» ACL System

Consul provides an optional Access Control List (ACL) system which can be used to control access to data and APIs. The ACL is Capability-based, relying on tokens to which fine grained rules can be applied. It is very similar to AWS IAM in many ways.

» ACL System Overview

The ACL system is designed to be easy to use, fast to enforce, and flexible to new policies, all while providing administrative insight.

» ACL Tokens

The ACL system is based on tokens, which are managed by Consul operators via Consul's ACL API, or systems like HashiCorp's Vault.

Every token has an ID, name, type, and rule set. The ID is a randomly generated UUID, making it infeasible to guess. The name is opaque to Consul and human readable. The type is either "client" (meaning the token cannot modify ACL rules) or "management" (meaning the token is allowed to perform all actions).

The token ID is passed along with each RPC request to the servers. Consul's HTTP endpoints can accept tokens via the token query string parameter, or the X-Consul-Token request header, or Authorization Bearer token RFC6750. Consul's CLI commands can accept tokens via the token argument, or the CONSUL_HTTP_TOKEN environment variable.

If no token is provided, the rules associated with a special, configurable anonymous token are automatically applied. The anonymous token is managed using the ACL API like any other ACL token, but using anonymous for the ID.

» ACL Rules and Scope

Tokens are bound to a set of rules that control which Consul resources the token has access to. Policies can be defined in either a whitelist or blacklist mode depending on the configuration of acl_default_policy. If the default policy is to "deny" all actions, then token rules can be set to whitelist specific actions. In the inverse, the "allow" all default behavior is a blacklist where rules are used to prohibit actions. By default, Consul will allow all actions.

The following table summarizes the ACL policies that are available for constructing rules:

Policy Scope
agent Utility operations in the Agent API, other than service and check registration
event Listing and firing events in the Event API
key Key/value store operations in the KV Store API
keyring Keyring operations in the Keyring API
node Node-level catalog operations in the Catalog API, Health API, Prepared Query API, Network Coordinate API, and Agent API
operator Cluster-level operations in the Operator API, other than the Keyring API
query Prepared query operations in the Prepared Query API
service Service-level catalog operations in the Catalog API, Health API, Prepared Query API, and Agent API
session Session operations in the Session API

Since Consul snapshots actually contain ACL tokens, the Snapshot API requires a management token for snapshot operations and does not use a special policy.

The following resources are not covered by ACL policies:

  1. The Status API is used by servers when bootstrapping and exposes basic IP and port information about the servers, and does not allow modification of any state.

  2. The datacenter listing operation of the Catalog API similarly exposes the names of known Consul datacenters, and does not allow modification of any state.

Constructing rules from these policies is covered in detail in the Rule Specification section below.

» ACL Datacenter

All nodes (clients and servers) must be configured with an acl_datacenter which enables ACL enforcement but also specifies the authoritative datacenter. Consul relies on RPC forwarding to support multi-datacenter configurations. However, because requests can be made across datacenter boundaries, ACL tokens must be valid globally. To avoid consistency issues, a single datacenter is considered authoritative and stores the canonical set of tokens.

When a request is made to an agent in a non-authoritative datacenter, it must be resolved into the appropriate policy. This is done by reading the token from the authoritative server and caching the result for a configurable acl_ttl. The implication of caching is that the cache TTL is an upper bound on the staleness of policy that is enforced. It is possible to set a zero TTL, but this has adverse performance impacts, as every request requires refreshing the policy via an RPC call.

During an outage of the ACL datacenter, or loss of connectivity, the cache will be used as long as the TTL is valid, or the cache may be extended if the acl_down_policy is set accordingly. This configuration also allows the ACL system to fail open or closed. ACL replication is also available to allow for the full set of ACL tokens to be replicated for use during an outage.

» Configuring ACLs

ACLs are configured using several different configuration options. These are marked as to whether they are set on servers, clients, or both.

Configuration Option Servers Clients Purpose
acl_datacenter REQUIRED REQUIRED Master control that enables ACLs by defining the authoritative Consul datacenter for ACLs
acl_default_policy OPTIONAL N/A Determines whitelist or blacklist mode
acl_down_policy OPTIONAL OPTIONAL Determines what to do when the ACL datacenter is offline
acl_ttl OPTIONAL OPTIONAL Determines time-to-live for cached ACLs

There are some additional configuration items related to ACL replication and Version 8 ACL support. These are discussed in those respective sections below.

