Azure DevOps. Getting to grips with permissions

Image: Azure DevOps graphic
By Ben Briggs on

Azure DevOps. Getting to grips with permissions

One of the key principles of DevOps is the union of people, processes and technology, but this brings its own unique challenges when managing permissions across traditional team structures. Often responsibility lies with a non-DevOps user, so in this blog I’m going to run through the basics on how permissions work in Azure DevOps.

Access Levels

Before managing permissions, we should understand that without the right pre-requisite license users aren’t’ getting very far. Browsing to organisational settings | general | users within Azure DevOps and you will see the access levels granted.

Image: Azure DevOps Organization Settings Screen

This access level dictates the available features to the user, so make sure it lines up with your user requirements. In most cases you’ll want to have basic or above which relies on a Visual Studio Subscription, but you can review the finer details here (Complexity warning!)

The Structure

Image: Azure AD structure

To begin with you should focus on two key levels, organisations and projects. Repositories will inherit permissions from the project level so will mostly be taken care of this way. However, if you are responsible for managing repo permissions you will need a more advanced understanding of GIT processes and an internal discussion to set out branching policies (A subject for another blog!).

Organisations

An organisation is also referred to as a collection (important to remember!) It represents a group of related projects.
An organisation is typically tied into Azure AD allowing the use of existing identities for authentication. However, if you find your company is using Microsoft/live accounts, it could mean DevOps is not connected to Azure AD and a migration is in order. Microsoft outlines this process here.

Organisation/Collection-level groups

When an organisation is created the system creates ‘Collection-level groups’ that can’t be deleted. The key group here is the ‘Project Collection Administrators’ which contains the organisation owner and allows other members to perform all actions within the collection. By default, this is the only group with rights to create new projects.
Management for Collection-level groups can be found under ‘permissions’ in organisational settings

Tip
• Keep members of the Project Collection Administrators group thin on the ground and try to channel project creation through a central team for oversight

Projects

A project defines a collaboration space and security context for access to features, such as repos. They can include the development of an entire application or a just one part of it. When used with infrastructure-as-code the same applies.
Inside of a project exists ‘Teams’ which help manage access to features such as boards and security where separation is required. If you have a large organisation and have multiple applications being developed within a project this can be useful, however, most smaller teams opt to separate this at the project level for simplicity.

Project-level groups

When a project is created a default project ‘Team’ is also created alongside it. Any members added to the project will by default go into this team and therefore inherit any assigned permissions. This is what it looks like by default.

Image: Project Level Groups chart

The most important aspect here is that eventually permissions are applied via membership to the contributor group. This group is used throughout DevOps to set permissions. For example, within the Azure Pipelines security page we can see the following permissions granted to the default team via the contributor group.

Image: Permissions for ARM Template CICD

 

From this we can see the contributor’s group will be able to edit pipelines but not administer permissions.
And again, if we look at the repository…

Image: ARM Template CICD Repositories screen

From this we can see the contributor’s group will be allowed to create branches and pull requests.

Tip
• Only add users to the project administrators’ group that require rights to alter permissions
• If you see ‘bypass policies when pushing’ or ‘force push’ permissions granted for explicit entries then that user/group/team will have rights to ‘force’ code into the repository without review (not great practice) this may or may not be intended
• Use the reader project group for users that have not been granted an access level but require visibility to a project

Service Connections

One of the most regular tasks in Azure DevOps is creating a service connection that grants pipeline access to a required scope, be it an Azure subscription or resource group.
By default, only project admins can create these connections and ideally this is the way you should keep it. If your running through the wizard within DevOps using the ‘Automatic’ method, then the user adding the service connection will also need owner access to the scope (subscription/resource group). This only reinforces the fact that requests for this should be controlled and passed to a designated team.

Conclusion

If you’ve just getting started with managing Azure DevOps permissions my advice is to focus on the three key groups and the roles they offer.

• Project collection administrators – Can create new projects
– Allocate this to the DevOps security team
• Project Admins – Manage project settings including user access and service connections
– Allocate this to the project lead/manager
• Default project team – Contribute to the project pipelines, repositories etc
– Allocate this to technical users who add to the code and project delivery

Hopefully that will help you get to grips with permissions in Azure DevOps!

References:

About access levels – Microsoft 

Permissions, users, and groups in Azure DevOps – Microsoft

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