Feature flags and authorization abstract the same concept

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  • spicedb

    Open Source, Google Zanzibar-inspired permissions database to enable fine-grained authorization for customer applications

    At AuthZed, we think about this topic regularly while developing SpiceDB[0], except we believe feature flags are a subset of authorization. I'd disagree with the author that permissions are always long-lived -- authorization can also be ephemeral (and often that's how it's most secure) or dependent on run-time context[1]. What's more, using SpiceDB, we can often collapse checking for authorization and feature-flags into a single round-trip by defining a permission that can additionally require a feature flag (e.g. permission = admin & has_feature_flag).

    It's a little silly, but lots of folks ask for the moon when it comes to performance for authorization because it's critical to every request, but then go on and sprinkle a dozen feature flag RPCs each adding more and more latency. We think you should be able to have both.

    What we're excited about is use cases beyond feature flags and authorization: we've also seen some folks use SpiceDB as an update graph or others as a dependency graph.

    [0]: https://github.com/authzed/spicedb

    [1]: https://authzed.com/blog/caveats/

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  • warrant

    Warrant is a highly scalable, centralized authorization service based on Google Zanzibar. Use it to define, enforce, query, and audit application authorization and access control.

    They might not be the exact same concept but they're definitely related. I'd argue feature flags, authorization, and pricing tiers/entitlements all make up modern 'access control' and 'access management'.

    It used to be that authz was just roles and permissions assigned to users, or feature flags & entitlements just booleans, but sophisticated systems allow for all kinds of permutations and rules based on attributes, relationships and environment such that the lines between them are blurred and implementations are likely similar.

    As others have said, the differences still come down to a handful of factors like correctness, tolerance for error and performance.

    (Disclaimer: I'm a founder in this space and spend a lot of time thinking about it at Warrant - https://warrant.dev/ )

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