A number of special tokens can also be configured which allow for bootstrapping the ACL system, or accessing Consul in special situations:

Special Token Servers Clients Purpose
acl_agent_master_token OPTIONAL OPTIONAL Special token that can be used to access Agent API when the ACL datacenter isn't available, or servers are offline (for clients); used for setting up the cluster such as doing initial join operations, see the ACL Agent Master Token section for more details
acl_agent_token OPTIONAL OPTIONAL Special token that is used for an agent's internal operations, see the ACL Agent Token section for more details
acl_master_token REQUIRED N/A Special token used to bootstrap the ACL system, see the Bootstrapping ACLs section for more details
acl_token OPTIONAL OPTIONAL Default token to use for client requests where no token is supplied; this is often configured with read-only access to services to enable DNS service discovery on agents

In Consul 0.9.1 and later, the agent ACL tokens can be introduced or updated via the /v1/agent/token API.

» ACL Agent Master Token

Since the acl_agent_master_token is designed to be used when the Consul servers are not available, its policy is managed locally on the agent and does not need to have a token defined on the Consul servers via the ACL API. Once set, it implicitly has the following policy associated with it (the node policy was added in Consul 0.9.0):

agent "<node name of agent>" {
  policy = "write"
}
node "" {
  policy = "read"
}

In Consul 0.9.1 and later, the agent ACL tokens can be introduced or updated via the /v1/agent/token API.

» ACL Agent Token

The acl_agent_token is a special token that is used for an agent's internal operations. It isn't used directly for any user-initiated operations like the acl_token, though if the acl_agent_token isn't configured the acl_token will be used. The ACL agent token is used for the following operations by the agent:

  1. Updating the agent's node entry using the Catalog API, including updating its node metadata, tagged addresses, and network coordinates
  2. Performing anti-entropy syncing, in particular reading the node metadata and services registered with the catalog
  3. Reading and writing the special _rexec section of the KV store when executing consul exec commands

Here's an example policy sufficient to accomplish the above for a node called mynode:

node "mynode" {
  policy = "write"
}
service "" {
  policy = "read"
}
key "_rexec" {
  policy = "write"
}

The service policy needs read access for any services that can be registered on the agent. If remote exec is disabled, the default, then the key policy can be omitted.

In Consul 0.9.1 and later, the agent ACL tokens can be introduced or updated via the /v1/agent/token API.

» Bootstrapping ACLs

Bootstrapping ACLs on a new cluster requires a few steps, outlined in the examples in this section.

» Enable ACLs on the Consul Servers

The first step for bootstrapping ACLs is to enable ACLs on the Consul servers in the ACL datacenter. In this example, we are configuring the following:

  1. An ACL datacenter of "dc1", which is where these servers are
  2. An ACL master token of "b1gs33cr3t"; see below for an alternative using the /v1/acl/bootstrap API
  3. A default policy of "deny" which means we are in whitelist mode
  4. A down policy of "extend-cache" which means that we will ignore token TTLs during an outage

Here's the corresponding JSON configuration file:

{
  "acl_datacenter": "dc1",
  "acl_master_token": "b1gs33cr3t",
  "acl_default_policy": "deny",
  "acl_down_policy": "extend-cache"
}

The servers will need to be restarted to load the new configuration. Please take care to start the servers one at a time, and ensure each server has joined and is operating correctly before starting another.

The acl_master_token will be created as a "management" type token automatically. The acl_master_token is only installed when a server acquires cluster leadership. If you would like to install or change the acl_master_token, set the new value for acl_master_token in the configuration for all servers. Once this is done, restart the current leader to force a leader election.

In Consul 0.9.1 and later, you can use the /v1/acl/bootstrap API to make the initial master token, so a token never needs to be placed into a configuration file. To use this approach, omit acl_master_token from the above config and then call the API:

$ curl \
    --request PUT \
    http://127.0.0.1:8500/v1/acl/bootstrap

{"ID":"fe3b8d40-0ee0-8783-6cc2-ab1aa9bb16c1"}

The returned token is the initial management token, which is randomly generated by Consul. It's only possible to bootstrap one time, and bootstrapping will be disabled if a master token was configured and created.

Once the ACL system is bootstrapped, ACL tokens can be managed through the ACL API.

