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Access control

Role Based Access Control

Role Based Access Control (RBAC) allows different entites to be responsible for different configuration actions. Systems that are managed by a single entity are inherently less secure than those with narrowly-scoped privileges for different entities and specific contexts.

With contracts, this can be used to limit which accounts can execute which functions. For example, imagine a contract that operates as a crosschain bridge. It could have a role called PAUSER. This role could be required to call a function that enables pausing of the contract. Any transaction submitted by an account that did not have the PAUSER role would be reverted.

Simplistic contracts might have a single role, OWNER, that can only be assigned to one account. For these contracts, the owner account is the only account that can submit transactions that call configuration functions without reverting.

The greater degree of flexibility afforded by Role Based Access Control compared to simplistic OWNER style access control has security implications. For example, a contract might be able to mint new tokens, and thus have a MINTER role to control this action. Minting new tokens could change the tokenomics of the contract, and hence must only be executed if there is agreement between administrators. Access to this configuration action might be limited to a multi-signature wallet account. The same contract might have a PAUSER role that can be used to stop data processing within the contract. The action to pause the contract needs to occur as quickly as possible, to halt an in-progress attack. However, access to the role needs to be limited to trusted accounts, to prevent attackers causing a Denial of Service attack on the contract, by continually pausing the contract. Using a multi-signature wallet to control this action is not ideal, as multiple parties would need to work together to pause the contract, thus allowing attacks to continue longer than they otherwise would. In this situation, multiple trusted accounts could be granted PAUSER role. Any one of the accounts could then pause the contract.

For a small project, when a contract is deployed, it might be tempting to use simplistic OWNER style access control. However, it is better to deploy a contract configured for fine grain Role Based Access Control, where all roles are initially assigned to the one account. In this way, as the project using the contract matures, new accounts can be granted roles and the original account's access can be revoked. It should be noted that the benefits of RBAC are only realised once access for different roles is allocated to additional accounts.

For Ethereum based projects, the OpenZeppelin project has an example contract AccessControl.sol that can be used to implement Role Based Access Control. Using this template, checking an address has been granted a role becomes as simple as calling the function hasRole. The code below shows how this would work in practice.

contract Example is Pausable, AccessControl {
    constructor() {
        _setupRole(DEFAULT_ADMIN_ROLE, msg.sender);
        _setupRole(PAUSER_ROLE, msg.sender);

    function pause() external {
        require(hasRole(PAUSER_ROLE, msg.sender), "Must have PAUSER role");

Last update: July 19, 2023
Created: July 19, 2023