When I think about Tableau permissions, I have two words:

  • Robust –  Tableau’s permission features are very comprehensive and robust. Definitely enterprise grade.
  • Confusion – On the other side, Tableau’s permission is kind of confusing  since it has too many different variables to set permissions.

To understand permissions, let’s start by looking into structures within Tableau server. A server consists of multiple sites (ref Tableau site blog for details). From permission perspective,  one important thing to know is that there is absolutely no ‘communication’ between sites. Nothing can be shared across sites.

Within each site, there are projects. Within project, there are workbooks and data sources, each workbook can have multiple views. Within each site, there are users and group. Sites are partitions or compartmented containers.

site structure







If you think projcet/workbooks are containers, permission is to assign users & groups into containers. Permissions are at all levels: site, project, workbooks, data sources, views. Let’s look into each of those.

1. Site Role

Tableau has many site roles but most common used ones are publisher, interactor in additional to admin.

site role




What is site role and how it works?

  • Site role is site specific. One user can have publisher site role in default but can have interactor site role in other site.
  • Site role can be granted by server admins and maybe site admins if the site site admin is allowed to manage users (site level setting).
  • Site role is ceiling as maximum permissions the user can have  for the site.
  • Interactor site role can never publish even with publisher permission at project level. Now you may start to see confusion part of Tableau permission.
  • Interactor site role can’t save or save as web editing even with “save” allowed at workbook level.
  • Site role does not define what a user can and can’t do at project,  workbook, or data source level. You can think site role as people’s legal right to work in US, while publish permission at project level is employer’s job offer.  Although you have to have legal rights to work in US, it does not mean that you can work for a company unless
    have a job offer from that company.  On the other side, even company gives an offer, Iy will not allowed to work if I do not have legal right to work in US.
  • You can check your own site role at ‘My Account Settings’  but you can’t check other’s site role.

2. Project Level Permissions

Project level permission  deals with who can view, publish, and manager the project. When you click project name, then permission , you will see the project permissions. You can set project roles (Publisher, Viewer and Project Leader) permission, you can also set workbook and data source permission here which will be as default permissions when workbooks or data sources are published to the project.project_permission

  • Publisher:  This is different from site role ‘Publisher’. Project publisher role defines if the  group or user can publish to this project. It is independent from site role ‘publisher’. Site role ‘Interactor’ can still have publisher permission at project level although it does not matter since site role ‘Interactor’ can’t publish to anywhere.
  • Project Leader: 
    • Can set permission to all items in the project
    • Can change refresh schedule: this can be a very handy feature if someone is on vacation and his workbook refresh schedule has to be changed.
    • Can change workbook or data source owner: This is great feature that project leader should do when someone leaving the team or company.
    • Can lock the project permission
  • Lock project permission vs managed by the owner:  The key difference is if you want each publisher to change their  workbook permission or not in your project.  When it is locked, those who have publisher site role and publisher permission to your project can still publish, but they can’t change any workbook permission. All the workbook permissions will default from project level permissions you set for workbooks. So all the workbooks within the project will have exactly the same permission. If you change workbook permissions at project level, it will be applied automatically to all the workbooks/data sources in the project. 
  • When to lock project permission? 
    • For more sensitive contents that you want to make sure permissions can’t be deviated
    • For simplifying permission purpose.
    • Other cases. For example, if you have one project, the workbook permissions are so messed and you want to re-do it. One way is to lock the permission, so all workbook/data source permissions will be cleared up with one simple click. Then you can unlock it to make some additional changes from there.
    • You can’t undo the permissions when you change from ‘managed by the owner’ to locked. Pls take screenshots before change

3. Workbook Level Permissions 

Workbook level has 14 different capacities that you can set independently. To simplify the process, Tableau out of box comes with a few templates (viewer, interactor, editor, none or Denied). When you make any modification to any of those templates, it will be called custom.workbook_permission

