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Resolving access control ambiguity in WordPress

Vasyl MartyniukFundamentalsAbout 2 min

Access control ambiguity is a common challenge faced by WordPress websites with intricate content structures or multi-role setup. This issue arises when it becomes unclear which users should have access to specific content or resources due to complex taxonomy arrangements or conflicting role permissions. In this article, we will explore this problem in depth and provide solutions to effectively manage access control ambiguity.

Understanding the issue

To illustrate the issue of access control ambiguity, let's consider a scenario involving a WordPress website with a custom post type called "Recipe". These recipes are organized into custom taxonomies such as "Types", "Courses", and "Tags". By default, the website owner may want to restrict access to all recipes, allowing only users belonging to the "Paid Members" role to view them. However, there is one exception: recipes tagged as "Free Recipe" should be accessible to all users.

In such cases, administrators often rely on the "Posts & Terms" service to configure access controls. They may set the default access to all recipes and then override the access controls for recipes tagged as "Free Recipe". However, a common issue arises: despite following these steps, most tagged recipes remain inaccessible to users. This is because many recipes are associated with multiple terms (e.g., "Breakfast" and "Vegan" or "Snack" and "Dry Food"). Since the default access control is set at the post type level (Recipe), all associated terms and recipes inherit these default controls.

The dilemma

When a user attempts to access a recipe, the Advanced Access Manager (AAM) plugin faces a dilemma caused by access control ambiguity. For example, a term like "Breakfast" might deny access to related recipes, while the "Free Recipe" tag allows access. In this situation, AAM follows the principle of least privilege, which means it denies access. This inconsistency frustrates users and makes content management more complex.

Access control ambiguity can also arise in multi-role setups. A single user may belong to two or more roles, where one role grants access to a particular resource while another denies it. Once again, this leads to uncertainty and confusion in determining the user's actual access rights.

Fortunately, there are solutions to address access control ambiguity in WordPress websites with complex content structures or multi-role setups. The easiest way to override the default access controls merging preference is to change the "Default Access Settings Merging Preference" option to "Allow". You can find it on the AAM "Settings" page under the "Core Settings".

However, if you need more granular control over how particular access controls should be merged, you'd need to utilize "ConfigPress". You can find the "ConfigPress" tab on the AAM "Settings" page.

With "ConfigPress", you can override default behaviors and configure access control with precision for each resource type. Here's how:

  • Identify Resource Types. Start by identifying the specific resource types, such as custom post types or taxonomies, that are affected by access control ambiguity.

  • Access Control Customization. Access the "ConfigPress" tab and customize access controls for each identified resource type. This allows you to define clear and unambiguous permissions, ensuring that users can access content based on your desired criteria.

; Manage access preference to the Backend Menu = "allow"

; Manage access preference to the Top Admin Toolbar
core.settings.toolbar.merge.preference = "allow"

; Manage access preference to the Metaboxes & Widgets
core.settings.metabox.merge.preference = "allow"

; Manage access preference to posts, pages, media and any individual custom post type = "allow"

; Manage access preference to terms
core.settings.term.merge.preference = "allow"

; Manage access preference to any post type like Posts, Pages, Products etc
core.settings.type.merge.preference = "allow"

; Manage access preference to any taxonomy object
core.settings.taxonomy.merge.preference = "allow"

; Manage access preference to URI Access
core.settings.uri.merge.preference = "allow"
  • Testing and Monitoring. After configuring access controls, thoroughly test your website to ensure that the intended access restrictions and permissions are in place. Regularly monitor user interactions to catch any anomalies or unexpected behavior.


Access control ambiguity can pose significant challenges for WordPress websites with intricate content structures or multi-role setups. However, by understanding the nature of the issue and leveraging tools like "ConfigPress", you can effectively manage access control and provide a seamless user experience. Clear and well-defined access controls not only enhance security but also ensure that users can access the content they need without confusion or frustration.