Anything that exposes an HTTP API (whether an individual microservice or an application as a whole) needs to control who can run those APIs and when. OPA makes it easy to write fine-grained, context-aware policies to implement API authorization.


In this tutorial, you’ll use a simple HTTP web server that accepts any HTTP GET request that you issue and echoes the OPA decision back as text. OPA will fetch policy bundles from a simple bundle server. Both OPA, the bundle server and the web server will be run as containers.

For this tutorial, our desired policy is:

  • People can see their own salaries (GET /finance/salary/{user} is permitted for {user})
  • A manager can see their direct reports’ salaries (GET /finance/salary/{user} is permitted for {user}’s manager)


This tutorial requires Docker Compose to run a demo web server along with OPA.


1. Create a policy bundle.

Create a policy that allows users to request their own salary as well as the salary of their direct subordinates.


package httpapi.authz

# bob is alice's manager, and betty is charlie's.
subordinates = {"alice": [], "charlie": [], "bob": ["alice"], "betty": ["charlie"]}

default allow = false

# Allow users to get their own salaries.
allow {
    input.method == "GET"
    input.path == ["finance", "salary", input.user]

# Allow managers to get their subordinates' salaries.
allow {
    some username
    input.method == "GET"
    input.path = ["finance", "salary", username]
    subordinates[input.user][_] == username

Then, build a bundle.

opa build example.rego

You should now see a policy bundle (bundle.tar.gz) in your working directory.

2. Bootstrap the tutorial environment using Docker Compose.

Next, create a docker-compose.yml file that runs OPA, a bundle server and the demo web server.


version: '2'
    image: openpolicyagent/opa:0.36.1-rootless
    - 8181:8181
    # WARNING: OPA is NOT running with an authorization policy configured. This
    # means that clients can read and write policies in OPA. If you are
    # deploying OPA in an insecure environment, be sure to configure
    # authentication and authorization on the daemon. See the Security page for
    # details:
    - "run"
    - "--server"
    - "--log-format=json-pretty"
    - "--set=decision_logs.console=true"
    - "--set=services.nginx.url=http://bundle_server"
    - "--set=bundles.nginx.service=nginx"
    - "--set=bundles.nginx.resource=bundles/bundle.tar.gz"
    - bundle_server
    image: openpolicyagent/demo-restful-api:0.3
    - 5000:5000
    - OPA_ADDR=http://opa:8181
    - POLICY_PATH=/v1/data/httpapi/authz
    - opa
    image: nginx:1.20.0-alpine
    - 8888:80
    - ./bundles:/usr/share/nginx/html/bundles

Then run docker-compose to pull and run the containers.

NOTE: if running “Docker Desktop” (Mac or Windows) you may instead use the docker compose command.

docker-compose -f docker-compose.yml up

Every time the demo web server receives an HTTP request, it asks OPA to decide whether an HTTP API is authorized or not using a single RESTful API call. An example code is here, but the crux of the (Python) code is shown below.

# Grab basic information. We assume user is passed on a form.
http_api_user = request.form['user']

# Get the path as a list (removing leading and trailing /)
# Example: "/finance/salary/" will become ["finance", "salary"]
http_api_path_list = request.path.strip("/").split("/")

input_dict = {  # create input to hand to OPA
    "input": {
        "user": http_api_user,
        "path": http_api_path_list, # Ex: ["finance", "salary", "alice"]
        "method": request.method  # HTTP verb, e.g. GET, POST, PUT, ...
# ask OPA for a policy decision
# (in reality OPA URL would be constructed from environment)
rsp ="", json=input_dict)
if rsp.json()["allow"]:
  # HTTP API allowed
  # HTTP API denied

3. Check that alice can see her own salary.

The following command will succeed.

curl --user alice:password localhost:5000/finance/salary/alice

The webserver queries OPA to authorize the request. In the query, the webserver includes JSON data describing the incoming request.

  "method": "GET",
  "path": ["finance", "salary", "alice"],
  "user": "alice"

When the webserver queries OPA it asks for a specific policy decision. In this case, the integration is hardcoded to ask for /v1/data/httpapi/authz. OPA translates this URL path into a query:


The answer returned by OPA for the input above is:

  "allow": true,
  "subordinates": {
    "alice": [],
    "betty": [
    "bob": [
    "charlie": []

4. Check that bob can see alice’s salary (because bob is alice’s manager.)

curl --user bob:password localhost:5000/finance/salary/alice

5. Check that bob CANNOT see charlie’s salary.

bob is not charlie’s manager, so the following command will fail.

curl --user bob:password localhost:5000/finance/salary/charlie

6. Change the policy.

Suppose the organization now includes an HR department. The organization wants members of HR to be able to see any salary. Let’s extend the policy to handle this.


package httpapi.authz

# Allow HR members to get anyone's salary.
allow {
    input.method == "GET"
    input.path = ["finance", "salary", _]
    input.user == hr[_]

# David is the only member of HR.
hr := [

Build a new bundle with the new policy included.

opa build example.rego example-hr.rego

The updated bundle will automatically be served by the bundle server, but note that it might take up to the configured max_delay_seconds for the new bundle to be downloaded by OPA. If you plan to make frequent policy changes you might want to adjust this value in docker-compose.yml accordingly.

