Roles & Rights and complexity

An important aspect in every project is the roles and rights setup. Typically this runs side-by-side with all other discussions regarding content architecture and content reuse.

While in many projects the roles and rights setup can be implemented quite straight forward, there are cases where it gets complicated. In my experience this most often happens with companies which have a very strong separation of concerns, where a lot of departments with varying levels of access are supposed to have access to AEM. Where users should be able to modify pages, but not subpages; where they are supposed to change text, but not the images on the pages. Translators should be able to change the text, but not the structure. And many things more.

I am quite sure that you can implement everything with the ACL structure of AEM (well, nearly everything), but in complex cases it often comes with a price.

Performance

ACL evaluation can be costly in terms of performance, if a lot of ACLs needs to be checked; and especially if you have globally active wildcard ACLs. As every repository acecss runs through it, it can affect performance.

There is not hard limit in number of allowed ACLs, but whenever you build a complex ACL setup, you should check and validate its impact to the performance.

  • Wildcard ACLs can be time consuming, thus make them as specific as possible.
  • The ACL inheritance is likely to affect deep trees with lots of ACL nodes on higher-level nodes.

Maintainability

But the bigger issue is always the maintenance of these permissions. If the setup is not well documented, debugging a case of misguided permissions can be a daunting task, even if the root cause is as simple as someone being the member of the wrong group. Just imagine how hard it is for someone not familiar with the details of AEM permissions if the she needs to debug the situation. Especially if the original creator of this setup is no longer available to answer questions.

Some experiences I made of the last years:

  • Hiding the complexity of the site and system is good, but limiting the (read) view of a user only to the 10 pages she is supposed to manage is not required, it makes the setup overly complex without providing real value.
  • Limiting write access: I agree that not everyone should be able to modify every page. But limiting write access only to small parts of a page is often too much, because then the number of ACLs are going to explode.
  • Trust your users! But implement an approval process, which every activation needs to go through. And use the versions to restore an older version if something went wrong. Instead of locking down each and every individual piece (and then you still need the approval process …)
  • Educate and train your users! That’s one of the best investments you can make if you give your users all the training and background to make the best of the platform you provide to them. Then you can also avoid to lock down the environment for untrained users which are supposed to use the system.

Thus my advice to everyone who wants (or needs) to implement a complex permission setup: Is this complexity really required? Because this complexity is rarely hidden, but in the end something the project team will always hand-over it to the business.

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