» Create an Agent Token

After the servers are restarted above, you will see new errors in the logs of the Consul servers related to permission denied errors:

2017/07/08 23:38:24 [WARN] agent: Node info update blocked by ACLs
2017/07/08 23:38:44 [WARN] agent: Coordinate update blocked by ACLs

These errors are because the agent doesn't yet have a properly configured acl_agent_token that it can use for its own internal operations like updating its node information in the catalog and performing anti-entropy syncing. We can create a token using the ACL API, and the ACL master token we set in the previous step:

$ curl \
    --request PUT \
    --header "X-Consul-Token: b1gs33cr3t" \
    --data \
'{
  "Name": "Agent Token",
  "Type": "client",
  "Rules": "node \"\" { policy = \"write\" } service \"\" { policy = \"read\" }"
}' http://127.0.0.1:8500/v1/acl/create

{"ID":"fe3b8d40-0ee0-8783-6cc2-ab1aa9bb16c1"}

The returned value is the newly-created token. We can now add this to our Consul server configuration and restart the servers once more to apply it:

{
  "acl_datacenter": "dc1",
  "acl_master_token": "b1gs33cr3t",
  "acl_default_policy": "deny",
  "acl_down_policy": "extend-cache",
  "acl_agent_token": "fe3b8d40-0ee0-8783-6cc2-ab1aa9bb16c1"
}

In Consul 0.9.1 and later you can also introduce the agent token using an API, so it doesn't need to be set in the configuration file:

$ curl \
    --request PUT \
    --header "X-Consul-Token: b1gs33cr3t" \
    --data \
'{
  "Token": "fe3b8d40-0ee0-8783-6cc2-ab1aa9bb16c1"
}' http://127.0.0.1:8500/v1/agent/token/acl_agent_token

With that ACL agent token set, the servers will be able to sync themselves with the catalog:

2017/07/08 23:42:59 [INFO] agent: Synced node info

See the ACL Agent Token section for more details.

» Enable ACLs on the Consul Clients

Since ACL enforcement also occurs on the Consul clients, we need to also restart them with a configuration file that enables ACLs:

{
  "acl_datacenter": "dc1",
  "acl_down_policy": "extend-cache",
  "acl_agent_token": "fe3b8d40-0ee0-8783-6cc2-ab1aa9bb16c1"
}

Similar to the previous example, in Consul 0.9.1 and later you can also introduce the agent token using an API, so it doesn't need to be set in the configuration file:

$ curl \
    --request PUT \
    --header "X-Consul-Token: b1gs33cr3t" \
    --data \
'{
  "Token": "fe3b8d40-0ee0-8783-6cc2-ab1aa9bb16c1"
}' http://127.0.0.1:8500/v1/agent/token/acl_agent_token

We used the same ACL agent token that we created for the servers, which will work since it was not specific to any node or set of service prefixes. In a more locked-down environment it is recommended that each client get an ACL agent token with node write privileges for just its own node name prefix, and service read privileges for just the service prefixes expected to be registered on that client.

Anti-entropy syncing requires the ACL agent token to have service read privileges for all services that may be registered with the agent, so generally an empty service prefix can be used, as shown in the example.

Clients will report similar permission denied errors until they are restarted with an ACL agent token.

» Set an Anonymous Policy (Optional)

At this point ACLs are bootstrapped with ACL agent tokens configured, but there are no other policies set up. Even basic operations like consul members will be restricted by the ACL default policy of "deny":

$ consul members

We don't get an error since the ACL has filtered what we see, and we aren't allowed to see any nodes by default.

If we supply the token we created above we will be able to see a listing of nodes because it has write privileges to an empty node prefix, meaning it has access to all nodes:

$ CONSUL_HTTP_TOKEN=fe3b8d40-0ee0-8783-6cc2-ab1aa9bb16c1 consul members
Node    Address         Status  Type    Build     Protocol  DC
node-1  127.0.0.1:8301  alive   server  0.9.0dev  2         dc1
node-2  127.0.0.2:8301  alive   client  0.9.0dev  2         dc1

It's pretty common in many environments to allow listing of all nodes, even without a token. The policies associated with the special anonymous token can be updated to configure Consul's behavior when no token is supplied. The anonymous token is managed like any other ACL token, except that anonymous is used for the ID. In this example we will give the anonymous token read privileges for all nodes:

$ curl \
    --request PUT \
    --header "X-Consul-Token: b1gs33cr3t" \
    --data \
'{
  "ID": "anonymous",
  "Type": "client",
  "Rules": "node \"\" { policy = \"read\" }"
}' http://127.0.0.1:8500/v1/acl/update

{"ID":"anonymous"}

The anonymous token is implicitly used if no token is supplied, so now we can run consul members without supplying a token and we will be able to see the nodes:

$ consul members
Node    Address         Status  Type    Build     Protocol  DC
node-1  127.0.0.1:8301  alive   server  0.9.0dev  2         dc1
node-2  127.0.0.2:8301  alive   client  0.9.0dev  2         dc1

The anonymous token is also used for DNS lookups since there's no way to pass a token as part of a DNS request. Here's an example lookup for the "consul" service:

