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Privilege Levels Explained

In the role-based access control model supported by the Okera Platform, roles are granted access to resources by means of privilege levels. The Okera Policy Engine supports the following privileges:

Privilege Objects Description
ALL Catalog, Database, Table, URI, Attribute Namespace Grants full and unrestricted access to any data object and any descendants. This permissions is a superset of all the privileges below. Adding the WITH GRANT OPTION flag allows users to additionally grant permissions on this object to other roles.
SELECT Catalog, Database, Table, Column Grants read access to an object and any descendants.
SHOW Catalog, Database, Table Grants read access to object metadata only. Cannot be granted at a column level.
INSERT Database, Table, Column Grants write access to the object. Does not include read access.
CREATE Catalog, Database, Attribute Namespace Grants ability to create an object within another object, for instance, GRANT CREATE ON DATABASE grants the ability to create a table within the database.
CREATE_AS_OWNER Catalog, Database Grants ability to create an object (database, table or view) and automatically receive ALL privileges on the object you created e.g. GRANT CREATE_AS_OWNER ON CATALOG.
ALTER Database, Table Grants ability to edit metadata for specified object, such as alter the table/view definition, add/drop/rename columns, change datatypes, partitions, storage locations, table properties.
VIEW_AUDIT Catalog, Database, Table Grants ability to see audit data only for the specified objects. The user still needs access to the okera_reports_role to be able to use reports.
ADD_ATTRIBUTE Database, Table, Attribute Namespace Grants the ability to either assign attributes on the specified data object, or to assign attributes from the specified attribute namespace.
REMOVE_ATTRIBUTE Database, Table Grants the ability to remove attributes on the specified data object. Must be combined with ADD_ATTRIBUTE to be functional.


  • Attribute-based access control (ABAC) policies only support SELECT privilege level. Read more here.

  • The WITH GRANT OPTION adds the ability to grant the specified permission to other roles. For example: GRANT ALL ON DATABASE okera_sample TO ROLE steward_role WITH GRANT OPTION would enable users belonging to the role steward_role to issue a GRANT ALL ON DATABASE okera_sample TO ROLE other_role.

  • CREATE_AS_OWNER on Catalog scope does not cascade to all databases. You will not be able to create datasets inside databases you have not created.

  • For info on ALL on URIs, see URI Objects.

Object Types and Scope

All permissions are usually scoped at a specific object level.

Object Types

Here are the object types supported by Okera:

Object Syntax Description
Catalog CATALOG* Global scope for all objects in the Catalog.
Database DATABASE <db_name> Scope on a single database and all included objects
Table TABLE <table_name> Permissions for a specific table or view, with all its columns
Column (col1, coln) TABLE <table_name> As before, but for a subset of columns only
URI URI <uri> Specific to a file-based resource.
ATTRIBUTE NAMESPACE ATTRIBUTE NAMESPACE <attribute_namespace> Refers to a specific namespace of attributes (i.e. tags)

* If you see the term SERVER, it refers to the old syntax for CATALOG.

You can think of most of these like a hierarchy, with the exception of URIs. The latter is a separate object, while all the others subsume each other from left to right, as shown in the diagram.

Scope and hierarchy of objects


Scope is the selection of an object at some point in the hierarchy, and knowing that all child objects are included. For example, if you allow read access to a specific database for a certain role, all user groups that are associated with that role will be able to read all datasets (that is, all tables and views) in the database.

Note: You cannot revoke permissions on a scope that were granted on a higher scope. If you grant access for a database to a specific role, you cannot revoke access to some of the datasets included in that database.

Assigning permissions for child objects are commonly issued at the next higher scope. For instance, you need to permit create permissions for a role on the database level, allowing the role owners to create new tables and views inside that database.

Views are handled using the same scope as tables. In other words, when addressing views as part of the authorization commands, refer to the table documentation.

URI Objects

URIs are a special kind of object, registering paths or specific resource files (such as Java JARs) that are accessible for non-administrative users. There are a handful types of actions that require file system permissions:

  • Creating databases
  • Creating external tables
  • Creating functions
  • Altering an external table's location
  • Altering a table's set of partitions

In general, any action that requires the LOCATION or ROW FORMAT SERDE keywords is checked for file system permissions before it is allowed by the platform. Some of the above operations are only allowed at the catalog level scope, implicitly making anyone allowed at that level a global administrator. And since global administrators are unrestricted, it is assumed they have unrestricted access to the underlying file systems.

Note: The file system checks for global administrators fall back to the Okera Data Access Service (ODAS) having access to the file resources. In practice, every ODAS setup will run with an authenticated technical user account, which needs to have access to all resources that are referenced by any of the location dependent SQL statements.

The following table shows each affected action with the scope and privilege they require, and what that means for the file system checks:

Action Type Scope Privilege File System Check
Create Database Catalog All Not needed
Create Function Catalog All Not needed
Create External Table Database All Yes1
Alter External Table Location Database All Yes1
Alter Table Partitions Database All Yes1

Legend: 1 Applies to non-administrative users only

Note: URIs only are supported in combination with the All privilege, as shown in the table.

For non-specific URIs, that is those which are not referencing a specific resource file (see Extending ODAS for an example), access is checked for the given file system path. Any file or directory inside that location is automatically included. That allows, for example, an administrator to permit access to a specific root path for a given role. Any user that is associated with that role is allowed the same level of access inside that root path.

Finally, any SQL statement that uses one of those resources implicitly, like a SELECT statement using a UDF, does not require a file system permission check again. This makes sense as first a table or function must be created before it can be used. In other words, an administrator or elevated user (with "All" privileges on the catalog or database level respectively) creates the object or function using the explicit location URI. Any other user with, for example, a read-only role is allowed to access the object or function without requiring explicit access to the underlying resources.

Here are examples showing the difference:

Example: SQL statements that require explicit access to the specified resources

CREATE EXTERNAL TABLE transactions_schemaed(
  txnid BIGINT,
  dt_time STRING,
  sku STRING,
  userid INT,
  price FLOAT,
  creditcard STRING,
  ip STRING)
LOCATION 's3://acme-sales-data/transactions';

ALTER TABLE sales.transactions_schemaed RECOVER PARTITIONS;

LOCATION 's3://acme-udfs-public/udfs/mask-udf.jar'

Example: SQL statements that do not require explicit access to the underlying resources

SELECT count(txnid) FROM sales.transactions_schemaed;

CREATE VIEW sales.transactions AS
  if (has_access('sales.transactions_schemaed'), userid, tokenize(userid)) as userid,
  if (has_access('sales.transactions_schemaed'), creditcard,mask_ccn(creditcard)) as creditcard,
  if (has_access('sales.transactions_schemaed'), ip, cast(tokenize(ip) as STRING)) as ip
FROM sales.transactions_schemaed;

How this is used in practice is explained in Best Practices.