Django REST Framework: Authentication and Permissions

(This post is a part of a tutorial series on Building REST APIs in Django)

In our last post about ViewSet, ModelViewSet and Router, we saw how easily we can create REST APIs with the awesome Django REST Framework. In this blog post, we would see how we can secure our endpoints with user authentication and permissions. Authentication will help us identify which user is currently logged in and permissions will decide which user(s) can access which resources.


The idea of authentication is pretty simple. When a new incoming request comes, we have to check the request and see if we can identify any user credentials along with it. If you have read the Flask HTTP Auth tutorial or the one about JWT, you might remember how we were checking the authorization header to authenticate our users. We might also receive the user login data via a POST request (form submission) or the user may already be logged in and we can identify using the session data.

We can see that the authentication mechanism can largely vary. Django REST Framework is very flexible in accommodating them. We can give DRF a list of classes, DRF will run the authenticate method on those classes. As soon as a class successfully authenticates the user, the return values from the call is set to request.user and request.auth. If none of the classes manage to authenticate the user, then the user is set to django.contrib.auth.models.AnonymousUser .

We can set these classes using the DEFAULT_AUTHENTICATION_CLASSES settings under the DRF settings. Here’s an example:


In the example above we used BasicAuthentication and SessionAuthentication – two of the built in classes from Django REST Framework. We will look at how they work and we will also check how we can write our own class for our custom authentication.

(PS: Here we set the authentication policy globally, for all views / paths / resources – if we want, we can also use different authentication mechanism for each one, individually but that is usually not done in most cases).

Basic Authentication

In our example before, we mentioned the BasicAuthentication class. This class first checks the http authorization header (HTTP_AUTHORIZATION in request.META ). If the header contains appropriate string (something like Basic <Base64 Encoded Login>), it will decode the string, split the username, password and try to authenticate the user.

Basic Authentication is very simple, easy to setup and might be quite convenient for testing / debugging but I would highly discourage using this method on production.

Session Authentication

If you have used Django, you already know about session based authentication. In fact, Django itself handles the session based auth and sets the user as part of the request object (an instance of HttpRequest object. DRF just reads the user data from the request and checks for CSRF. That’s it.

Session Authentication works very well if your users are interacting with your API on the web, perhaps using ajax calls? In such cases, if the user is once logged in, his/her auth is stored in the session and we can depend on those data while making requests from our web app. However, this will not work well if the client doesn’t or can not accept cookies (apps on different domains, mobile or desktop apps, other micro services etc).

Token Authentication

If you understand JWT, this one will feel similar, except in this case, the token will be just a “token”, no JSON or no signing. The user logs in and gets a token. On subsequent requests, this token must be passed as part of the authorization header.

To use token based auth, we first need to add the rest_framework.authtoken app to the INSTALLED_APPS list in your file. And then run the migration to create the related tables.

python migrate

We also need to add the TokenAuthentication class to our DRF auth class list:


Now let’s create a view to issue tokens to user.

from django.contrib.auth import authenticate
from rest_framework.decorators import api_view
from rest_framework.response import Response
from rest_framework.status import HTTP_401_UNAUTHORIZED
from rest_framework.authtoken.models import Token

def login(request):
    username ="username")
    password ="password")

    user = authenticate(username=username, password=password)
    if not user:
        return Response({"error": "Login failed"}, status=HTTP_401_UNAUTHORIZED)

    token, _ = Token.objects.get_or_create(user=user)
    return Response({"token": token.key})

The code here should be self explanatory. We take username and password. We then try to authenticate the user using Django’s default authentication (checking username and password against what’s stored in the database). If the authentication fails, we return error message along with http status code 401. If the authentication succeeds, we issue a token for the user and pass it in the response.

We need to add this view to our urlpatterns next:

url(r'^login', login)

Now let’s try it out:

$ curl --request POST \
  --url http://localhost:8000/api/login \
  --header 'content-type: application/json' \
  --data '{"username": "test_user", "password": "awesomepwd"}'


So we’re getting the tokens successfully. Now to access a secured resource, we need to pass it as part of the authorization header. But how do we make a resource available only to a logged in user? Well, permissions come into play here.


