Usage guide

Setting Up a FACPL Project

A FACPL project can be created from the project menu “File -> New Project …”, where the customised wizard FACPL Development Project is available. After choosing a project name, the wizard creates a new Java Plugin-Development Project that contains all the required libraries for the coding and evaluation tasks; note that the project name cannot contain any blank space.


The generated FACPL project is like the one reported in Figure 3. FACPL files are generic text files having the “.fpl” extension and, for practical convenience, are placed in the src-facpl folder; a policy demo is added to the auto-generated project. The FACPL Java-translated policies and requests are automatically placed in the src folder. Instead, the src-xml folder contains the generated XML files and the src-smtlib folder contains the generated SMT-LIB files.

A new FACPL file can be created either as a new generic file with extension “.fpl” or by using the FACPL File wizard from the command File -> New… in the menu. The wizard permits specifying the container of the file (by selecting it from the projects available in the workspace), the name of the file, and some basic code examples to add to the new file.

Policy Specification

A FACPL file is composed of three different parts (for which the new file wizard provides basic templates):

  • Policy declarations: define the access control policies and the algorithms used for calculating and enforcing authorisation decisions.
  • Request declarations: define the attributes values modeling an access attempt. The requests will be evaluated with respect to the available policies to obtain the corresponding authorisation decisions.
  • Main: defines the Policy Authorisation System (PAS), i.e. the PEP and PDP, and some options for the generation of Java code and for request evaluation. More details on this part are presented in Plugin Commands and Facets.

An access control policy is hierarchically structured in terms of rules and policy sets, where a rule is a basic element for specifying access controls, while a policy set is a collection of other policies.

A rule specifies a name, the positive or negative decision of its successful evaluation (i.e., permit or deny), and a target expression for checking the applicability with respect to a request.

A target is a boolean expression defining the conditions deciding if the enclosed policy has to authorised an incoming request. The expressions are formed by basic relational and arithmetic operators. Such opertors define conditions on requests by means of attribute name. The available operators and some special attribute names (e.g. to get the current time) are provided by the auto-completion feature (e.g., for Mac/s users ⌘+Space) of the plugin. Attribute names are of the form Identifier/Identifier, where the first identifier stands for a category name and the second for an attribute name. For example, the name action/action-id represents the value of the attribute action-id within the category action. Notably, the plugin provides a type inference system checking that the expressions are correctly typed.

A policy set specifies a name, the combining algorithm to be used for combining the results of the contained policies, and a target expression for defining its applicability. The available combining algorithms are: permit-overrides, deny-overrides, permit-unless-deny, deny-unless-permit, first-applicable, only-one-applicable, weak-consensus and strong-consensus. The behaviour of each of them is presented in Policy Evaluation. Each algorithm is paired with a fulfilment strategy, i.e. all or greedy, leading its evaluation (see below). In addition, if different behaviours are requested, it is also possible to specialise the custom-algorithm. Furthermore, the command include permits to add, by means of name reference, a policy set to another one.

Each of the previous elements can also include a list of obligations. An obligation specifies an effect, i.e. permit or deny, for the applicability of the obligation, a type, i.e. M for Mandatory and O for Optional, and the identifier of an action with its argument. These arguments are generic expressions possibly containing attribute names, while the set of action identifiers understood by the PEP can be chosen, from time to time, according to the specific application.

The definition of the policy authorisation system (PAS), in addition to the access control policies defining the PDP, defines the top-level combining algorithm for the PDP (i.e., one among the algorithms already mentioned) and the enforcement algorithm for the PEP (i.e., one among base, permit-biased and deny-biased).

The following figure reports an example of policy declaration from an e-Health case study.


The policy manages all the requests for the management of the e-Prescription service of the patient named ‘Alice’. The rules checks the credentials exposed by the requester (i.e., the permission) and the requested actions.

