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6 June 2018

Rewriting OpenStack policy files in Open Policy Agent's Rego language

by Juan Antonio Osorio Robles

I recently started experimenting with Open Policy Agent, and decided to test out writing OpenStack policy files in Rego.


Policy in OpenStack has been a long-debated topic. Currently the way that works is that most projects have the API’s policies as part of the code-base. It is also possible to overwrite, or add policy rules via a json or yaml file. Furthermore, one can generate a yaml file with the default policy using the ‘genpolicy’ target which is available in most OpenStack projects’ tox.ini files. The library which is in charge of reading and enforcing policies is oslo.policy, which provides an Enforcer class which we can use to evaluate our policy against an API call to our service.

The advantage of this approach is that it enables each project to maintain their own policies, instead of having a central group that should understand every OpenStack project and has a central repository for the policies.

This approach, however, has several limitations. For instance, it’s non-trivial to update the policy file for a certain service. This is because to do this, we would need to go to each node in the cluster, update the policy.json file for every service and either reload it or restart it. Restarting the service can be quite problematic as that means we’ll have a service disruption, and it’ll interrupt any on-going tasks that the service is doing. Unfortunately, as of now, not all services support live configuration updates (this is a community goal, and hopefully this won’t be a problem in the future). We also need to keep track of where every service is running in the cluster, as we’ll need to update the policy for a specific OpenStack service. With this, we also need to keep track of the version that the service is running with (in case we support rolling upgrades), and have the possibility of rolling back any wrongly made policy changes.

Given the aforementioned limitations, it’s clear that there are enhancements needed to improve the policy situation in OpenStack. And while there have been plenty of initiaties trying to address this, I hope that we don’t come up with yet another project, and try to converge in a more general solution, even if it’s not part of the OpenStack environment.

Open Policy Agent

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I had the fortune to attend Kubecon in Copenhagen, where I had more exposure to several projects in the Cloud Native Foundation. One of these projects is Open Policy Agent, which is general-purpose policy engine.

OPA can run in the form of an interactive shell, a server or middleware in a Go service. It uses its own language, called Rego, to define policies. Eventually, you can query the server for policy decisions with a simple REST API.

Given that OPA already has Kubernetes, Docker, Terraform and Kafka integration, I thought it would be a good idea to try to take it into use in OpenStack, and propose (yet another) solution to the community.

Rewritting Barbican’s Policy File

I decided to take barbican’s default policy file and rewrite it in Rego as an exercise. The intention is to figure out how map between the two policy formats, and hopefully come up with patterns to automate such a task.

It turns out that it wasn’t to hard to do, and I ended up rewritting the whole policy file.

oslo.policy Considerations

There are several things to know in order to start mapping between the two formats:

With these constructs in mind, we can start rewriting our policy files.

Rewritting OpenStack Policy Files

We’ll start off by setting up a common package for our Rego policy file.

package openstack.policy

What this will do is that it’ll set up a predictable path in OPA’s server. So when we want to do policy queries, we’ll do requests to https://<OPA host>/v1/data/openstack/policy/ as a base.

We’ll also add a way to map the inputs coming from the enforce call:

import input.credentials as credentials
import input.rule as rule
import input.target as target

This stages the input coming from the user, on to the main namespace. The input JSON will look as follows:

    "input": {
        "credentials": ...
        "rule": ...
        "target": ...

In order to make policy decisions, we’ll need to agree on an entry to query on that’ll contain the decision result. In our case, we’ll use allow. We’ll set it to false by default, since, if no policy rule matches, that’s the result we want to get.

default allow = false

So, with the current configuration, we can do a query as follows:

curl -X POST "http://<OPA URL>/v1/data/openstack/policy/allow" \
    --data '{"input": {"credentials": {}, "target": {}, "rule": ""}}' \
    -H 'Content-Type: application/json'

We’ll get the following result:


There are several translations we can do when it comes to writing policy.json files into rego language given the definitions and assumptions we made above.

policy.json files refer to keystone roles with the prefix role:, before the name of the role. This is used to define a check that matches if the incoming role (from the credentials) matches the role defined in the policy role.

Looking at the policy.json file from barbican, we can see such a rule definition:

"admin": "role:admin",

We can easily translate this to rego, which would look as follows:

admin {
    credentials.roles[_] = "admin"

This means that out of the several roles in the roles array, which is in the credentials object, the “admin” entry should exist. If this is true, the rule “admin” will be true.

Another example which we can generalize is the usage of “or” statements. Lets look at another example from the policy.json file:

"admin_or_creator": "rule:admin or rule:creator",

This refers to two previously defined rules in the policy (the “admin and “creator” rules), and, if those two rules are true, then the “admin_or_creator” rule is true. In rego, it would look as follows:

admin_or_creator {

admin_or_creator {

As you can see, two definitions came out of this. What this means in rego is that, it’ll evaluate both of them, and if the first one (which calls the admin rule), isn’t true, then it won’t define “admin_or_creator”, so it’ll continue. If the second one (which calls “creator”) isn’t true or defined either, it again won’t define the “admin_or_creator” rule, and any call that other rules do to the “admin_or_creator” rule will not evaluate either. However, if any of those two definitions ends up evaluating to true, “admin_or_creator” will be true. This is how we implement “or” statements in rego.

