Roles, Services and Orgs

Last modified 09 Feb 2022 16:38 +01:00


MidPoint has three related concepts: roles, services and organizational units ("Orgs"). These concepts are designed to be used and re-used for wide variety of different purposes. Therefore they are very generic. And it is this generality that often causes confusion whether to use roles, services or orgs to achieve a particular goal. Therefore this page explains what roles, services and orgs have in common and how they are different:

  • Roles are used to define provisioning and access control schemes. Roles give privileges to users (or other objects). Roles enable users to do something that they would not be able to do without the role. Roles can be very flexible and dynamic. There can be hierarchical roles, conditional roles, parametric roles, etc. Generally speaking roles can contain mappings and expressions to create a very dynamic structures. Roles can be personalized for each particular user, e.g. by using assignment parameters.

  • Services are used to represent servers, mobile devices, printers, virtual machines, "things" (as in IoT) and other objects whose are not entirely users, orgs or roles. Each service can also behave as a role. You can use service to define provisioning and access control rules, but you can also provision the services itself.

  • Orgs are used to group users or other objects. Orgs can be used to create a functional organization trees. Orgs can be used to create flat project-like structures. Orgs can be used to have both of these structures at the same time. There can be several parallel structures. The structure of Orgs can be as complex as needed as long as it is an acyclic oriented graph. Orgs can also be used to group almost any type of objects. E.g. orgs can group resources to create a concept of an "application" or "domain of control". Orgs can also group all related objects (users, resources, roles, …​) into tenants in multi-tenant systems. Orgs can be used to group roles to create role catalogs or sort the roles to categories. The Orgs are designed to be very efficient for grouping things, creating trees and hierarchies. However, there is price to pay. Maintaining orgs is slightly more resource-intensive than working with roles or services.

So there is a simple rule of the thumb:

  • If you want to give access or privilege to the users use roles.

  • If you want to specify service you are providing for the users use services

  • If you want to group objects use orgs.

Every org and service also behaves as a role (see below). Therefore if in doubt which one to use you should usually prefer an org.


There are many reasons why are midPoint roles and orgs designed in this particular way. Some of these are described below:

  • Roles cannot be used to group users. Roles are very dynamic. Especially if parametric and hierarchical roles are used at the same time. Roles can also be conditional, therefore a role may sometimes include another role - but not always. And this may depend on the way how the role is assigned to a particular user. And it may also depend on current date and time (e.g. because of validity constraints or time-based mappings). However all of that flexibility has a drawback: it is extremely difficult to list all users that have a particular role. The reason is that we need to evaluate the particular setup, assignments, roles and sub-roles for each particular user to determine which roles the user has. This is what Clockwork and Projector components do and it is quite a demanding calculation. And this calculation cannot be easily transformed to a database query. Therefore roles cannot be used to efficiently group people. This will be a disaster if we tried to do this in a deployment that manages couple of millions of users.

  • Orgs group objects. Orgs are designed to group objects efficiently. MidPoint Repository Subsystem maintains a high-performance application indexes (called closure tables) just to be able to search for the members of a particular org very efficiently. Even if the orgs are deep hierarchical structures and there are several parallel structures at the same time. This is designed to scale to a very large numbers of orgs and still be efficient. But this efficiency comes with a cost: the structure needs to be mostly static. There cannot be expressions that determine membership in an org three levels down the structure for each particular user. If there is such an expression then midPoint cannot efficiently maintain the indexes and the efficiency and scalability is lost. In fact there is hardly any place for expressions in the org structures.

  • Services describe servers, mobile devices, printers available to use by the users.

Delegated Administration

Role structure and org structure are often used together in delegated administration configurations. In this case the role gives access to objects in a particular org. But in this case there are two objects that are needed to configure it:

  • A role (e.g. "call center operators") which allows the access.

  • An org that contains objects to which the access is allowed (e.g. "Example, Inc." org).

Orgs and Services Behave Like Roles

There are times when both role-like flexibility and org-like efficiency is needed in a midPoint deployment. MidPoint cannot do the impossible so there is no way how to get all the features of roles and orgs at the same time. But midPoint can surely do miracles and there is a way how to get at least something. There is way how to connect role structure and the organizational structure. Every org can also behave as a role. Simply speaking it can have inducements. This can be used for multitude of purposes, e.g. to "automatically assign" roles for members of particular organizational unit or project. The same approach also applies to services. Services can also have inducements and they behave like roles.

But remember:

  • Org groups people. And_ in addition to_ grouping people it can also specify access control and provisioning schemes. Therefore an org also behaves as a role.

  • Roles and services cannot group people or other objects. They are not designed for that. Therefore a role or a service cannot behave like an org.

  • Role structure, service structure and org structure are separate. If a sub-org belongs to a super-org this does not mean that the sub-org automatically inherits all the roles of the super-org.

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