$ dig @127.0.0.1 -p 8600 consul.service.consul

; <<>> DiG 9.8.3-P1 <<>> @127.0.0.1 -p 8600 consul.service.consul
; (1 server found)
;; global options: +cmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NXDOMAIN, id: 9648
;; flags: qr aa rd; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 0, AUTHORITY: 1, ADDITIONAL: 0
;; WARNING: recursion requested but not available

;; QUESTION SECTION:
;consul.service.consul.         IN      A

;; AUTHORITY SECTION:
consul.                 0       IN      SOA     ns.consul. postmaster.consul. 1499584110 3600 600 86400 0

;; Query time: 2 msec
;; SERVER: 127.0.0.1#8600(127.0.0.1)
;; WHEN: Sun Jul  9 00:08:30 2017
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 89

Now we get an NXDOMAIN error because the anonymous token doesn't have access to the "consul" service. Let's add that to the anonymous token's policy:

$ curl \
    --request PUT \
    --header "X-Consul-Token: b1gs33cr3t" \
    --data \
'{
  "ID": "anonymous",
  "Type": "client",
  "Rules": "node \"\" { policy = \"read\" } service \"consul\" { policy = \"read\" }"
}' http://127.0.0.1:8500/v1/acl/update

{"ID":"anonymous"}

With that new policy in place, the DNS lookup will succeed:

$ dig @127.0.0.1 -p 8600 consul.service.consul

; <<>> DiG 9.8.3-P1 <<>> @127.0.0.1 -p 8600 consul.service.consul
; (1 server found)
;; global options: +cmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 46006
;; flags: qr aa rd; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 1, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 0
;; WARNING: recursion requested but not available

;; QUESTION SECTION:
;consul.service.consul.         IN      A

;; ANSWER SECTION:
consul.service.consul.  0       IN      A       127.0.0.1

;; Query time: 0 msec
;; SERVER: 127.0.0.1#8600(127.0.0.1)
;; WHEN: Sun Jul  9 00:11:14 2017
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 55

The next section shows an alternative to the anonymous token.

» Set Agent-Specific Default Tokens (Optional)

An alternative to the anonymous token is the acl_token configuration item. When a request is made to a particular Consul agent and no token is supplied, the acl_token will be used for the token, instead of being left empty which would normally invoke the anonymous token.

In Consul 0.9.1 and later, the agent ACL tokens can be introduced or updated via the /v1/agent/token API.

This behaves very similarly to the anonymous token, but can be configured differently on each agent, if desired. For example, this allows more fine grained control of what DNS requests a given agent can service, or can give the agent read access to some key-value store prefixes by default.

If using acl_token, then it's likely the anonymous token will have a more restrictive policy than shown in the examples here.

» Create Tokens for UI Use (Optional)

If you utilize the Consul UI with a restrictive ACL policy, as above, the UI will not function fully using the anonymous ACL token. It is recommended that a UI-specific ACL token is used, which can be set in the UI during the web browser session to authenticate the interface.

$ curl \
    --request PUT \
    --header "X-Consul-Token: b1gs33cr3t" \
    --data \
'{
  "Name": "UI Token",
  "Type": "client",
  "Rules": "key \"\" { policy = \"write\" } node \"\" { policy = \"read\" } service \"\" { policy = \"read\" }"
}' http://127.0.0.1:8500/v1/acl/create
{"ID":"d0a9f330-2f9d-0a8c-d2af-1e9ceda354e6"}

The token can then be set on the "settings" page of the UI.

» Next Steps

The examples above configure a basic ACL environment with the ability to see all nodes by default, and limited access to just the "consul" service. The ACL API can be used to create tokens for applications specific to their intended use, and to create more specific ACL agent tokens for each agent's expected role.

Also see HashiCorp's Vault, which has an integration with Consul that allows it to generate ACL tokens on the fly and to manage their lifetimes.

» Rule Specification

A core part of the ACL system is the rule language which is used to describe the policy that must be enforced. Most of the ACL rules are prefix-based, allowing operators to define different namespaces within Consul's resource areas like the catalog and key/value store, in order to delegate responsibility for these namespaces. Policies can have several dispositions:

  • read: allow the resource to be read but not modified
  • write: allow the resource to be read and modified
  • deny: do not allow the resource to be read or modified

With prefix-based rules, the most specific prefix match determines the action. This allows for flexible rules like an empty prefix to allow read-only access to all resources, along with some specific prefixes that allow write access or that are denied all access.

We make use of the HashiCorp Configuration Language (HCL) to specify rules. This language is human readable and interoperable with JSON making it easy to machine-generate. Rules can make use of one or more policies.

