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How to Use Roles and Manage Permissions in PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL is an open-source DBMS which in turn uses SQL. It’s a very powerful tool that is used to manage applications and host web data on VPS. In this tutorial, you will learn how to manage permissions in PostgreSQL. It will help you to provide your application roles the required permissions. We will perform this tutorial using PostgreSQL on a Ubuntu 18.04 cloud server on CloudSigma.

Installing PostgreSQL

To download and install PostgreSQL, run the following commands:

The installer will create a default user – “Postgres” to operate under. We will use this user for most of this tutorial. You can log in to the user with this command:

Now that PostgreSQL is installed, you will learn how it handles permission. You can also follow our tutorial on setting up PostgreSQL on Ubuntu for a detailed step-by-step guide of the installation process.

PostgreSQL Permission Concepts

Postgres manages the permissions through the concept of “roles.” With roles, there’s no distinction between users and groups. Roles are more flexible than the traditional Unix system of users and groups. For example, a role can act as a member of another role, inheriting its permissions.

Viewing Roles in PostgreSQL

To view the roles in PostgreSQL, you need to first login to the prompt using the following command:

Then, run the following to view the roles:

show roles manage permissions in PostgreSQL

As of now, there’s only one default role with all the privileges.

How to Create Roles in PostgreSQL

You can create roles for Postgres either from the command line or from within the Postgres shell. You can try the following two approaches, following which you will see how to manage permissions and accesses in PostgreSQL.

How to Create Roles From Within PostgreSQL

The easiest way to create roles is from within the prompt of Postgres. You can do so with the following command:

To check if it’s created, run the command:

create role from prompt

It specifies that the new role has no login permissions. You will learn how to change that later in the tutorial.

How to Create Roles from the Command Line

The alternative to the above method is to create the user from the command line. To quit the PostgreSQL prompt, type the following:

You can create a role called “test” with the following command:

Once you have executed the above command, login to the psql, and list the roles using the following commands:

creating user from commandline

You can observe that the user-created this way doesn’t have the same attributes.

How to Delete Roles In PostgreSQL

You can easily delete roles in PostgreSQL using the following syntax:

You can delete the demo role that we created earlier using the command:

drop role

If we try to drop a role that doesn’t exist, it will just throw an error. To see that, you can try to drop the same role again:

drop role fail

If you want the command not to throw an error when the role doesn’t exist, you can add ‘IF EXISTS’ in the command:

You can retry deleting the role with this command:

drop role if exists

How to Define Privileges Upon Role Creation

As of now, you have created and dropped roles. In this section, you will create roles with altered permissions. You can do so by specifying the permissions for the role with the create command:

To see the options for this, you can open help using this command:

help create user

If you want to create a role with login permissions, you can form the command like this:

create role with login manage permissions in PostgreSQL

As we saw earlier, if you want to create roles with login permission, you can also use the following command:

The sole difference between the two commands is that ‘CREATE USER’ gives login permission to the role by default.

How to Change Privileges of Roles in PostgreSQL

Until now, you have tried how to give permissions while creating the user. In this section, you will alter the permissions of the already created users. The syntax for the alter command is:

For example, if you want, you can change the login permissions of the demo_role to ‘log in’ with this command:

alter nologin

To allow the user to log in again, you can alter the permissions with the following command:

How to Log In as a Different User in PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL allows you to log in only locally by default if your username matches the system username. To get around this, you can either change the login type or configure PostgreSQL to use the loopback network interface. This interface would change the connection type to remote, even if the connection is local.

In this section, you will try the second one. To start with, you can set the password of the user, so authentication is possible.

Set the password of the ‘demo_user’ with the following command:

When prompted, enter, and confirm the password. Once done, you can exit the PostgreSQL interface and return it to your normal machine user:

PostgreSQL requires you to login with a username that matches your operating system’s username and also to connect the database with the same username. Since you are not doing that in this case, you will have to explicitly specify the options you want to use. You can use the following syntax:

user: The username you want to connect with
DB: An existing database that you have access to
-h Specifies to PostgreSQL that you will be connecting through a network interface to the local machine. This option allows us authentication even though the username doesn’t match the system username.
-W: Indicates PostgreSQL that you will enter a password

To log in with our “test_user,” we can issue the following command:

postgresql login through network interface manage permissions in PostgreSQL

Once you enter the password, you’ll be logged onto the shell. In our example, we use the database ‘postgres,’ the default database automatically set up during the installation.

In this session, based on the user you selected to log in, you will face an issue that you don’t have the right permissions to perform various actions. The reason for the issue is that you haven’t already given the user sufficient permissions to administer things.

In the next section, you will grant the required permissions to users. First, you will need to change the user back to an administrative one:

Manage Permissions in PostgreSQL: How to Grant Permissions in PostgreSQL

In PostgreSQL, if a database or table is created by a particular role, only that role has permissions to modify it. The exception to this would be the roles that have superuser permissions. In this section, you will grant permissions to other roles. You can grant permissions to other roles using the ‘GRANT’ statement. The syntax is:

You can create a simple table to perform the command:

To see the table created, run the command:

create table manage permissions in PostgreSQL

Now that you have a demo table, you can grant privileges to the ‘demo’ table to ‘demo_role.’ You can give the role ‘UPDATE’ privilege with this command:

You can grant all permissions to a role by specifying the permission as ‘ALL’:

If you want to grant specific permission to all roles on the system, you can use the keyword ‘public’ instead of the role like the following command:

You can view all the permissions granted using the following command:

granted permissions

Manage Permissions in PostgreSQL: How to Remove Permissions in PostgreSQL

You can easily remove permissions of a role using the ‘REVOKE’ command. It’s very similar to the grant command:

Like with GRANT, we can use the keywords – ‘ALL’ and ‘PUBLIC’ to grant all permissions or grant permissions to all roles:

How to Use Group Roles in PostgreSQL

For enabling widespread permissions control, roles are flexible enough to allow for grouping with other roles. For example, you can create a role – ‘temporary_role’ and then add ‘demo_role’ and ‘test_user’ to that role:

Now you can manage these two roles’ permissions just by managing the permissions of the ‘temporary_role’ role. This allows for easier management of permissions. You can see the role of membership information with this command:

role - group manage permissions in PostgreSQL

Any group member can act as the group by using the ‘set role’ command. As the ‘postgres’ user is a superuser, you can use ‘set role’ even if you’re not a member of the group:

Any tables that you will create now are owned by temporary_role:

To check the ownerships of the table, run the following command:

create table with temporary_role

You can see that the ‘temporary_role’ role owns the new table and the sequence associated with the serial data type. To revert to the original role permissions, run the following command:

If you want the role to have all the privileges of the role they belong to, you can specify the ‘inherit’ property with the ‘alter role’ command:

With the above command, ‘test_user’ has got all the privileges of the roles it belongs to. To drop a role, you can use the ‘drop role’ command:

drop role manage permissions in PostgreSQL

The above command throws an error because we have some objects, like table ‘hello,’ which depends upon it. To drop it, you can transfer the ownership of the table to a different role:

You can check that temporary_role doesn’t own any tables now with the following command:

check ownerships

You can drop the ‘temporary_role’ now as it doesn’t have any dependencies now:

Even though the above command will drop the temporary_users role, the former members of the role group aren’t removed.


You have completed the tutorial, and now you know how to manage permissions in PostgreSQL. You can administer the permissions easily. Knowing how to manage permissions ensures that your applications have access to the required databases while not having access to any other database used by a different application.

Happy Computing!