  • Download: Tableau workbook has 4 different download controls: Download image/pdf, download summary data, data load full data or download workbook (download workbook/save as is the combined capability).
  • Shared customized: There is shared customized and web edit. Customized view feature comes with filter. If user has filter permission, user can change view filter and can save the preferred filter as customized views, and can even make one of the customized views as default view to this user which is very handy specially for slower views. The shared customized controls if you want user to share his or her shared customized views to all other users who have access to the same views.
  • Web edit: Customized view is different from web edit. Customized view only allows filter type of change while web edit allows change the whole design of the view (like chart type, new calculations, new fields, etc).
  •  Download Workbook/Save As: Download will be highlighted with this permissions. However save as is considered publishing activities. If the user has site role as ‘Interactor’, the user can’t web edit save as or publish from Desktop even this Download Workbook/Save As is allowed at workbook.
  • Save: Save means to trust others to overwrite your workbooks.“Save” feature must know:
    • It works for both Desktop and Web Edit
    • The new user who ‘save’ will become new owner of workbook since workbook only has one owner at any given time
    • What about previous owner’s permission? The new owner can give previous owner any permission or no permission at all for the ‘managed by owner’ project
    • Revision history will create a new workbook revision if it is tuned on
    • “Save” button doesn’t appear except for owners. If you are not the content owner, the “Save As” button will appear. Type same name to overwrite a report, you will be asked to confirm overwriting, then “Save” button will appear.

4. How web edit, save as and save permissions work together

First, does the user have Web Edit permissions on the workbook. If no, then no “Edit” button appears.

Next, does the user have permissions to Publish on the Site. If not,  that user won’t get Save / Save As buttons even if you’ve granted correct Download / Web Save As permissions on the Workbook.

Also, does the user have workbook-level permissions to Download/Web Save As. If not, then No Save / Save As buttons for that workbook.

Finally, which Project can a user save? If you haven’t granted a user permissions to save into a particular project, then it doesn’t matter if all the other permissions are set correctly because the user doesn’t have any place to store their changes. If user has permission to publish to multiple projects, user will have choices of which project to save as.

web edit






5. Set data source permissions

When you publish a workbook, you can option to publish the data source separately from workbook. Then the published data sources  become reusable for more workbooks, one refresh schedule to update all its connected workbook at the same time so it becomes SSOT and of course less loads to data sources.

When you publish a workbook that connects to a Tableau Server data source, rather than setting the credentials to access the underlying data, you set whether the workbook can access the published data source it connects to.

If you select to prompt users, a user who opens the workbook must have View and Connect permissions on the data source to see the data. If you select embed password, users can see the information in the workbook even if they don’t have View or Connect permissions.

To simplify permission settings: When publish workbooks, select ‘Embedded password’ for published data sources it connects to:

  • When publish workbook, select ‘Embedded password’
  • Only give publisher group ’Connect’ permission at data source level
  • Do nothing for end consumer (‘interactor’) group at data source level

If you select ‘Prompt user’ data auth during workbook publishing while using published data source, a user who opens the workbook must have View and Connect permissions to the data source to see the data. Here is tricky part: You want to make sure that you do not give ‘interactor’ data source level ‘connect’ permission but give ‘interactor’ project level data source ‘connect’ permission. The correct setup is as followings:

  • For interactor group only:
    • Connect permission at project level
    • ‘unspecified’ at data source level
  •  For publisher group only:
    • Connect permission at data source level

The reason is that if you give  interactor group data source level ‘connect’ permission, they will be able to connect to the published data source if they have Desktop, which can potentially by-pass the filters or row level security setup in workbook or published data source. When user has project level data source ‘connect’ permission, the user is not able to connect via Desktop but is able to connect via workbook only. I could not find clear Tableau documentation for this but my test results in v9 and v10 confirmed this setting.

6. Set view permissions

When the workbook is saved without tabs, the default permissions are applied to the workbook and views, but view permissions can then be edited. Permissions for views in workbooks are inherited from the workbook permissions. If a user selects “Show sheets as tabs” when publishing a workbook from Tableau Desktop or saving it on Tableau Server, the workbook permissions override the permissions on individual views anyway.

Best practice is not to get view level permission at all.

6. Summary of best practices:

  • Permission groups, not users
  • Lock project permissions if possible
  • For owner managed projects, permission workbooks, not views
  • Assign project leaders
  • Plan your permissions
  • Use published data sources and ‘Embedded password’ when publish workbook
  • Apply additional row level security
  • Test permissions out
  • Continual reviews