⚡️ Pro Feature ⚡️ This feature is bundled with GraphQL-Pro.

CanCan Integration

GraphQL::Pro includes an integration for powering GraphQL authorization with CanCan.

Why bother? You could put your authorization code in your GraphQL types themselves, but writing a separate authorization layer gives you a few advantages:

Getting Started

NOTE: Requires the latest gems, so make sure your Gemfile has:

# For CanCanIntegration:
gem "graphql-pro", ">=1.7.11"
# For list scoping:
gem "graphql", ">=1.8.7"

Then, bundle install.

Whenever you run queries, include :current_user in the context:

context = {
  current_user: current_user,
  # ...
MySchema.execute(..., context: context)

Rails Generator

If your schema files follow the same convention as rails generate graphql:install, then you can install the CanCan integration with a Rails generator:

$ rails generate graphql:cancan:install

This will insert all the necessary include ...s described below. Alternatively, check the docs below to mix in CanCanIntegration’s modules.

Authorizing Objects

For each object type, you can assign a required action for Ruby objects of that type. To get started, include the ObjectIntegration in your base object class:

# app/graphql/types/base_object.rb
class Types::BaseObject < GraphQL::Schema::Object
  # Add the CanCan integration:
  include GraphQL::Pro::CanCanIntegration::ObjectIntegration
  # By default, require `can :read, ...`
  # Or, to require no permissions by default:
  # can_can_action(nil)

Now, anyone fetching an object will need can :read, ... for that object.

CanCan configurations are inherited, and can be overridden in subclasses. For example, to allow all viewers to see the Query root type:

class Types::Query < Types::BaseObject
  # Allow anyone to see the query root
  can_can_action nil

Bypassing CanCan

can_can_action(nil) will override any inherited configuration and skip CanCan checks for an object, field, argument or mutation.

Handling Unauthorized Objects

When any CanCan check returns false, the unauthorized object is passed to Schema.unauthorized_object, as described in Handling unauthorized objects.



The CanCan integration adds CanCan’s .accessible_by to GraphQL-Ruby’s list scoping

To scope lists of interface or union type, include the integration in your base union class and base interface module and set a base can_can_action, if desired:

class BaseUnion < GraphQL::Schema::Union
  include GraphQL::Pro::CanCanIntegration::UnionIntegration
  # To provide a default action for scoping lists:
  can_can_action :read

module BaseInterface
  include GraphQL::Schema::Interface
  include GraphQL::Pro::CanCanIntegration::InterfaceIntegration
  # To provide a default action for scoping lists:
  can_can_action :read


For Arrays, the CanCan integration will use .select { ... } to filter items using the can_can_action from the lists’s type.

Bypassing scopes

To allow an unscoped relation to be returned from a field, disable scoping with scope: false, for example:

# Allow anyone to browse the job postings
field :job_postings, [Types::JobPosting], null: false,
  scope: false

Authorizing Fields

You can also require certain checks on a field-by-field basis. First, include the integration in your base field class:

# app/graphql/types/base_field.rb
class Types::BaseField < GraphQL::Schema::Field
  # Add the CanCan integration:
  include GraphQL::Pro::CanCanIntegration::FieldIntegration
  # By default, don't require a role at field-level:
  can_can_action nil

If you haven’t already done so, you should also hook up your base field class to your base object and base interface:

# app/graphql/types/base_object.rb
class Types::BaseObject < GraphQL::Schema::Object
  field_class Types::BaseField
# app/graphql/types/base_interface.rb
module Types::BaseInterface
  # ...
  field_class Types::BaseField
# app/graphql/mutations/base_mutation.rb
class Mutations::BaseMutation < GraphQL::Schema::RelayClassicMutation
  field_class Types::BaseField

Then, you can add can_can_action: options to your fields:

class Types::JobPosting < Types::BaseObject
  # Only allow `can :review_applications, JobPosting` users
  # to see who has applied
  field :applicants, [Types::User],
    can_can_action: :review_applicants

It will require the named action (:review_applicants) for the object being viewed (a JobPosting).

Authorizing by attribute

CanCan 3.0 added attribute-level authorization (pull request). You can leverage this in your field definitions with the can_can_attribute: configuration:

# This will call `.can?(:read, user, :email_address)`
field :email_address, String,
  can_can_action: :read,
  can_can_attribute: :email_address

You could also provide a default value for can_can_attribute in your base field class:

class Types::BaseField
  def initialize(*args, **kwargs, &block)
    # pass all configs to the super class:
    # Then set a new `can_can_attribute` value, if applicable
    if can_can_attribute.nil? && can_can_action.present?
      # `method_sym` is the thing GraphQL-Ruby will use to resolve this field

(See GraphQL::Schema::Field for the different values available for defaults.)