Specification in the HCL format looks like:

# These control access to the key/value store.
key "" {
  policy = "read"
}
key "foo/" {
  policy = "write"
}
key "foo/private/" {
  policy = "deny"
}

# This controls access to cluster-wide Consul operator information.
operator = "read"

This is equivalent to the following JSON input:

{
  "key": {
    "": {
      "policy": "read"
    },
    "foo/": {
      "policy": "write"
    },
    "foo/private/": {
      "policy": "deny"
    }
  },
  "operator": "read"
}

The ACL API allows either HCL or JSON to be used to define the content of the rules section.

Here's a sample request using the HCL form:

$ curl \
    --request PUT \
    --data \
'{
  "Name": "my-app-token",
  "Type": "client",
  "Rules": "key \"\" { policy = \"read\" } key \"foo/\" { policy = \"write\" } key \"foo/private/\" { policy = \"deny\" } operator = \"read\""
}' http://127.0.0.1:8500/v1/acl/create?token=<management token>

Here's an equivalent request using the JSON form:

$ curl \
    --request PUT \
    --data \
'{
  "Name": "my-app-token",
  "Type": "client",
  "Rules": "{\"key\":{\"\":{\"policy\":\"read\"},\"foo/\":{\"policy\":\"write\"},\"foo/private\":{\"policy\":\"deny\"}},\"operator\":\"read\"}"
}' http://127.0.0.1:8500/v1/acl/create?token=<management token>

On success, the token ID is returned:

{
  "ID": "adf4238a-882b-9ddc-4a9d-5b6758e4159e"
}

This token ID can then be passed into Consul's HTTP APIs via the token query string parameter, or the X-Consul-Token request header, or Authorization Bearer token header, or Consul's CLI commands via the token argument, or the CONSUL_HTTP_TOKEN environment variable.

» Agent Rules

The agent policy controls access to the utility operations in the Agent API, such as join and leave. All of the catalog-related operations are covered by the node and service policies instead.

Agent rules look like this:

agent "" {
  policy = "read"
}
agent "foo" {
  policy = "write"
}
agent "bar" {
  policy = "deny"
}

Agent rules are keyed by the node name prefix they apply to, using the longest prefix match rule. In the example above, the rules allow read-only access to any node name with the empty prefix, allow read-write access to any node name that starts with "foo", and deny all access to any node name that starts with "bar".

Since Agent API utility operations may be required before an agent is joined to a cluster, or during an outage of the Consul servers or ACL datacenter, a special token may be configured with acl_agent_master_token to allow write access to these operations even if no ACL resolution capability is available.

» Event Rules

The event policy controls access to event operations in the Event API, such as firing events and listing events.

Event rules look like this:

event "" {
  policy = "read"
}
event "deploy" {
  policy = "write"
}

Event rules are keyed by the event name prefix they apply to, using the longest prefix match rule. In the example above, the rules allow read-only access to any event, and firing of any event that starts with "deploy".

The consul exec command uses events with the "_rexec" prefix during operation, so to enable this feature in a Consul environment with ACLs enabled, you will need to give agents a token with access to this event prefix, in addition to configuring disable_remote_exec to false.

» Key/Value Rules

The key policy controls access to key/value store operations in the KV API. Key rules look like this:

key "" {
  policy = "read"
}
key "foo" {
  policy = "write"
}
key "bar" {
  policy = "deny"
}

Key rules are keyed by the key name prefix they apply to, using the longest prefix match rule. In the example above, the rules allow read-only access to any key name with the empty prefix, allow read-write access to any key name that starts with "foo", and deny all access to any key name that starts with "bar".

» List Policy for Keys

Consul 1.0 introduces a new list policy for keys that is only enforced when opted in via the boolean config param "acl_enable_key_list_policy". list controls access to recursively list entries and keys, and enables more fine grained policies. With "acl_enable_key_list_policy", recursive reads via the KV API with an invalid token result in a 403. Example:

key "" {
 policy = "deny"
}

key "bar" {
 policy = "list"
}

key "baz" {
 policy = "read"
}

In the example above, the rules allow reading the key "baz", and only allow recursive reads on the prefix "bar".

A token with write access on a prefix also has list access. A token with list access on a prefix also has read access on all its suffixes.

» Sentinel Integration

Consul Enterprise supports additional optional fields for key write policies for Sentinel integration. An example key rule with a Sentinel code policy looks like this:

key "foo" {
  policy = "write"
  sentinel {
      code = " import \"strings\"
               main = rule { strings.has_suffix(value, \"bar\") } "
      enforcementlevel = "hard-mandatory"
  }
}

For more detailed documentation, see the Consul Sentinel Guide.

