdapter. Here’s an example for an authentication system where the user id is saved in the session (using beaker sessions):

from knave.identity import IdentityAdapter

class SessionIdentityAdapter(IdentityAdapter):
    Extract the user identity from the current session
    def __call__(self, environ):
        return environ['beaker.session'].get('current_user')


acl = ACL(..., identity_adapter=SessionIdentityAdapter())

Checking permissions

From your WSGI application you can call ACL.of(environ).test(...) to test a permission:

if not ACL.of(environ).test(Permissions.USER_MANAGE):
    start_response('401 Unauthorized', [('Content-Type', 'text/html')]
    return ['<h1>Sorry, you're not authorized to view this page</h1>']

Or you can call ACL.of(environ).require(...) to test the permission and raise an unauthorized exception if it isn’t met:


knave.middleware.KnaveMiddleware will trap this exception and return an appropriate WSGI response.

Contextual roles and fancy permissions checks

All checks support an optional context argument. You can use this to add roles dynamically.

For example, suppose you have a blogging application that creates BlogEntry objects, which have an author attribute.

You can define a owner role and have it set dynamically so that only the BlogEntry author has the role:

class Permissions:
    ARTICLE_EDIT = Permission('article_edit')

class Roles:
    OWNER = Role('owner')
    ADMIN = Role('admin')

role_permssions = {
    Permissions.ARTICLE_EDIT: {Roles.ADMIN, Roles.OWNER},
role_provider = StaticRoleProvider({
    'spike': {Roles.ADMIN}

class OwnerRoleProvider(RoleProvider):
    "A role provider to tell the ACL when the user has the owner role"

    contextual = True
    determines = {Roles.OWNER}

    def member_subset(self, roles, identity, context=None):

        if context is None or Roles.OWNER not in roles:
            return set()

        if getattr(context, 'author', None) == identity:
            return set(Roles.OWNER)

        return set()

acl = ACL([StaticRoleProvider, OwnerRoleProvider], role_permssions)

Your application code would then need to pass the article object to the permissions check:

blogentry = store.get(BlogEntry, id=request.get('id'))
ACL.of(environ).test(Permissions.ARTICLE_EDIT, context=blogentry)

Note also the contextual = True and determines = {...} lines in the OwnerRoleProvider class. These are optimization hints, telling the system not to bother querying the RoleProvider unless a context object is provided and one of the listed roles is present in the query. You can safely omit these lines, in which case your RoleProvider will be called for every lookup. Note RoleProviders can be called directly, in which case these hints are ignored. Your member_subset logic should still account for cases where context is None, or where it is queried for other roles.

If you want to check for a single role, the @role_decider decorator is a convenient shortcut. The OwnerRoleProvider might have been more concisely written as:

from knave.roles import role_decider

@role_decider(Roles.OWNER, contextual=True)
def is_owner(identity, context=None):
    return context and getattr(context, 'author', None) == identity

Permissions can also implement custom checking logic, for example:

class DaytimePermission(Permission):
    Only allow access during daytime working hours

    def __call__(self, acl, identity, context=None):
        from datetime import datetime
        return (9 <= < 5)

Custom unauthorized responses

By default KnaveMiddleware returns a minimal HTTP 401 Not Authorized response when encountering an Unauthorized exception.

You can change what action to take when an by supplying an unauthorized_response argument to KnaveMiddleware. This must be a WSGI app, and as such can return any suitable response (for example, redirecting to a login page):

def redirect_on_unauthorized(environ, start_response):

    start_response('302 Found',
                   [('Location', '/login'), ('Content-Type', 'text/html')])
    return ['<html><body><a href="/login">Login</a></body></html>']

app = KnaveMiddleware(app,


Upgrading to v0.3

You will need to make the following changes in order to upgrade from previous versions:

Predicate classes have changed their signature. In v0.2 you would have written:

class MyPredicate(Predicate):
    def __call__(self, environ, context=None):

def my_custom_predicate(environ, context=None):

In v0.3 you should to change this to:

class MyPredicate(Predicate):
    def __call__(self, acl, identity, context=None):

def my_custom_predicate(acl, identity, context=None):

RoleProviders also have a different signature. Change from this:

    def member_subset(self, roles, identity, environ, context):

To this:

    def member_subset(self, roles, identity, context):

If your RoleProvider or Predicate depends on information from the WSGI environ, this is no longer directly supported. Your application must now explicitly pass any context information required to evaluate roles or predicates in the context argument.

Testing permissions now always requires an ACL object. Where in 0.2 you would have written this:

if some_other_permission.is_met(environ):

You should now change this to:

from knave import ACL
acl = ACL.of(environ)

if acl.test(some_other_permission):



  • Optimized role membership lookups
  • Permission subclasses may now implement custom checking logic
  • Added @ACL.role_provider and @role_decider decorators


  • Initial release

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