We briefly comment part of the reported policy. The policy named “ePre” checks, by means of its target, if the requested service is “e-Prescription”, then the internal rules check the exposed credentials according to the requested actions. By way of example, the rule named “writeDoc” authorises with permit (i.e., a positive authorisation) a subject whose role is doctor (i.e., by using attribute subject/role) and whose permissions contain both the permissions “e-Pre-Read” and “e-Pre-Write”. Notably, the rules are evaluated in the same order as they appear within the policy. Thus, since the chosen combining algorithm is permit-overrides (see below), if the first rule evaluates correctly (i.e. it returns permit) then the second rule is not evaluated. Finally, the obligation log is used to record in the system the authorised access. The other rules are similarly defined, as well as the obligation mailTo.


Figure 5 reports an example of FACPL request. Specifically, it represents the “doctor” with id “Dr. House” and credentials “e-Pre-Read” and “e-Pre-Write”, willing to “write” an “e-Prescription” for the patient with id “Alice”. This request is authorised to permit by the previous policy.

Policy Evaluation

The evaluation of a request with respect to a policy generates one among the following authorization decisions:

  • permit: the request is granted;
  • deny: the request is not granted;
  • not-applicable: there is no policy that applies to the request;
  • indeterminate: some errors occurred in the evaluation.

When the resulting authorisation decision is permit or deny some obligations can possibly be present.

The evaluation of a policy with respect to a request starts by checking its applicability to the request, which is done by evaluating the expression defining its target. Evaluating expressions amounts to apply operators and to resolve the attribute names occurring within, that is to determine the value corresponding to each such name. If this is not possible, i.e. an attribute with that name is missing in the request and cannot be retrieved through the context handler, the special value ⊥ is returned. This value can be explicitly managed by the various operators. The evaluation of a policy has indeed the following cases:

  • Let us suppose that the applicability holds, i.e. the expression evaluates to true. In case of rules, the rule effect is returned. In case of policy sets, the result is obtained by evaluating the contained policies and combining their evaluation results through the specified algorithm. In both cases, the evaluation ends with the fulfilment of the enclosed obligations.
  • Let us suppose now that the applicability does not hold. If the expression evaluates to false or ⊥, the policy evaluation returns not-applicable, while if the expression returns an error or a non-boolean value, the policy evaluation returns indeterminate.

Clearly, a policy with target expression true (resp., false) applies to all (resp., no) requests. The evaluation process of rules and policy sets is summarised, respectively, in Tables 1 and 2.

Target Obligation Rule Result
true fulfilled rule effect + FO
true fulfilment error indeterminate
false or ⊥
error or non-boolean value - indeterminate

Table 1. Rule evaluation (where FO stands for ‘fulfilled obligations’)

Target Combining Algorithm Obligation Policy Set Result
true permit (resp., deny) fulfilled permit (resp., deny) + FO
true not-applicable
true indeterminate
true permit (resp., deny) fulfilment error indeterminate
false or ⊥
error or non-boolean value -

Table 2. Policy set evaluation (where FO stands for ‘fulfilled obligations’)

Concerning the evaluation of expressions, it takes into account the types of the operators arguments, and possibly returns the special value ⊥ and error. In details, if the arguments are of the expected type, the operator is applied, else, i.e. at least one argument is error, error is returned; otherwise, i.e. at least one argument is ⊥ and none is error, ⊥ is returned. The expression operators and and or enforce a different treatment of these special values. Specifically, and returns true if both operands are true, false if at least one operand is false, ⊥ if at least one operand is ⊥ and none is false or error, and error otherwise (e.g. when an operand is not a boolean value). The operator or is the dual of and. Hence, and and or may mask ⊥ and error. Instead, the unary operator not only swaps values true and false and leaves ⊥ and error unchanged. The other expression operators have the expected semantics (e.g., operator equal checks if the arguments are equal) and enforce the management strategy for the special values ⊥ and error possibly resulting from the evaluation of their arguments. Indeed, they establish that error takes precedence over ⊥ and is returned every time the operator arguments have unexpected types; whereas ⊥ is returned when at least an argument is ⊥ and there is no error.

The evaluation of a policy includes the fulfilment of the enclosed obligations whose applicability effect coincides with the decision calculated for the policy. The fulfilment of an obligation consists in evaluating all the expression arguments of the enclosed action. If an error occurs, the policy decision is changed to indet. Otherwise, the fulfilled obligations are paired with the policy decision to form the PDP response.