For the sake of the tutorial we included manager_of and hr data directly inside the policies. In real-world scenarios that information would be imported from external data sources.

7. Check that the new policy works.

Check that david can see anyone’s salary.

curl --user david:password localhost:5000/finance/salary/alice
curl --user david:password localhost:5000/finance/salary/bob
curl --user david:password localhost:5000/finance/salary/charlie
curl --user david:password localhost:5000/finance/salary/david

8. (Optional) Use JSON Web Tokens to communicate policy data.

OPA supports the parsing of JSON Web Tokens via the builtin function io.jwt.decode. To get a sense of one way the subordinate and HR data might be communicated in the real world, let’s try a similar exercise utilizing the JWT utilities of OPA.


package httpapi.authz

default allow = false

# Allow users to get their own salaries.
allow {
    some username
    input.method == "GET"
    input.path = ["finance", "salary", username]
    token.payload.user == username

# Allow managers to get their subordinate' salaries.
allow {
    some username
    input.method == "GET"
    input.path = ["finance", "salary", username]
    token.payload.subordinates[_] == username

# Allow HR members to get anyone's salary.
allow {
    input.method == "GET"
    input.path = ["finance", "salary", _] == true

# Ensure that the token was issued to the user supplying it.
user_owns_token { input.user == token.payload.azp }

# Helper to get the token payload.
token = {"payload": payload} {
    [header, payload, signature] := io.jwt.decode(input.token)

Build a new bundle for the new policy.

opa build example-jwt.rego

For convenience, we’ll want to store user tokens in environment variables (they’re really long).

export ALICE_TOKEN="eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJ1c2VyIjoiYWxpY2UiLCJhenAiOiJhbGljZSIsInN1Ym9yZGluYXRlcyI6W10sImhyIjpmYWxzZX0.rz3jTY033z-NrKfwrK89_dcLF7TN4gwCMj-fVBDyLoM"
export BOB_TOKEN="eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJ1c2VyIjoiYm9iIiwiYXpwIjoiYm9iIiwic3Vib3JkaW5hdGVzIjpbImFsaWNlIl0sImhyIjpmYWxzZX0.n_lXN4H8UXGA_fXTbgWRx8b40GXpAGQHWluiYVI9qf0"
export CHARLIE_TOKEN="eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJ1c2VyIjoiY2hhcmxpZSIsImF6cCI6ImNoYXJsaWUiLCJzdWJvcmRpbmF0ZXMiOltdLCJociI6ZmFsc2V9.EZd_y_RHUnrCRMuauY7y5a1yiwdUHKRjm9xhVtjNALo"
export BETTY_TOKEN="eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJ1c2VyIjoiYmV0dHkiLCJhenAiOiJiZXR0eSIsInN1Ym9yZGluYXRlcyI6WyJjaGFybGllIl0sImhyIjpmYWxzZX0.TGCS6pTzjrs3nmALSOS7yiLO9Bh9fxzDXEDiq1LIYtE"
export DAVID_TOKEN="eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJ1c2VyIjoiZGF2aWQiLCJhenAiOiJkYXZpZCIsInN1Ym9yZGluYXRlcyI6W10sImhyIjp0cnVlfQ.Q6EiWzU1wx1g6sdWQ1r4bxT1JgSHUpVXpINMqMaUDMU"

These tokens encode the same information as the policies we did before (bob is alice’s manager, betty is charlie’s, david is the only HR member, etc). If you want to inspect their contents, start up the OPA REPL and execute io.jwt.decode(<token here>, [header, payload, signature]) or open the example above in the Playground.

Let’s try a few queries (note: you may need to escape the ? characters in the queries for your shell):

Check that charlie can’t see bob’s salary.

curl --user charlie:password "localhost:5000/finance/salary/bob?token=$CHARLIE_TOKEN"

Check that charlie can’t pretend to be bob to see alice’s salary.

curl --user charlie:password "localhost:5000/finance/salary/alice?token=$BOB_TOKEN"

Check that david can see betty’s salary.

curl --user david:password "localhost:5000/finance/salary/betty?token=$DAVID_TOKEN"

Check that bob can see alice’s salary.

curl --user bob:password "localhost:5000/finance/salary/alice?token=$BOB_TOKEN"

Check that alice can see her own salary.

curl --user alice:password "localhost:5000/finance/salary/alice?token=$ALICE_TOKEN"

Wrap Up

Congratulations for finishing the tutorial!

You learned a number of things about API authorization with OPA:

  • OPA gives you fine-grained policy control over APIs once you set up the server to ask OPA for authorization.
  • You write allow/deny policies to control which APIs can be executed by whom.
  • You can import external data into OPA and write policies that depend on that data.
  • You can use OPA data structures to define abstractions over your data.
  • You can use a remote bundle server for distributing policy and data.

The code for this tutorial can be found in the open-policy-agent/contrib repository.