Overview

Here’s a conceptual approach to GraphQL authorization, followed by an introduction to the built-in authorization framework. Each part of the framework is described in detail in its own guide.

Authorization: GraphQL vs REST

In a REST API, the common authorization pattern is fairly simple. Before performing the requested action, the server asserts that the current client has the required permissions for that action. For example:

class PostsController < ApiController
  def create
    # First, check the client's permission level:
    if current_user.can?(:create_posts)
      # If the user is permitted, then perform the action:
      post = Post.create(params)
      render json: post
    else
      # Otherwise, return an error:
      render nothing: true, status: 403
    end
  end
end

However, this request-by-request mindset doesn’t map well to GraphQL because there’s only one controller and the requests that come to it may be very different. To illustrate the problem:

class GraphqlController < ApplicationController
  def execute
    # What permission is required for `query_str`?
    # It depends on the string! So, you can't generalize at this level.
    if current_user.can?(:"???")
      MySchema.execute(query_str, context: ctx, variables: variables)
    end
  end
end

So, what new mindset will work with a GraphQL API?

For mutations, remember that each mutation is like an API request in itself. For example, Posts#create above would map to the createPost(...) mutation in GraphQL. So, each mutation should be authorized in its own right.

For queries, you can think of each individual object like a GET request to a REST API. So, each object should be authorized for reading in its own right.

By applying this mindset, each part of the GraphQL query will be properly authorized before it is executed. Also, since the different units of code are each authorized on their own, you can be sure that each incoming query will be properly authorized, even if it’s a brand new query that the server has never seen before.

What About Authentication?

As a reminder:

In general, authentication is not addressed in GraphQL at all. Instead, your controller should get the current user based on the HTTP request (eg, an HTTP header or a cookie) and provide that information to the GraphQL query. For example:

class GraphqlController < ApplicationController
  def execute
    # Somehow get the the current `User` from this HTTP request.
    current_user = get_logged_in_user(request)
    # Provide the current user in `context` for use during the query
    context = { current_user: current_user }
    MySchema.execute(query_str, context: context, ...)
  end
end

After your HTTP handler has loaded the current user, you can access it via context[:current_user] in your GraphQL code.

Authorization in Your Business Logic

Before introducing GraphQL-specific authorization, consider the advantages of application-level authorization. (See the GraphQL.org post on the same topic.) For example, here’s authorization mixed into the GraphQL API layer:

field :posts, [Types::Post], null: false

def posts
  # Perform an auth check in the GraphQL field code:
  if context[:current_user].admin?
    Post.all
  else
    Post.published
  end
end

The downside of this is that, when Types::Post is queried in other contexts, the same authorization check may not be applied. Additionally, since the authorization code is coupled with the GraphQL API, the only way to test it is via GraphQL queries, which adds some complexity to tests.

Alternatively, you could move the authorization to your business logic, the Post class:

class Post < ActiveRecord::Base
  # Return the list of posts which `user` may see
  def self.posts_for(user)
    if user.admin?
      self.all
    else
      self.published
    end
  end
end

Then, use this application method in your GraphQL code:

field :posts, [Types::Post], null: false

def posts
  # Fetch the posts this user can see:
  Post.posts_for(context[:current_user])
end

In this case, Post.posts_for(user) could be tested independently from GraphQL. Then, you have less to worry about in your GraphQL tests. As a bonus, you can use Post.posts_for(user) in other parts of the app, too, such as the web UI or REST API.

GraphQL-Ruby’s Authorization Framework

Despite the advantages of authorization at the application layer, as described above, there might be some reasons to authorize in the API layer:

To accomplish these, you can use GraphQL-Ruby’s authorization framework. The framework has three levels, each of which is described in its own guide:

Also, GraphQL::Pro has integrations for CanCan and Pundit.