The behaviour of the combining algorithms available in the plugin is as follows:

  • deny-overrides (specular to permit-overrides): if the processing of a policy returns deny, then the result is deny. In other words, deny takes precedence, regardless of the result of processing any other policy. Instead, if at least a policy returns permit and all others return not-applicable or permit, then the result is permit. If all policies return not-applicable, then the result is not-applicable. In the remaining cases, the result is indeterminate.
  • deny-unless-permit (specular to permit-unless-deny ): this algorithm gives precedence to permit over deny, but never returns not-applicable or indeterminate because, if a request is not evaluated as permit, then it is evaluated as deny.
  • first-applicable: in this case, the combined result is the same as the result of processing the first policy in the sequence of policies whose target is applicable to the request, if such result is either permit, deny or indeterminate. If all policies return not-applicable, then the result is not-applicable.
  • only-one-applicable: this algorithm ensures that one and only one policy is applicable by virtue of its target. If no policy applies, the algorithm returns not-applicable, while if more than one policy is applicable, it returns indeterminate. When exactly one policy is applicable, the result of the algorithm is that of the applicable policy.
  • weak-consensus: this algorithm returns permit (resp., deny) if some policies return permit (resp., deny) and no other policy returns deny (resp., permit); if both decisions are returned by different policies in the sequence, the algorithm returns indeterminate. If only not-applicable and indeterminate decisions are returned, indeterminate takes precedence. When all policies return not-applicable then the result is not-applicable.
  • strong-consensus: this algorithm is the stronger version of the previous one, in the sense that to obtain permit (resp., deny) all policies have to return permit (resp., deny), otherwise indeterminate is returned. If all policies return not-applicable then the result is not-applicable.

Each algorithm is paired with a fulfilment strategy, i.e. one between all and greedy.

  • The all strategy requires evaluation of all the occurring policies and returns the fulfilled obligations pertaining to all decisions.
  • The greedy strategy prescribes that, as soon as a decision is obtained that cannot change due to evaluation of subsequent policies in the input sequence, the execution halts. Hence, the result will not consider the possibly remaining policies and only contains the obligations already fulfilled. Therefore, the fulfilment strategies mainly affect the amount of fulfilled obligations possibly returned.

The greedy strategy may significantly improve the evaluation performance of a sequence of several policies.

Finally, the custom-algorithm doesn’t implement any behaviour; when the Java code is generated, it only returns a “template” for implementing a customised combining algorithm.

The authorisation decision resulting from the PDP evaluation is then enforced by means of the chosen enforcement algorithm according to the results of the execution of obligations. The behaviour of each enforcement algorithm is as follows:

  • base: it allows (resp. forbids) access only if the decision is permit (resp. deny) and all obligations are successfully discharged, otherwise it enforces indeterminate;
  • deny-biased: if the decision is permit and all obligations are successfully discharged, the access is granted, otherwise it is forbidden;
  • permit-biased: if the decision is deny and all obligations are successfully discharged, the access is forbidden, otherwise it is granted.

Notably, errors possibly occurring while discharging optional obligations are ignored, so that they do not affect the enforcement process.

Policy Analysis

To analyse FACPL policies, it is used an approach based on constraints. The automatic verification of such constraints is obtained through an SMT solver, like, e.g., Z3. For additional details on how such constraints are generated see this FACPL paper The type of properties we can check on policies by means of such constraints are:

  • Authorisation Properties These properties permit to statically reason on the result of the evaluation of a policy with respect to a specific request. Additionally, the properties MAY and MUST permit also to take into account the role of additional attributes that can be possibly introduced in the request at run-time and that might lead to unexpected authorisations. The properties are
    • EVAL: check if a policy evaluates a request to a certain decision.
    • MAY: check if a policy evaluates a request and ANY of its possible extensions (i.e., where additional attributes are present) to a certain decision.
    • MUST: check if a policy evaluates a request and ALL its possible extensions (i.e., where additional attributes are present) to a certain decision.
  • Structural Properties These properties permit to statically reason on the whole set of authorisations enforced by one or more policies. The properties are
    • COMPLETE: a policy is complete if it applies to all requests, i.e. it does not return not-applicable
    • DISJOINT: two policies are disjoint if there is no request for which both policies evaluate to permit or deny
    • COVER: a policy p covers a policy p’ if the for each request for which p’ evaluates to permit or deny, the policy p evaluates such requests to the same decision.

