About permissions and inheritance

Azure DevOps Services | Azure DevOps Server 2020 | Azure DevOps Server 2019 | TFS 2018 - TFS 2013

To access the resources you manage in Azure DevOps—such as your code, builds, and work tracking—you must have permissions for those specific resources. Most permissions are granted through built-in security groups as described in Permissions and access. You can grant or deny permissions to specific users, built-in security groups, or groups defined in Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) if integrated with Azure DevOps, or Active Directory if integrated with TFS.

Permissions may apply to a specific project or objects within the project, such as Git or TFVC repositories, branches, build pipelines, area paths, and more. Or, they can apply to an entire Azure DevOps organization or TFS collection, or to a TFS instance. Each functional area uses groups to simplify management across the deployment.

You manage security groups and permissions from the web portal administration context. Permissions are automatically set based on the group that you add users to, or based on the object, project, collection, or server level to which you add groups. For more information, see Trace permissions.

Permission settings

Here's what you need to know about permission settings:

  • Allow or Deny explicitly grants or restricts users from performing specific tasks, and are usually inherited from group membership.

  • Not set implicitly denies users the ability to perform tasks that require that permission, but allows membership in a group that does have that permission set to take precedence, also known as Allow (inherited) or Inherited allow and Deny (inherited) or Inherited deny.

  • For most groups and almost all permissions, Deny overrides Allow. If a user belongs to two groups, and one of them has a specific permission set to Deny, that user is not able to perform tasks that require that permission even if they belong to a group that has that permission set to Allow.

For members of the Project Collection Administrators or Team Foundation Administrators groups, Deny doesn't trump Allow. Permissions assigned to these groups take precedent over any Deny set within any other group to which that member might belong. Project Collection Administrators or Team Foundation Administrators permissions will not take precedence for work item operations, such as deletion. Deny will override Allow for these permissions.

  • Changing a permission for a group changes that permission for all users who are members of that group. In other words, depending on the size of the group, you might affect the ability of hundreds of users to do their jobs by changing just one permission. So make sure you understand the impact before you make a change.

Inheritance and security groups

Some permissions are managed through a hierarchy. Within this hierarchy, permissions can be inherited from the parent or overridden. Security groups assign a set of permissions to those members of the group. For example, members of the Contributors group or Project Administrators group are assigned the permissions that are set as Allowed to those groups.

If a permission isn't directly allowed or denied for a user, then it may be inherited in two ways.

  • Users inherit permissions from the groups to which they belong. When a permission is allowed for a user directly or through membership in a group that has that permission, and it is denied, either directly or through group membership, the permission is denied.

    Members of Project Collection Administrators or Team Foundation Administrators retain most allowed permissions, even if they belong to other groups that deny those permissions. Work item operation permissions are the exception to this rule.

  • Object-level permissions that are assigned for nodes of a hierarchy - areas, iterations, version control folders, work item query folders - are inherited down the hierarchy. That is, a user's permissions that are set at area-1 are inherited by area-1/sub-area-1, if the same permission is not explicitly allowed or denied for area-1/sub-area-1. If a permission is set explicitly for an object, like area-1/sub-area-1, then the parent node is not inherited, regardless of whether it is denied or allowed. If it's not set, then the permissions for that node are inherited from the closest ancestor that has the permission explicitly set. Lastly, in the object hierarchy, specificity trumps inheritance. For example, a user whose permissions are explicitly set to Deny on 'area-1' but are also explicitly set to Allow for 'area-1/sub-area-1' will ultimately receive an Allow on 'area-1/sub-area-1'.

To understand why a permission is inherited, you can pause over a permission setting, and then choose Why? To open a Security page, see View permissions.


To enable the new user interface for the Project Permissions Settings Page, see Enable preview features.

Permissions dialog, preview page, Why link annotated.

A new dialog opens that shows the inheritance information for that permission.

The preview user interface for the Project Permissions Settings Page isn't available for Azure DevOps Server 2020 and earlier versions.

When assigning permissions


  • Use Windows groups when managing lots of users.
  • Consider granting the work item query folders Contribute permission to users or groups that require the ability to create and share work item queries for the project.
  • When adding many teams, consider creating a Team Administrators custom group where you allocate a subset of the permissions available to Project Administrators.
  • When adding teams, consider what permissions you want to assign to team leads, scrum masters, and other team members who may need to create and modify area paths, iteration paths, and queries.


  • Don't add users to the project Readers group that you've added to the Project Administrators group. Because the Readers group denies several permissions that the Project Administrators group allows, and deny takes precedence.
  • Don't change the default assignments made to the valid users groups. If you remove or set the View instance-level information permission to Deny for one of the Valid Users groups, no users in the group are able to access the project, collection, or deployment, depending on the group you set.
  • Don't assign permissions that are noted as 'Assign only to service accounts' to user accounts.

Permissions versus access levels

Permissions are different from access levels. Access levels control what features are visible to users in the web portal, and are dependent on user licenses; permissions control a user's ability to use web portal features. If you're just trying to give someone access to a team room or to Agile portfolio management and test case management features, you'll want to change access levels, not permissions.

Setting the access level for users or groups doesn't provide them access to a project or the web portal. Only users or groups added to a team or security group can connect to a project and the web portal. Make sure your users have both the permissions and the access level they need. You do this by making sure they're added to the project or a team.