In the following example of the policy.json file we can see the usage of the “and” operator:

"secret_non_private_read": "rule:all_users and rule:secret_project_match and not rule:secret_private_read",

It can be translated to rego as follows:

secret_non_private_read {
    not secret_private_read

Where “secret_non_private_read” will only evaluate to true if all the rules evaluate to true. This also covers the negation case, which translates directly to rego language by just using the ‘not’ keyword.

Lets look at the usage of the target and credential parameters:

"secret_project_match": "project:%(target.secret.project_id)s",

We can detect the usage of target with the usage of string formatters. So the fact that the reference to target.secret.project_id is surrounded with a string formatter tells us that we should use target. On the other hand, the prepended project: reference tells us that we should get that from the credentials (given that it’s not a constant nor a reserved word such as ‘rule’). So we’ll translate the rule as follows:

secret_project_match {
    credentials.project = target.target.secret.project_id

The ‘project’ entry in the credentials is accessed directly, but you’ll notice that the target access looks like this: target.target.secret.project_id. This is actually on purpose, and it’s because the access was %(target.secret.project_id)s. So, in the code, barbican actually calls enforce call with the access parameter with the following value:

    "target": {
        "secret": {
            "project_id": "<some project id>"

If the access had been just %(project_id)s, we would have translated that as target.project_id.

We also need to detect whether we’re comparing against constants:

"secret_acl_read": "'read':%(target.secret.read)s",

This is fairly straight forward, as constants are surrounded by quotes. So it would translate as follows:

secret_acl_read {
    "read" = target.target.secret.read

Finally, we have the references to actions (which is what we ultimately want to execute policy on). Here are some examples of actions in the barbican policy file:

"secret:get": "rule:secret_non_private_read or rule:secret_project_creator or rule:secret_project_admin or rule:secret_acl_read",
"secret:put": "rule:admin_or_creator and rule:secret_project_match",
"secret:delete": "rule:secret_project_admin or rule:secret_project_creator",
"secrets:post": "rule:admin_or_creator",
"secrets:get": "rule:all_but_audit",

Action names have the format <entity>:<action>. And, since that’s where we want to make our policy decisions, that’s where we’ll set the allow value. Lets take the simple example of the “secrets:get” action. This is how we translate it:

allow {
    rule = "secrets:get"

There we match the action name and we make sure that the rule evaluates.

Following the aforementioned rules, we can then start translating every rule in the policy file.

Testing it out

Currently I’m testing it out by doing calls directly to OPA.

Assuming the barbican rego file is called barbican.rego, here’s how I run OPA to begin with:

./opa_linux_amd64 run -s --addr "http://localhost:8181" ~/barbican.rego

This makes OPA run as a server which listens on localhost on port 8181, and uses the barbican.rego for policy which is in my home directory.

Lets execute a query now. We’ll test if we can list secrets from barbican. We can do this with the “secrets:get” action. We know that the rule says every user with a relevant role except the audit role can list secrets. Which means, a user with the roles admin, creator or observer can do this, but not users with just the audit role.

So, for a successful listing of secrets, lets define the following input:

    "input": {
        "rule": "secrets:get",
        "credentials": {
            "roles": ["creator"]
        "target": {}

This is a user that had the creator role, and is querying the secrets:get action.

To get a policy result, we call it as follows:

$ curl -X POST "http://localhost:8181/v1/data/openstack/policy/allow" --data @barbican-creator-list.json  -H 'Content-Type: application/json'

As you can see, it passed the check!

If you want to see all the checks that evaluated with that call, you can remove the allow section from the path:

$ curl -X POST "http://localhost:8181/v1/data/openstack/policy" --data @barbican-creator-list.json  -H 'Content-Type: application/json'

Now lets try with the audit role. The input would look as follows:

    "input": {
        "rule": "secrets:get",
        "credentials": {
            "roles": ["audit"]
        "target": {}

And lets do our queries:

$ curl -X POST "http://localhost:8181/v1/data/openstack/policy" --data @barbican-audit-list.json  -H 'Content-Type: application/json'

$ curl -X POST "http://localhost:8181/v1/data/openstack/policy/allow" --data @barbican-audit-list.json  -H 'Content-Type: application/json'

As we can see, the policy check failed, so this would translate to the audit role not having the ability to list secrets in barbican.

Next Steps

Test the policy with the actual service

I need to hack up barbican in order to make calls to OPA instead of doing the regular oslo.policy calls. If we decide to go through with getting OPA integrated with OpenStack, this code would be the base for an alternative Enforcer class. This new class would communicate with OPA either via HTTP or via a UNIX domain socket. OPA could be running as a side-car container with the service itself, expose a UNIX domain socket, and execute policy that way.


The steps to translate the policies should be automated in the form of a parser. This will allow us to test this approach with other OpenStack services, and not have folks have to do this translation manually.


We need to check how this performs when compared to the oslo.policy library. It wouldn’t make sense to take this approach into use if we have performance degradation.

… The Future?

If all goes well with the previous steps I mentioned, the ideal thing would be to look into building a control plane for OPA that can configure and distribute policies for all our OpenStack services. It would also be able to keep track of the policy version the services are using, and be able to deploy and roll-back policy changes.

There is a lot of work to do it seems!

tags: openstack - open-policy-agent - opa

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