Plugin Commands and Facets

The FACPL plugin offers many facets to support policy development, from the organisation of code to commands for generating Java and XML code.

Navigation and formatting. The multi-page editor highlights FACPL keywords and policies’ structure defining various formatting layouts for policy elements (i.e., combining algorithms, keywords, effects, and literals), and an auto-indentation command for FACPL code. The latter command can be invoked by using the classical Eclipse shortcut ⌘+Shift+F (or Ctrl+Shift+F for Window’s users). Furthermore, the structure of policies can be also navigated by means of the Outline View specifically designed for FACPL specifications.

Scope and Import. The scope of a file is the set of requests and policies defined inside the file. The scope is used to check the references of requests and policies in the Eval Request option and in the include command, respectively.

The plugin allows the developers to split the code in different modules and, by using import commands, to create cross-file scope for policies and requests. The import is defined as the command import ‘name_file.fpl’ and can access all the FACPL files in the current folder. Therefore, the scope of the file where the import is defined is extended with the scope of the imported files. Specifically, all requests and policies defined in the imported file are also visible in the current file.

Name checks. For policies and policy sets it is ensured the uniqueness of names. This check is performed among policy items together with policy set ones, because both of them can be used in an include command. Moreover, when an import command is present, the name check verifies uniqueness of local items with respect to the imported ones.

Generation parameters. The meaning of the attributes defined in the Main Attributes section of the FACPL code is as follows:

  • Combined Decision (optional): if multiple requests have to be evaluated, we can require that only one combined decision will be returned.
  • Extended Indeterminate: it activates an additional features for the management of indeterminate; we advice to put this option to false.
  • Java Package: it specifies the Java package where the generated Java-translated policies and requests will be placed (if empty, it is assigned the default Java package).
  • Requests To Evaluate: it defines the name of the requests to evaluate (each request name must be visible within the file scope).

When these options are properly selected, the generation of Java code defines, in the PEP Java class, the main method for running requests’ evaluation.

Generation of Java Code. To generate the corresponding Java code of a FACPL specification, the IDE provides the command Generate Java Code from FACPL in the pop-up menu (right click in the editor or on the specific file in the package explorer view) and in the FACPL toolbar menu. The resulting Java classes will be included in the package defined in the main attributes. If there are one or more imported files, the generation command is recursively executed on those FACPL files.

Generation of XACML (XML) policies. From the FACPL code it is also possible to generate the corresponding XACML files written as XML code. The command Generate XACML Code from FACPL in the pop-up menu or in the FACPL toolbar menu generates the corresponding XML files into the src-xml folder.

Generation of SMT-LIB. From the FACPL code it is also possible to generate the corresponding SMT-LIB code. The command Generate SMT-LIB Code from FACPL in the pop-up menu or in the FACPL toolbar menu generates the corresponding SMT-LIB file into the src-smtlib folder. This file can then pass as input to an SMT solver like, e.g., Z3.

Policy Analysis. The menu commands Create Authorisation Property… and Create Structural Property… provide a guided interface to create the SMT-LIB file needed to check the satisfiability of the chosen authorisation and structural property, respectively.


  • Which additional action are available for FACPL obligations? The PEP implementation provides by default log and mailTo actions. Other actions can be easily defined by using the Java class PEPAction that results from the generation of Java code.
  • May I code with FACPL directly in Java? Yes, the Java libraries can be found on the web-site and they can be easily added as additional reference libraries to a Java project.
  • How can I update the Eclipse plugin? The Eclipse plugin can be automatically updated (if a new version will be available) by using the Eclipse command Check for Updates.