» Keyring Rules

The keyring policy controls access to keyring operations in the Keyring API.

Keyring rules look like this:

keyring = "write"

There's only one keyring policy allowed per rule set, and its value is set to one of the policy dispositions. In the example above, the keyring may be read and updated.

» Node Rules

The node policy controls node-level registration and read access to the Catalog API, service discovery with the Health API, and filters results in Agent API operations like fetching the list of cluster members.

Node rules look like this:

node "" {
  policy = "read"
}
node "app" {
  policy = "write"
}
node "admin" {
  policy = "deny"
}

Node rules are keyed by the node name prefix they apply to, using the longest prefix match rule. In the example above, the rules allow read-only access to any node name with the empty prefix, allow read-write access to any node name that starts with "app", and deny all access to any node name that starts with "admin".

Agents need to be configured with an acl_agent_token with at least "write" privileges to their own node name in order to register their information with the catalog, such as node metadata and tagged addresses. If this is configured incorrectly, the agent will print an error to the console when it tries to sync its state with the catalog.

Consul's DNS interface is also affected by restrictions on node rules. If the acl_token used by the agent does not have "read" access to a given node, then the DNS interface will return no records when queried for it.

When reading from the catalog or retrieving information from the health endpoints, node rules are used to filter the results of the query. This allows for configurations where a token has access to a given service name, but only on an allowed subset of node names.

Node rules come into play when using the Agent API to register node-level checks. The agent will check tokens locally as a check is registered, and Consul also performs periodic anti-entropy syncs, which may require an ACL token to complete. To accommodate this, Consul provides two methods of configuring ACL tokens to use for registration events:

  1. Using the acl_token configuration directive. This allows a single token to be configured globally and used during all check registration operations.
  2. Providing an ACL token with service and check definitions at registration time. This allows for greater flexibility and enables the use of multiple tokens on the same agent. Examples of what this looks like are available for both services and checks. Tokens may also be passed to the HTTP API for operations that require them.

In addition to ACLs, in Consul 0.9.0 and later, the agent must be configured with enable_script_checks set to true in order to enable script checks.

» Operator Rules

The operator policy controls access to cluster-level operations in the Operator API, other than the Keyring API.

Operator rules look like this:

operator = "read"

There's only one operator policy allowed per rule set, and its value is set to one of the policy dispositions. In the example above, the token could be used to query the operator endpoints for diagnostic purposes but not make any changes.

» Prepared Query Rules

The query policy controls access to create, update, and delete prepared queries in the Prepared Query API. Executing queries is subject to node and service policies, as will be explained below.

Query rules look like this:

query "" {
  policy = "read"
}
query "foo" {
  policy = "write"
}

Query rules are keyed by the query name prefix they apply to, using the longest prefix match rule. In the example above, the rules allow read-only access to any query name with the empty prefix, and allow read-write access to any query name that starts with "foo". This allows control of the query namespace to be delegated based on ACLs.

There are a few variations when using ACLs with prepared queries, each of which uses ACLs in one of two ways: open, protected by unguessable IDs or closed, managed by ACL policies. These variations are covered here, with examples:

  • Static queries with no Name defined are not controlled by any ACL policies. These types of queries are meant to be ephemeral and not shared to untrusted clients, and they are only reachable if the prepared query ID is known. Since these IDs are generated using the same random ID scheme as ACL Tokens, it is infeasible to guess them. When listing all prepared queries, only a management token will be able to see these types, though clients can read instances for which they have an ID. An example use for this type is a query built by a startup script, tied to a session, and written to a configuration file for a process to use via DNS.

  • Static queries with a Name defined are controlled by the query ACL policy. Clients are required to have an ACL token with a prefix sufficient to cover the name they are trying to manage, with a longest prefix match providing a way to define more specific policies. Clients can list or read queries for which they have "read" access based on their prefix, and similar they can update any queries for which they have "write" access. An example use for this type is a query with a well-known name (eg. prod-master-customer-db) that is used and known by many clients to provide geo-failover behavior for a database.

  • Template queries queries work like static queries with a Name defined, except that a catch-all template with an empty Name requires an ACL token that can write to any query prefix.

When prepared queries are executed via DNS lookups or HTTP requests, the ACL checks are run against the service being queried, similar to how ACLs work with other service lookups. There are several ways the ACL token is selected for this check:

  • If an ACL Token was captured when the prepared query was defined, it will be used to perform the service lookup. This allows queries to be executed by clients with lesser or even no ACL Token, so this should be used with care.

