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A Guide To Managing Craft CMS User Permissions

10 min read
Andy Golpys Made By Shape Founder

Struggling with user permissions in Craft CMS? Unclear access rules create risks. This guide unlocks robust permission management to bolster security. Learn to configure intuitive roles, drill into granular settings, and avoid common pitfalls. Implement tips from working examples through actionable steps. Take control of your Craft site and keep your content safe with our permission plan.

Managing user permissions in Craft CMS involves configuring intuitive roles, drilling into granular settings, and avoiding common pitfalls to bolster security. Implement tips from working examples through actionable steps to take control of your Craft site, define robust permission schemes, and keep content safe.

Managing User Permissions in Craft CMS

Overview of User Permissions

When it comes to managing a Craft CMS website, properly configuring user permissions and access control is crucial. Permissions refer to the level of access a user has to view or edit various parts of the CMS and website content. A restrictive permissions structure limits access to only essential users, while an open setup grants wider access. Striking the right balance depends on your use case.

For a small business site, you may opt for open permissions among a few trusted users. On large enterprise sites, restrictive permissions maintain tight control and security. Regardless of approach, user roles provide a convenient way to manage common permission presets.

Default Permission Levels

Craft CMS ships with three default user roles that provide starter permissions. The Admin role grants full access to all system and content areas. This is reserved for site owners and managers who need to configure settings and manage users.

The standard User role offers front-end viewing access and limited editing capabilities based on channel assignments. For example, blog authors may have permission to create and edit their own entries. The Guest role is highly restrictive, allowing only bare minimum viewing access. Most sites need to customize roles beyond these defaults.

Permissions vs Roles

While user roles provide default access levels, the permissions system allows for finer grain customization. Permissions are attached to individual users and user groups to override or extend role defaults. For example, you may clone the default User role then tweak the custom permissions to open up or restrict access to match job functions.

Permissions offer flexibility - two users with the same role may have different permissions. Roles are still useful as presets, but permissions add another layer of control. It's best to learn the permission options available, and consciously choose roles and permissions that align with user responsibilities.

Set Permissions at Multiple Levels

Permissions in Craft can be set at multiple levels, ranging from global to section-specific:

  • Global: These are site-wide permissions that are not specific to any content sections. Examples include user admin and utilities access.

  • Dashboard: Granular dashboard widget permissions allow visibility control.

  • Sections: Permissions can be set by section, allowing access to be scoped. For example, limiting a user to only edit blog entries.

  • Categories: Category-based permission rules provide focused editing access.

  • Elements: Field-level restrictions put detailed limits on element editing.

This multilevel approach makes complex permission schemes possible. For most sites, section-based permissions deliver sufficient access control. But you can get more surgical for complex cases or high security needs.

Permission Management Tips

Here are some tips for effectively managing user permissions in Craft:

  • Audit existing permissions and align with user requirements before launch. Removing access is harder than granting it.

  • For large teams, group users into permission levels first, then assign matching roles. Adjust individual permissions rather than tweaking roles.

  • Document your permission scheme and share with users so they understand their access.

  • Periodically review and update permissions as needs change. Don't let old settings overextend access.

  • Use the least privilege principle - only grant the minimum permissions needed.

  • For heightened security, restrict Admin accounts and access.

  • Back up the database before big permission scheme changes.

With smart permission planning and management, you can control access for productivity and security on your Craft CMS site. Define roles aligned with common user types, then customize with granular permissions.

Creating and Managing User Accounts

Adding New User Accounts

Adding new user accounts in Craft is straightforward within the control panel. Under Settings -> Users, click the “New user” button. On the user settings page, set a username and initial password. An email address is optional but recommended for password recovery.

Next, assign user groups by toggling them on/off - this will determine default permissions. For example, adding a user to the “Blog Authors” group would allow access to create blog entries. You can leave groups blank for now and set custom permissions later. Finally, enable or disable the account status as needed. Hit save and the new user account is ready for login.

For bulk user additions, you can import a user CSV rather than creating manually. Just ensure columns match the user fields. When creating accounts, take care to assign secure passwords and appropriate default permissions.

Managing User Groups

User groups in Craft CMS serve two purposes - organizing users and presetting permissions. To add a new group, go to Settings -> User Groups. Define a name and description.

Then, assign users to the group on their settings page. Next, set the group’s permissions by toggling categories on and off in the permissions tab. For example, enable “Entries” then select specific sections like “Blog” and “News”. This allows granular access and simplifies permission management for multiple users.

Some key tips for managing groups include:

  • Name groups by user type like “Blog Authors”

  • Start with broadest permissions, then restrict as needed

  • Review permissions regularly as needs evolve

  • Document each group’s permissions clearly

With thoughtful user groups aligned to workflows, you can onboard new users faster.

Updating and Deleting Existing Users

Modifying existing user accounts in Craft is done on the user edit page. To access it, go to Settings -> Users and click on the desired user.

Here you can change details like username, email, preferred language, time zone, password, and user groups. Take care when altering user groups as it impacts permissions. You can also fully disable an account while preserving content assigned to it.

Deleting a user completely erases the account and anonymizes its content. This can break things if not handled properly:

  • Entry authors will be removed, breaking bylines

  • Image creators will be unset, impacting credits

  • Users with assigned tasks will cause errors

To avoid issues, reassign orphaned content first. Disable the user if you may need to restore it.

