12. Permissions and Rules
The Gort chatbot system comes equipped with a comprehensive and flexible
authorization system which allows operators fine-grained control over
who is able to execute chat commands, extending even to control over
particular invocations of chat commands.
In this document, we will discuss the individual pieces of the
authorization system and take a look at how it is used in practice.
12.1. Authorization Rules
At the core of Gort’s authorization system are rules. Each time a user
issues a chat command to Gort, rules governing the execution of that
command are looked up and applied to the current invocation. If a match
is found, the list of permissions the invoking user has is consulted to
see if it includes the permission(s) required in the matching rule. If
it does, the command is executed; if not, command processing immediately
To make things concrete, we’ll start with a simple authorization rule.
(There is actually a separate rule language that can be used to make
rather complex rules, but for now we’ll start simple. Feel free to read
more detailed explanations of how rules are formed. In any event, the
details of the language are orthogonal to the authorization system
when command is gort:bundle must have gort:manage_commands
This is the simplest form of rule, and gives us all we need to discuss
the authorization system. This rule states, in English, that for a user
to execute the
gort:bundles chat command (which allows users to
enable or disable entire bundles of commands at once), they must have
gort:manage_commands permission granted to them.
With that rule in place, let’s say I type the following command
invocation in my chat application:
!gort:bundle disable github
I’m telling Gort to disable all the commands in the github bundle. In
order for that command to be executed, Gort must verify, according to
the rule above, that I have the
gort:manage_commands permission. It
just so happens that I do, so the command succeeds; now nobody can check
how many pull requests are open on their favorite repository.
Perhaps you want to restrict the ability to disable a particularly
important bundle; perhaps you’ve written one called prod to help manage
your organization’s production environment. We can add this with a new
rule that matches the invocation
!gort:bundle disable prod
That rule might look like this:
when command is gort:bundle
with arg == "disable"
and arg == "prod"
must have site:manage_prod and gort:manage_commands
Here we can see a rule that applies to a very specific invocation of a
command. If you have the gort:manage_commands permission, you can
manipulate bundles in general, but in order to disable the prod bundle,
you must have the additional
As you can imagine, the ability to define rules like this offers a lot
of power. We’ll talk more in depth about rules later; the remainder of
this document will delve into the specifics of the authorization system
itself, explaining the its components and how they all work together.
Rules can be viewed, created, and deleted using the
command. In particular, simple rules of the form when command is must
have can be created thusly:
!gort:rule create <COMMAND> <PERMISSION>
Note that both and must exist, and be typed as fully-qualified names.
12.2. Components of the Authorization System
Permissions are at the base of Gort’s authorization system. They act as
a kind of token; you can carry out certain actions if you possess the
You will notice that permissions have a structure:
site:manage_prod, etc. Permissions are
namespaced; here we have a
manage_commands permission in the
operable namespace, and a
manage_prod permission in the
namespace. In general, every bundle of commands defines its own
permission namespace. This allows bundle authors the flexibility to
define permissions that are used by commands in the bundle without
worrying about conflicting with permissions from any other bundles that
happen to be installed on a Gort system. We can have an
gort:manage_commands permission as well as a
site:manage_commands permission without any problems.
There are two ways that permissions can be created. The first is through
bundle installation. All command bundles have the option to define
permissions and authorization rules to help bootstrap the bundle in a
Gort system. The operator is not under any obligation to use these rules
or permissions, and is free to define their own, but they are always
installed with the bundle.
The second way that permissions can be created is directly by the Gort
operator. This is where the special site namespace comes into play. site
is unique; it is the only permission namespace that is not associated
with a corresponding command bundle. All permissions created by
operators are part of the site namespace. It is the mechanism by which
the permission scheme may be customized to the needs of the operator’s
unique environment and use cases.
Moving up from permissions, we arrive at roles, which are collections of
associated permissions. While permissions can be created when you
install command bundles, roles are something purely under your control
as a Gort operator; you create them and you manage them.
In order for permissions to be useful, we have to have a way to
associate them with people invoking commands. The Gort user is the
unique identity to which permissions are ultimately attached.
Each person that can interact with Gort has an associated user account.
This is also the identity with which a person will interact with Gort’s
It is important to understand that this “Gort User” is not the same as a
person’s “handle” in a particular chat system. In fact, a Gort user can
be associated with multiple handles from different chat systems. For
instance, I may be
@chris in Slack, but
cmaier in Gort. Gort can
recognize this and map these various chat handles back to the same Gort
user, allowing authorization to be managed centrally and independently
of which chat system is in use.
Users are scoped to the entire Gort installation; that is, there is no
higher-level namespace (e.g., “organization”) into which users are
Finally, Gort groups collect Gort users together. Any number of users
may be in a group, but only users may be members of groups.
12.3. Bringing It All Together
Now that you know about permissions, roles, users, and groups, how do
you use them?
We know that roles are collections of permissions, and groups are
collections of users, but that ultimately, somehow, permissions become
associated with users. This missing link here is that roles can be
granted to groups.
Thus, a user has all the permissions in all the roles granted to all the
groups of which she is a member.
To grant a permission to a user, then, the user must be placed into a
group that has been granted a role that contains that permission. While
this might seem a bit cumbersome from the perspective of a single user
and a single permission, it makes global management easier; it frees you
to think in terms of the higher-level constructs of roles and groups,
without having to worry about “exceptions to the rule” like individual
users being directly granted a permission, or potentially complicated
As an example, let’s look at how we might set up a Gort system to grant
permissions for the mist EC2 command bundle. For this demonstration,
let’s say we have three users: Alice, Bob, and Charlie. Furthermore,
let’s say that Alice is on our Operations team, while Bob and Charlie
are on the Development team. Let’s also stipulate that everyone on the
operations team should be able to perform any action with Mist, while
developers start out with read-only permissions.
Looking at Mist’s bundle configuration, we see it declares the following
It looks like we’ll want to give operations folks all of these
permissions, and developers only mist:view. Let’s set up some roles to
First a mist_admin role, with all the mist permissions:
gort role create mist_admin
gort role grant mist_admin mist:view
gort role grant mist_admin mist:change_state
gort role grant mist_admin mist:destroy
gort role grant mist_admin mist:create
gort role grant mist_admin mist:manage-tags
gort role grant mist_admin mist:change-acl
And now, a mist_read_only role:
gort role create mist_read_only
gort role grant mist_read_only mist:view
Now we have our roles, but we have nothing to grant them to. Let’s
create some groups.
gort group create operations
gort group create developers
Now let’s grant the roles to our new groups.
gort group grant operations mist_admin
gort group grant developers mist_read_only
We’re almost there. We have the groundwork laid; all that remains is to
add our users.
gort group add operations alice
gort group add developers bob charlie
Any changes to the permission structure take effect immediately. If the
mist:view permission is removed from the
Bob and Charlie immediately lose the ability to run commands that
require that permission (unless they happen to also be members of
another group that has the permission via some other role). Similarly,
if Danielle is added to the operations group, she immediately has all
the mist permissions.
Note also that all authorization rules are written in terms of
permissions, and not roles,