Providing a Custom CanCan Subject

Authorization checks are skipped whenever the underlying object is nil. This can happen in root query fields, for example, when no root_value: ... is given. To provide a can_can_subject in this case, you can add it as a field configuration:

field :users, Types::User.connection_type, null: false,
  can_can_action: :manage,
  # `:all` will be used instead of `object` (which is `nil`)
  can_can_subject: :all

The configuration above will call can?(:manage, :all) whenever that field is requested.

Authorizing Arguments

Similar to field-level checks, you can require certain permissions to use certain arguments. To do this, add the integration to your base argument class:

class Types::BaseArgument < GraphQL::Schema::Argument
  # Include the integration and default to no permissions required
  include GraphQL::Pro::CanCanIntegration::ArgumentIntegration
  can_can_action nil

Then, make sure your base argument is hooked up to your base field and base input object:

class Types::BaseField < GraphQL::Schema::Field
  argument_class Types::BaseArgument
  # PS: see "Authorizing Fields" to make sure your base field is hooked up to objects, interfaces and mutations

class Types::BaseInputObject < GraphQL::Schema::InputObject
  argument_class Types::BaseArgument

class Mutations::BaseMutation < GraphQL::Schema::RelayClassicMutation
  argument_class Types::BaseArgument

Now, arguments accept a can_can_action: option, for example:

class Types::Company < Types::BaseObject
  field :employees, Types::Employee.connection_type do
    # Only admins can filter employees by email:
    argument :email, String, required: false, can_can_action: :admin

This will check for can :admin, Company (or a similar rule for the company being queried) for the current user.

Authorizing Mutations

There are a few ways to authorize GraphQL mutations with the CanCan integration:

Also, you can configure unauthorized object handling


Add MutationIntegration to your base mutation, for example:

class Mutations::BaseMutation < GraphQL::Schema::RelayClassicMutation
  include GraphQL::Pro::CanCanIntegration::MutationIntegration

  # Also, to use argument-level authorization:
  argument_class Types::BaseArgument

Also, you’ll probably want a BaseMutationPayload where you can set a default role:

class Types::BaseMutationPayload < Types::BaseObject
  # If `BaseObject` requires some permissions, override that for mutation results.
  # Assume that anyone who can run a mutation can read their generated result types.
  can_can_action nil

And hook it up to your base mutation:

class Mutations::BaseMutation < GraphQL::Schema::RelayClassicMutation
  object_class Types::BaseMutationPayload
  field_class Types::BaseField

Mutation-level roles

Each mutation can have a class-level can_can_action which will be checked before loading objects or resolving, for example:

class Mutations::PromoteEmployee < Mutations::BaseMutation
  can_can_action :run_mutation

In the example above, can :run_mutation, Mutations::PromoteEmployee will be checked before running the mutation. (The currently-running instance of Mutations::PromoteEmployee is passed to the ability checker.)

Authorizing Loaded Objects

Mutations can automatically load and authorize objects by ID using the loads: option.

Beyond the normal object reading permissions, you can add an additional role for the specific mutation input using a can_can_action: option:

class Mutations::FireEmployee < Mutations::BaseMutation
  argument :employee_id, ID,
    loads: Types::Employee,
    can_can_action: :supervise,

In the case above, the mutation will halt unless the can :supervise, ... check returns true. (The fetched instance of Employee is passed to the ability checker.)

Unauthorized Mutations

By default, an authorization failure in a mutation will raise a Ruby exception. You can customize this by implementing #unauthorized_by_can_can(owner, value) in your base mutation, for example:

class Mutations::BaseMutation < GraphQL::Schema::RelayClassicMutation
  def unauthorized_by_can_can(owner, value)
    # No error, just return nil:

The method is called with:

Since it’s a mutation method, you can also access context in that method.

Whatever that method returns will be treated as an early return value for the mutation, so for example, you could return errors as data:

class Mutations::BaseMutation < GraphQL::Schema::RelayClassicMutation
  field :errors, [String]

  def unauthorized_by_can_can(owner, value)
    # Return errors as data:
    { errors: ["Missing required permission: #{owner.can_can_action}, can't access #{value.inspect}"] }

Authorizing Resolvers

Resolvers are authorized just like mutations, and require similar setup:

# app/graphql/resolvers/base_resolver.rb
class Resolvers::BaseResolver < GraphQL::Schema::Resolver
  include GraphQL::Pro::CanCanIntegration::ResolverIntegration
  argument_class BaseArgument
  # can_can_action(nil) # to disable authorization by default

Beyond that, see Authorizing Mutations above for further details.

Custom Abilities Class

By default, the integration will look for a top-level ::Ability class.

If you’re using a different class, provide an instance ahead-of-time as context[:can_can_ability]

For example, you could always add one in your schema’s #execute method:

class MySchema < GraphQL::Schema
  # Override `execute` to provide a custom Abilities instance for the CanCan integration
  def self.execute(*args, context: {}, **kwargs)
    # Assign `context[:can_can_ability]` to an instance of our custom class
    context[:can_can_ability] = MyAuthorization::CustomAbilitiesClass.new(context[:current_user])