  • If no ACL Token was captured, then the client's ACL Token will be used to perform the service lookup.

  • If no ACL Token was captured and the client has no ACL Token, then the anonymous token will be used to perform the service lookup.

In the common case, the ACL Token of the invoker is used to test the ability to look up a service. If a Token was specified when the prepared query was created, the behavior changes and now the captured ACL Token set by the definer of the query is used when looking up a service.

Capturing ACL Tokens is analogous to PostgreSQL’s SECURITY DEFINER attribute which can be set on functions, and using the client's ACL Token is similar to the complementary SECURITY INVOKER attribute.

Prepared queries were originally introduced in Consul 0.6.0, and ACL behavior remained unchanged through version 0.6.3, but was then changed to allow better management of the prepared query namespace.

These differences are outlined in the table below:

Operation Version <= 0.6.3 Version > 0.6.3
Create static query without Name The ACL Token used to create the prepared query is checked to make sure it can access the service being queried. This token is captured as the Token to use when executing the prepared query. No ACL policies are used as long as no Name is defined. No Token is captured by default unless specifically supplied by the client when creating the query.
Create static query with Name The ACL Token used to create the prepared query is checked to make sure it can access the service being queried. This token is captured as the Token to use when executing the prepared query. The client token's query ACL policy is used to determine if the client is allowed to register a query for the given Name. No Token is captured by default unless specifically supplied by the client when creating the query.
Manage static query without Name The ACL Token used to create the query, or a management token must be supplied in order to perform these operations. Any client with the ID of the query can perform these operations.
Manage static query with a Name The ACL token used to create the query, or a management token must be supplied in order to perform these operations. Similar to create, the client token's query ACL policy is used to determine if these operations are allowed.
List queries A management token is required to list any queries. The client token's query ACL policy is used to determine which queries they can see. Only management tokens can see prepared queries without Name.
Execute query Since a Token is always captured when a query is created, that is used to check access to the service being queried. Any token supplied by the client is ignored. The captured token, client's token, or anonymous token is used to filter the results, as described above.

» Service Rules

The service policy controls service-level registration and read access to the Catalog API and service discovery with the Health API.

Service rules look like this:

service "" {
  policy = "read"
}
service "app" {
  policy = "write"
}
service "admin" {
  policy = "deny"
}

Service rules are keyed by the service name prefix they apply to, using the longest prefix match rule. In the example above, the rules allow read-only access to any service name with the empty prefix, allow read-write access to any service name that starts with "app", and deny all access to any service name that starts with "admin".

Consul's DNS interface is affected by restrictions on service rules. If the acl_token used by the agent does not have "read" access to a given service, then the DNS interface will return no records when queried for it.

When reading from the catalog or retrieving information from the health endpoints, service rules are used to filter the results of the query.

Service rules come into play when using the Agent API to register services or checks. The agent will check tokens locally as a service or check is registered, and Consul also performs periodic anti-entropy syncs, which may require an ACL token to complete. To accommodate this, Consul provides two methods of configuring ACL tokens to use for registration events:

  1. Using the acl_token configuration directive. This allows a single token to be configured globally and used during all service and check registration operations.
  2. Providing an ACL token with service and check definitions at registration time. This allows for greater flexibility and enables the use of multiple tokens on the same agent. Examples of what this looks like are available for both services and checks. Tokens may also be passed to the HTTP API for operations that require them. Note: all tokens passed to an agent are persisted on local disk to allow recovery from restarts. See -data-dir flag documentation for notes on securing access.

In addition to ACLs, in Consul 0.9.0 and later, the agent must be configured with enable_script_checks set to true in order to enable script checks.

» Session Rules

The session policy controls access to Session API operations.

Session rules look like this:

session "" {
  policy = "read"
}
session "app" {
  policy = "write"
}
session "admin" {
  policy = "deny"
}

Session rules are keyed by the node name prefix they apply to, using the longest prefix match rule. In the example above, the rules allow read-only access to sessions on node name with the empty prefix, allow creating sessions on any node name that starts with "app", and deny all access to any sessions on a node name that starts with "admin".

» Advanced Topics

» Outages and ACL Replication

The Consul ACL system is designed with flexible rules to accommodate for an outage of the acl_datacenter or networking issues preventing access to it. In this case, it may be impossible for agents in non-authoritative datacenters to resolve tokens. Consul provides a number of configurable acl_down_policy choices to tune behavior. It is possible to deny or permit all actions or to ignore cache TTLs and enter a fail-safe mode. The default is to ignore cache TTLs for any previously resolved tokens and to deny any uncached tokens.

