Azure RBAC Custom Roles

Microsoft Azure



Azure supports Role-Based-Access-Control (RBAC) to controlling what actions a principal (user, service principal etc) can perform via the Azure Portal, XPlat Cli or Azure PowerShell module.

Azure provides quite a few built-in roles (48 at this time) but it is also possible to define your own custom roles. In this post I will provide a few general tips on RBAC and also how to go about creating your own custom roles.

Actions and NotActions

Actions are permissions/operations that you wish to allow and NotActions are ones that you wish to restrict. When assigning roles you need to be conscious of the fact that NotActions are not deny rules as mentioned in the Microsoft document:

If a user is assigned a role that excludes an operation in NotActions, and is assigned a second role that grants access to the same operation, the user will be allowed to perform that operation. NotActions is not a deny rule – it is simply a convenient way to create a set of allowed operations when specific operations need to be excluded.


View a list of the built-in roles

You can use the Get-AzureRmRoleDefinition cmdlet to view a list of built-in roles:

View a list of the custom roles

You can view the list of custom roles (ones that you have created) available in the currently selected subscription by using the -Custom switch of the same cmdlet.

How to view the possible operations for a particular resource

When you are creating your own roles, you might want to see all the possible operations that can be permissioned for a particular resource type. In the example, below Microsoft.Sql/ represents Azure SQL Database and we use the Get-AzureRmProviderOperation cmdlet to search for all operations that begin with Microsoft.Sql/.

Creating a custom role

There are two ways to create a custom role .

  1. Write a role definition in JSON as shown in the Microsoft documentation; or
  2. If there is a built-in role close to what you need you can create a custom role based on an existing built-in (or indeed another custom role) and just modify the actions/notactions.

If you have a JSON role definition file you can create a new role definition using the command:

The PowerShell code below shows how you can create a custom role based on an existing one:


There are two important points to be aware of when creating custom roles:

  • A custom role defined in one subscription is not visible in other subscriptions.
  • The role name must be unique to your Azure AD Tenant – e.g. if you want to use the same role definition across different subscription you will need to use a different name in each subscription – yes this is a pain and could cause some confusion.


As you may have noticed from the code snippet above roles can be applied to multiple different scopes e.g. at the subscription level, resource group level or to an individual resource.

It is important to remember that access  that you grant at parent scopes is inherited at child scopes.


Modifying an existing custom role

The simplest way to modify an existing custom role is by retrieving the role definition via Get-AzureRmRoleDefinition and storing it in a variable, then adding/removing actions or changing the scope as required, and finally applying the changes with Set-AzureRmRoleDefinition.

Example custom roles

I have added a few example custom roles to my GitHub repo here:

The only thing you’d need to change is the assignable scopes in order to make use of the role definitions.

There are only two roles in the repo at the moment:

  1. A custom virtual machine operator role: I created this role to meet a requirement I had to allow particular users to start/stop/restart VMs in a particular resource group
  2. A custom limited subscription contributor role: this role was created to remove some types of sensitive operations from a subscription contributor. Of course what you deem as sensitive will change based on your context and the users involved. The custom role just adds sensitive operations into the NotActions. Ideally you should use more specific roles and scope the appropriately – but you may be asked to provide such broad access. One of the problems with this approach is new resource types are added frequently that may be sensitive so you have to constantly update the role definition.

ARM Template Plaster Template Manifest

Microsoft Azure

Plaster is a template-based file and project generator written in PowerShell. It is commonly used to create the scaffolding for the typical directories and files that are required to create a PowerShell module. However, it can also be used to create the scaffolding for a typical ARM template e.g. azuredeploy.json,  azuredeploy.parameters.json, metadata.json files, Pester test script etc.

You can find an example Plaster manifest for creating the scaffolding for an ARM template here in my Github repo

Azure ARM Templates and Testing with Pester

Microsoft Azure

I have been recently working with Azure Resource Manager (ARM) templates and using Pester for testing. My friend Sunny showed me a very basic example of using Pester for testing an ARM template that is available as part of a template for VM Scale Sets managed by Azure Automation DSC. The pester test script provided with this template does a few things:

  • Tests that an azuredeploy.json file exists
  • Tests that an azuredeploy.parameters.json file exists
  • Tests that a metadata.json file exists
  • Tests that the azuredeploy.json has the expected properties

This is a good start but in this post I will walk through some additional types of tests that you can run and also some gotchas I found with the example in the Azure Quickstart templates Github repo.


Checking for expected properties in a JSON file


The example in the Azure Quickstart templates Github repo uses the code below to check for expected properties:

There is a problem with this code in that the order in which the properties are returned through the line with the ConvertFrom-Json cmdlet may not match the order used by the expectedProperties variable. This issue can be solved by simply sorting the properties when you store them in the expectedProperties variable and also after the call to Get-Member.

Dealing with multiple parameter files


Another shortcoming of the example is that it assumes only one parameter file per template, so how do you deal with multiple parameter files? e.g.,  azuredeploy.parameters.test.jsonFirst we need to modify the test that checks for the existence of parameter files to allow for multiple files like so:

Next we need to deal with multiple parameter files when checking if parameter files have the expected properties. To do this at the top of the test script we create an array hashes of all the parameter files.

