Spring Security Authorization – How authorization work

In this article , we will take a closer look at the Spring security authorization workflow and architecture. This is part of our spring security tutorial, so make sure you are following the complete series for better understanding.

Spring Security Authorization

In the previous part of this series, we saw how Authentication works with Spring security. We also saw how the AuthenticationManager will user details service will create a list of granted authorities and save it in the Authentication object. In this part, we will see how the Spring security authorization works and how it use different underlying artifacts. Spring security use the FilterSecurityInterceptor servlet filter, this filter is responsible to provide a decision if a particular request to access a given resource is accepted or rejected.

Keep in mind that before authorization process in invoked, the user is already authenticated and security framework is aware that user is a logged in user. As part of the authentication, we will also provide a list of GrantedAuthorities(List<GrantedAuthority> getAuthorities()) which will be used by the spring security authentication to decide if a request is allowed or not.

1. AccessDecisionManager

The AccessDecisionManager interface is responsible to take a decision on whether the invocation is allowed to proceed. The AccessDecisionMamanger is called by the FilterSecurityInterceptor. Let’s take a look at the AcsessDecisionManager interface.

public interface AccessDecisionManager {
void decide(Authentication authentication, Object object,
			Collection<ConfigAttribute> configAttributes) throws AccessDeniedException,

boolean supports(ConfigAttribute attribute);

boolean supports(Class<?> clazz);


Let’s take a look at the different method available in the interface:

  • support – This method tell decision manager if it supports the current request.
  • decide – This tells the AccessDecisionManager to verify if the given request should be allowed or not. Keep in mind that this method does not have any return value but throws an exception to report denial.

2. Voting Based AccessDecisionManager

Spring Security provides a number of AccessDecisionManager to help us work on the authorization in Spring security. It also provides the flexibility to create our own DecisionManager if required. Here is the high level overview of the Spring security access decision manager.

spring security autorization

With voting based decision manager, a series of AccessDecisionVoter implementations are polled on an authorization decision. The AccessDecisionManager then decides whether or not to throw an AccessDeniedException based on its assessment of the votes. The AcessDecisionManger interface have the following 3 methods:

int vote(Authentication authentication, Object object, Collection<ConfigAttribute> attrs);

boolean supports(ConfigAttribute attribute);

boolean supports(Class clazz);

Here is an overview of the voting decision manager workflow:

Spring Security Authorization - How authorization work

3. Configuring AcessDecisionManager

By default Spring security use the AffirmativeBased decision manager but it also provide us the flexibility to configure a different decision manager. We need customize the http element to override the default access decision manager. Let’s take a look at the following example to see how to change the access decision manger to UnanimousBased from AffirmativeBased decision manager.

protected void configure(HttpSecurity http) throws Exception {

 * How to change the default access decision manager in Spring security
 * @return
public AccessDecisionManager accessDecisionManager() {
    List < AccessDecisionVoter << ? extends Object >> decisionVoters = Arrays.asList(
        new AuthenticatedVoter(),
        new RoleVoter(),
        new WebExpressionVoter()
    return new UnanimousBased(decisionVoters);

There are few important things to understand:

  • The decisionVoter property is auto configured by Spring security until we defined our own configuration. Remember, Spring security by default configure AffirmativeBased decision manager.
  • We need to provide list of decision voter to the AccessDecisionManager who will be consulted to take the authorization decision. The voter will decide if given request is authorized or not.

4. Authorize HttpServletRequest

To better understand Spring security authorization workflow, let’s take a look at the following workflow

Spring Security Authorization HttpServletRequest
Authorization HttpServletRequest
  1. The FilterSecurityInterceptor filter is responsible to provide a decision if a particular request to access a given resource is accepted or rejected.
  2. The FilterSecurityInterceptor filter will obtain the Authenticated object from the SecurityContextHolder. In most cases Authorization is performed after authentication.
  3. The AccessDecisionManager will use the Authentication, FilterInvocation and ConfigAttribute to take the decision.
  4. AccessDeniedException will be thrown in case the request is not authorized.
  5. If access is granted FilterSecurityInterceptor continues with the FilterChain which allows the application to process normally.


In this article, we understood the basic of Spring security authorization workflow and architecture. We leaned how Spring security use the different DecisionManager and decision voters during the authorization workflow. The source code for this series is available on our GitHub repository.

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