While authentication tells us which user is logged in (or not), it’s our responsibility to check if the current user (a valid logged in user or a guest, not logged in visitor) has access to the resource. Permissions can help us deal with that. Just like authentication, we can also set a class of permissions globally or on each resource individually. Let’s start with the IsAuthenticated permission first. Let’s add this to our SubscriberViewSet.

from rest_framework.permissions import IsAuthenticated

class SubscriberViewSet(ModelViewSet):
    serializer_class = SubscriberSerializer
    queryset = Subscriber.objects.all()
    permission_classes = (IsAuthenticated,)

If we try to access subscribers without any authentication, we will get an error message now:

  "detail": "Authentication credentials were not provided."

So let’s provide authentication using the token we got.

$ curl -H "Content-Type: application/json" -H "Authorization: Token 5e2effff34c85c11a8720a597b96d73a4634c9ad" http://localhost:8000/api/subscribers/

Now it works fine! There are many useful, already provided permission classes with Django REST Framework. You can find a list of them here

Custom Authentication and Permissions

The authentication and permission classes which come with DRF are quite enough for many cases. But what if we needed to create our own? Let’s see how we can do that.

Writing a custom authentication class is very simple. You define your custom authenticate method which would receive the request object. You will have to return an instance of the default User model if authentication succeeds, otherwise raise an exception. You can also return an optional value for the auth object to be set on request. If our authentication method can not be used for this request, we should return None so other classes are tried.

Here’s an example from DRF docs:

from django.contrib.auth.models import User
from rest_framework import authentication
from rest_framework import exceptions

class ExampleAuthentication(authentication.BaseAuthentication):
    def authenticate(self, request):
        username = request.META.get('X_USERNAME')
        if not username:
            return None

            user = User.objects.get(username=username)
        except User.DoesNotExist:
            raise exceptions.AuthenticationFailed('No such user')

        return (user, None)

In this example, the username is being retrieved from a custom header (X_USERNAME) and the rest is quite easy to understand.

Next, let’s see how we can create our custom permission class. For permissions, we can have two types of permissions – global permission or per object permission. Here’s an example of global permission from DRF docs:

from rest_framework import permissions

class BlacklistPermission(permissions.BasePermission):
    Global permission check for blacklisted IPs.

    def has_permission(self, request, view):
        ip_addr = request.META['REMOTE_ADDR']
        blacklisted = Blacklist.objects.filter(ip_addr=ip_addr).exists()
        return not blacklisted

If the has_permission method returns True then the user has permission, otherwise not. Let’s see the example for per object permission:

class IsOwnerOrReadOnly(permissions.BasePermission):
    Object-level permission to only allow owners of an object to edit it.
    Assumes the model instance has an `owner` attribute.

    def has_object_permission(self, request, view, obj):
        # Read permissions are allowed to any request,
        # so we'll always allow GET, HEAD or OPTIONS requests.
        if request.method in permissions.SAFE_METHODS:
            return True

        # Instance must have an attribute named `owner`.
        return obj.owner == request.user

For dealing with per object permission, we can override the has_object_permission method. It can take the request, the view and the obj. We have to check if the current user can access the obj in question. Just like before, we need to return True or False to allow or deny the request.

In this blog post, we learned the basics of authentication and permissions. We now know how we can secure our API endpoints with DRF. While the token based authentication was very useful, we kind of like JWT. So in our next post, we will be using a third party package to implement JWT for Django REST Framework.

16 thoughts on “Django REST Framework: Authentication and Permissions”

  1. I tried above steps, I am stuck at token auth curl

    curl –request POST \
    > –url http://localhost:8000/api/login \
    > –header ‘content-type: application/json’ \
    > –data ‘{“username”: “test_user”, “password”: “awesomepwd0”}’

    It gives me
    {“detail”:”Authentication credentials were not provided.”}

    I did same steps as above

  2. Hi, when I do the same as your. However, I got error like this :”IntegrityError at /login
    (1048, “Column ‘user_id’ cannot be null”)” my user model have user_id, username and password. How can I fix this? thank you

    1. The error message says the column `user_id` cannot be null. Do you have any null values in that column or trying to set null? When do you get this error? During login?


  4. I am getting a “Login failed” error in the Token Authentication section since there was not user created. How would you suggest to create a user?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *