RavenDB 5.2 Features: Read only certificates

by Oren Eini

We are gearing up to a new release of RavenDB, and it is about time that I’ll start talking about the new features. I thought to start with what one of our most requested features: Read only access to RavenDB.

This has been asked by enough customers that we decided to implement it, even though I don’t like the concept very much. One of the key aspects of RavenDB design is the notion that RavenDB is an application database, not a shared database. As such, we limit access per database and expect that pretty much all accesses to the database will have the same privilege level. After all, this is meant to be a single application, even if it is deployed as multiple processes / services.

From real world usage, this expectation is false. People want to isolate access even within the scope of a single application. Hence, the read only mode.

The documentation does a good job describing what read only mode is, but I wanted to give some additional background.

As usual, authentication to RavenDB is done using X509 certificates. When you define the certificate’s permissions, you can grant it read only access to a database (or databases). At this point, applications and users using this certificate will be limits to only reads from the database. That isn’t a big surprise, right?

The devil is in the details, however. A read only certificate can perform the following operations:

  • Load documents by id – the security boundary here is the entire database, there is no limit on a per document / collection.
  • Query documents using predefined indexes. – note that you cannot deploy new indexes.
  • Query documents using auto generated indexes – this also implies that a query by a read only certificate can cause the database engine to create an index to answer the query. This is explicitly allowed when you are using a read only certificate.
  • Inspect the database state and its ongoing tasks – you can look at the tasks and their status, but things like the connection strings details are hidden.
  • Connect to a subscription and accept documents – this is a case where a read only certificate will modify the state of the database (by advancing what documents the subscription consumes). This is explicitly allowed since it is a likely scenario for read only certificates. Creating a subscription, on the other hand, is something that you’ll need to do with more permissions.

I’m not trying to give you the whole thing, you can read the documentation for that, but I am trying to give you some idea about the kind of use cases you can use read only certificates for.

Woah, already finished? 🤯

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