Then we put the tests for parameter files in a separate context block and use TestCases parameter for a It block.

Testing a resource has the expected properties

We can extend the method used to check that a azuredeploy.json template file has the expected resources to also check that the resource has the expected properties. In the example below, we first check that a the azuredeploy.json contains a virtual network resource, then we check the virtual network has properties for address space, DHCP options and subnets.

Validating Templates

Another test we can add as part of our Pester testing script is to use the Test-AzureResourceGroupDeployment cmdlet to validate the template with each parameter file.  This requires creating a resource group.

When creating a resource group you should try to randomise part of the resource group name to avoid clashes, so for example you could use something like:

Here we use Pester-Validation-RG to easily identify what the purpose of the resource group is. We then prefix this with the first 5 characters from a GUID – to avoid clashes in the event you have multiple users or automated tests running at the same time in the same subscription.

We can then use the BeforeAll block to create the resource group before running the tests and the AfterAll block to delete it after all tests have run.

We then run Test-AzureResourceGroupDeployment with the template and each parameter file in turn uses the TestCases parameter for the It block.

There are few things to note with this:

  • It obviously requires that we create a resource group – because although the Test-AzureResourceGroupDeployment cmdlet doesn’t actually create the resources in the template it requires a resource group in order to use it.
  • While there is an AfterAll block block that deletes the temporary resource group that is created to validate the template, if you Ctrl-C the test script or there is some other problem e.g. such as a corrupted test group stack it may not clean up your temporary resource group.
  • Note the deployment of the template can still fail – this simply checks that the schema for each of the resources is correct and that the parameter file is correct. Deployments can still fail for other reasons and the parameter file may still be wrong e.g. we specify a subnet address prefix in the parameter file that does not fall within the VNET address spaces
  • This will increase the time it takes for the tests to run because creating and deleting a resource group, even if it’s empty takes a little time.

Azure ASEs ARM Templates and resourceGroup.location() function

Microsoft Azure

In a recent post I wrote about Azure App Service Environments (ASEs) and AD Integration. If you look at the Azure Quickstart template for a Web App in an ASE, you will notice that the location is passed in as a parameter instead of using the resourcegoup.location() function. This is because there is a known issue where the backend infrastructure for ASEs is not correctly handling the location string returned by this function call. This is mentioned in the following stackoverflow article

Azure App Service Environments (ASEs) and AD Integration

Microsoft Azure, Powershell

Recently I had to look at a case where there was a requirement to communicate with an Active Directory Domain Controller from a Azure Web App. We were looking to use App Service Environments, looking at the documentation published here,it stated:

This caused some confusion as it appeared to suggest you could not communicate with domain controllers but it appears this is actually more in reference to domain joining.

Furthermore, there is a Microsoft blog post on how to load a LDAP module for PHP with an Azure Web App – which indicates that it is a supported scenario.

You can relatively easily verify this by deploying an Azure Web App with VNET integration or in ASE. I used a modified version of the template published here to create a Web App in an ASE.

I then created a domain controller via PowerShell in this Gist:

Then I used the PowerShell code in this Gist to install AD related roles and promoted the server to a Domain Controller via an answer file – change the forest/domain functional level and other settings to suit your needs.

At this point you can perform a rudimentary test of AD integration via Kudu/SCM PowerShell console.

If you wish to test using PHP, you will need to download the PHP binaries from, and extracted them on my computer, in the ext directory you will find the php_ldap.dll file. Note the version you downloads needs to match the version of PHP you have configured your Web App with, which in my case was 5.6.

Next from Kudu / SCM I created a directory named bin under /site/wwwroot, in that directory. Then using FTPS (I used FileZilla, but you will need to create a deployment account first) to upload the php_ldap.dll file.

Then create a file named ldap-test.php with the following php code:

If you then browse to your web app domain and the file e.g.

Auditing Azure RBAC Assignments

Microsoft Azure, Powershell

I recently had a need to create a script to generate a report on Azure RBAC role assignments. The script does a number of things given the domain for your Azure AD tenant:

  • Reports on which users or AD groups have which role;
  • The scope that the role applies to (e.g. subscription, resource group, resource);
  • Where the role is assigned to an AD group, it uses the function from this blog post to recursively obtain the group members
  • The script reports on whether a user is Co-Administrator, Service Administrator or Account Administrator
  • Report on whether a user is sourced from the Azure AD Tenant or an external directory or if it appears to be an external account
The user running the script must have permissions to read permissions e.g. ‘Microsoft.Authorization/*/read’ permissions
The script can either output the results as an array of custom objects or in CSV format which can then be redirected to a file and manipulated in Excel.
The script could be run as a scheduled task or via Azure Automation if you wanted to periodically run the script in an automated fashion, it can also be extended to alert on certain cases such as when users from outside your Azure AD Tenant have access to a subscription, resource group or individual resource. The latter item is not a default feature of the script as depending on your organisation you may legitimately have external accounts (e.g. if you’re using 3rd parties to assist you with deploying/building or managing Azure).
The script has been published to my GitHub repo. Hopefully it will be of use to others.