Skip to main content

Understanding WordPress roles & capabilities

Vasyl MartyniukUsers, Roles & CapabilitiesAbout 2 min

WordPress provides a robust system for managing user access and permissions using user roles. Each user role comes with a predefined set of capabilities that dictate their actions on the website. By assigning specific roles to users, you gain control over various aspects, such as content publication, settings management, comment moderation, and other functions within your WordPress site.

Numerous online resources delve into the intricacies of WordPress core roles, and we won't reiterate that information here. However, what often goes unnoticed is the fact that you don't actually need to have a single role to have a fully functional website. It might sound surprising, but it's true, and the way WordPress core is designed emphasizes this fact.

Think of a WordPress role as a way to group together a specific list of capabilities that you can grant to a user. It's essential not to make assumptions solely based on a role's name. For instance, don't assume that a user with an "Administrator" role has full access or that a user with a "Subscriber" role can only read posts. WordPress lacks robust governance and safety measures concerning capability management. Consequently, at any given moment, a plugin, theme, or privileged user can modify the capabilities assigned to any role.

Unfortunately, we've come across several plugins that use roles for authorization, which, based on our understanding of how WordPress core operates, we see this as a fundamental mistake that leads to broken access control. The correct approach to control authorization is through capabilities.

Understanding Capabilities

WordPress defines specific capabilities that can be assigned to roles or directly to any user. Capabilities are the granular permissions that determine a user's actions on the site. While roles group these capabilities together, you can customize them to create bespoke roles with unique permissions.

Some common capabilities include:

  • edit_posts: Allows users to edit their own posts.
  • publish_posts: Grants the ability to publish posts.
  • delete_posts: Enables the deletion of posts.
  • moderate_comments: Allows the moderation of comments.
  • manage_options: Provides access to the site's settings and options.

Customizing Roles & Capabilities

WordPress offers flexibility in customizing user roles and capabilities to align with your website's specific requirements. However, it lacks a built-in user interface for this task. This is where plugins like Advanced Access Manager come into play, addressing the absence of such functionality.

On the AAM page, you can customize existing roles, create new roles, and manage the list of capabilities for each role. When needed, you can always create new capabilities or remove existing ones.

Best Practices for Role Management

Here are some best practices for effectively managing user roles and capabilities in WordPress:

  • Least Privilege Principle. Adhere to the principle of least privilege, granting users the minimum necessary permissions for their tasks to mitigate potential security risks.

  • Regular Audits. Periodically review and audit user roles and capabilities, removing or modifying access for users who no longer require certain privileges.

  • Security. Limit the number of administrators to reduce the risk of unauthorized changes.

  • Documentation. Maintain clear documentation of your custom roles and capabilities, particularly when multiple team members manage the website. This ensures everyone understands their responsibilities.


Understanding WordPress roles and capabilities is crucial for efficient and secure website management. By assigning the appropriate roles and customizing capabilities as needed, you can ensure that users have the right level of access to perform their tasks without compromising the integrity and security of your WordPress site. Whether you're running a personal blog or a complex business website, mastering user roles and capabilities is a fundamental skill for WordPress administrators.