Consul 0.7 added an ACL Replication capability that can allow non-authoritative datacenter agents to resolve even uncached tokens. This is enabled by setting an acl_replication_token in the configuration on the servers in the non-authoritative datacenters. In Consul 0.9.1 and later you can enable ACL replication using enable_acl_replication and then set the token later using the agent token API on each server. This can also be used to rotate the token without restarting the Consul servers.

With replication enabled, the servers will maintain a replica of the authoritative datacenter's full set of ACLs on the non-authoritative servers. The ACL replication token needs to be a valid ACL token with management privileges, it can also be the same as the master ACL token.

Replication occurs with a background process that looks for new ACLs approximately every 30 seconds. Replicated changes are written at a rate that's throttled to 100 updates/second, so it may take several minutes to perform the initial sync of a large set of ACLs.

If there's a partition or other outage affecting the authoritative datacenter, and the acl_down_policy is set to "extend-cache", tokens will be resolved during the outage using the replicated set of ACLs. An ACL replication status endpoint is available to monitor the health of the replication process. Also note that in recent versions of Consul (greater than 1.2.0), using acl_down_policy = "async-cache" refreshes token asynchronously when an ACL is already cached and is expired while similar semantics than "extend-cache". It allows to avoid having issues when connectivity with the authoritative is not completely broken, but very slow.

Locally-resolved ACLs will be cached using the acl_ttl setting of the non-authoritative datacenter, so these entries may persist in the cache for up to the TTL, even after the authoritative datacenter comes back online.

ACL replication can also be used to migrate ACLs from one datacenter to another using a process like this:

  1. Enable ACL replication in all datacenters to allow continuation of service during the migration, and to populate the target datacenter. Verify replication is healthy and caught up to the current ACL index in the target datacenter using the ACL replication status endpoint.
  2. Turn down the old authoritative datacenter servers.
  3. Rolling restart the agents in the target datacenter and change the acl_datacenter servers to itself. This will automatically turn off replication and will enable the datacenter to start acting as the authoritative datacenter, using its replicated ACLs from before.
  4. Rolling restart the agents in other datacenters and change their acl_datacenter configuration to the target datacenter.

» Complete ACL Coverage in Consul 0.8

Consul 0.8 added many more ACL policy types and brought ACL enforcement to Consul agents for the first time. To ease the transition to Consul 0.8 for existing ACL users, there's a configuration option to disable these new features. To disable support for these new ACLs, set the acl_enforce_version_8 configuration option to false on Consul clients and servers.

Here's a summary of the new features:

  • Agents now check node and service ACL policies for catalog-related operations in /v1/agent endpoints, such as service and check registration and health check updates.
  • Agents enforce a new agent ACL policy for utility operations in /v1/agent endpoints, such as joins and leaves.
  • A new node ACL policy is enforced throughout Consul, providing a mechanism to restrict registration and discovery of nodes by name. This also applies to service discovery, so provides an additional dimension for controlling access to services.
  • A new session ACL policy controls the ability to create session objects by node name.
  • Anonymous prepared queries (non-templates without a Name) now require a valid session, which ties their creation to the new session ACL policy.
  • The existing event ACL policy has been applied to the /v1/event/list endpoint.

Two new configuration options are used once version 8 ACLs are enabled:

  • acl_agent_master_token is used as a special access token that has agent ACL policy write privileges on each agent where it is configured, as well as node ACL policy read privileges for all nodes. This token should only be used by operators during outages when Consul servers aren't available to resolve ACL tokens. Applications should use regular ACL tokens during normal operation.
  • acl_agent_token is used internally by Consul agents to perform operations to the service catalog when registering themselves or sending network coordinates to the servers. This token must at least have node ACL policy write access to the node name it will register as in order to register any node-level information like metadata or tagged addresses.

Since clients now resolve ACLs locally, the acl_down_policy now applies to Consul clients as well as Consul servers. This will determine what the client will do in the event that the servers are down.

Consul clients must have acl_datacenter configured in order to enable agent-level ACL features. If this is set, the agents will contact the Consul servers to determine if ACLs are enabled at the cluster level. If they detect that ACLs are not enabled, they will check at most every 2 minutes to see if they have become enabled, and will start enforcing ACLs automatically. If an agent has an acl_datacenter defined, operators will need to use the acl_agent_master_token to perform agent-level operations if the Consul servers aren't present (such as for a manual join to the cluster), unless the acl_down_policy on the agent is set to "allow".

Non-server agents do not need to have the acl_master_token configured; it is not used by agents in any way.