Backups also help recover deleted users if needed.

Some key tips for user account maintenance:

  • Update details like names, emails, and passwords periodically

  • Remove ex-employee access immediately

  • Transfer content ownership prior to deletion

  • Disable accounts before deleting to allow restoration

With proper user account hygiene, you can cultivate an organized, secure user base.

Setting User Permissions

Global Permission Rules

Craft CMS allows configuring a baseline set of global permissions that apply across all users site-wide. These rules are set at Settings -> Users -> Settings and control high-level access and registration options. For example, site admins can enable public user registration to allow visitors to create their own accounts.

The default user group setting determines what permissions new users get automatically assigned upon registration. Tightening up the default upload folder permissions enhances security by limiting file access. Another option is enabling direct password resets by admins rather than via email tokens. The email settings allow customizing all system notification and password messages.

Used thoughtfully, global permissions establish foundational access controls and security defaults. While broad in scope, group and individual rules can still override global settings in specific contexts. Overall, global permissions are best leveraged to dial in site-wide registration, baseline assets access and key notification workflows. Defining these upfront prevents leaving things too open as your Craft CMS site and team grows.

Group Permissions

One of the primary permission management features in Craft CMS is user groups. Groups allow defining common access rulesets that can be assigned to multiple users. This simplifies permissions by bundling settings rather than configuring each user individually.

To configure permissions for a group, navigate to Settings -> User Groups and select the desired group. Within the permissions tab, granular options allow granting or denying access both globally and at the section, category and even field level. For example, you may create a "Blog Authors" group with permissions to create, edit and delete their own blog post entries, while restricting abilities to alter other entries or site settings.

Some best practices for managing group permissions include: building permission bundles around common user roles; granting only the minimum permissions needed for that role; avoiding overpowered "super admin" groups; and clearly documenting each group's access capabilities. With thoughtful permission schemes, groups allow streamlining access management across teams.

Individual User Permissions

In cases where specialized one-off access is needed, Craft allows overriding group permissions with custom rules on a per-user basis. To configure individual user permissions, go to Settings -> Users and select the specific user account. The permissions tab provides an interface similar to group permissions.

Here you can cherry pick specific capabilities that diverge from the standard group access rules. For example, you may wish to allow deleting blog entries across all authors due to an editorial approval process unique to one person. Custom one-off permissions should be used judiciously, only where truly required for that user's duties. Carefully document the reason for any custom rules, and review periodically to ensure they remain necessary. With great power comes great responsibility - be cautious in granting super admin access to individual team members.

Used sparingly, individual user permission overrides provide surgical precision in special cases. But for most sites, thoughtfully-configured user groups should handle the bulk of permission schemes.

Managing Existing Permissions

Viewing Current Permissions

When managing user permissions in Craft CMS, having clear visibility into the current effective settings across all user accounts and groups is invaluable for troubleshooting issues. Rather than a single unified list, permissions are displayed in several key areas:

The main User Accounts admin page provides an overview of all users, groups, and their high-level access settings at a glance. Drilling into individual user and group permission tabs reveals the specific overrides and inheritance rules in place.

The Template tab for each user highlights which sections and fields they can edit based on combined permissions. Entry authorship fields expose permissions in action by showing allowable authors by section. Activity logs like Craft's Utilities provide an audit trail of permission changes.

Finally, specialized plugins extend insight into how multiple rules interact to form effective permissions. With a complex cascading system, leveraging these various interfaces creates understanding of how global, group, and user-specific rules combine to grant access for content editors, site admins and external users.

Modifying and Updating Permissions

Given the evolving nature of teams, website projects, and business needs, user permissions in Craft CMS require occasional updates to realign with current realities. Routine permission reviews every quarter or after major site changes provide an opportunity to modify and streamline access. For example, removing obsolete group permissions prevents access creep from old settings lingering past their usefulness. Rather than fully deleting unused user accounts, disabling them retains history while removing access.

When removing editing capabilities, be sure to first transfer content ownership to maintain authorship integrity. Communicating permission scheme changes and their impacts on workflows helps smooth transitions. Before making batch permission changes, taking a backup provides restoration ability if something goes wrong. In general, an incremental measured approach makes more sense than wholesale changes attempted all at once. Logging all significant permission alterations enables auditing. With ongoing diligence, user access in Craft can be adapted to ever-changing needs.

Common Permission Pitfalls

When managing a complex permission scheme, several common missteps can occur. Excessively open permissions allowing unvetted changes by too many users create risks. But conversely, overly tight access controls can paralyze workflows and site management.

Vague user groups like "Content Editors" make deciphering actual access difficult. Granting admin privileges too freely, without review, leads to security issues. Failing to remove ex-employee access promptly opens holes. Lack of communication around permission structures causes confusion. Changing multiple settings randomly without testing can have unintended consequences.

With a powerful system like Craft, there are many ways permissions can go awry if not approached thoughtfully and systematically. Increased awareness of these pitfalls allows taking steps to avoid them through careful permission planning.

Shape April 2022 HR 202
Andy Golpys
- Author

Andy has scaled multiple businesses and is a big believer in Craft CMS as a tool that benefits both Designer, Developer and Client. 

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