WordPress User Roles Explained: How to Modify Them and Create New Ones

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WordPress has six user roles to choose from to assign to users. These roles are used to define the capabilities each user has. They determine who can moderate comments, create posts, delete posts, change themes, install plugins, add new users and any other action available to perform on a WordPress website.

Every available task on a website is set within the confines of a user role. Roles are very useful and necessary to understand when multiple people are editing a website.

User Roles and their capabilities

The six WordPress user roles are Super Admin, Administrator, Editor, Author, Contributor and Subscriber.

The Super Admin is only used on multisite installations. It is used for performing admin duties on a network of websites. This role can perform any action available in WordPress.

The Administrator on a single site installation has essentially the same abilities the Super Admin does on a multisite network. Users with this role have complete control over a website.

The Editor role is similar to that of a newspaper or magazine editor. They can edit and publish their own posts and posts and the posts of other users. Management of the writing content is the main capability of this role.

An Author can only manage their own posts and upload files to the Media Library. To use the analogy of a magazine or newspaper again, the Author role is like a writer. They only have control over their own work, no one else’s.

A Contributor can manage their own posts but can’t publish them. They can delete and edit their work, but nothing else.

A Subscriber is the most restricted of user roles. Their only abilities are to login to the WordPress dashboard and manage their profile. This role is commonly used for commenters. Some websites require users to have an account on the site before being able to comment.

User Role Capabilities in depth

Super Admin

The capabilities below are only available on multisite installations. In addition to these the Super Admin can perform the actions of all other user roles listed below.

  • Create, delete and manage websites.
  • Manage the network of websites.
  • Manage network users, plugins, themes and options.
  • Setup and upgrade the network of websites.

Administrator

On a single site installation the Administrator has the highest amount of privilege. There is no Super Admin on a single site WordPress installation. The administrator can perform the actions of all other users roles.

Below are the capabilities the Administrator can carry out on a single site install (this is the most common type of WordPress website).

  • Plugins – Install, edit, activate, upload, update and delete.
  • Themes – Install, edit, change options, upload, update, switch and delete.
  • Users – Create, edit, view, change role, promote and delete.
  • Posts & Pages – Publish, edit, read and delete. This applies to public and private posts and pages. An administrator can manage their own posts and pages as well those of other users.
  • Categories – Create, edit and delete.
  • Links – Create, edit and delete.
  • Moderate comments.
  • Media files – upload, edit and delete.
  • Site options – Change the following settings: General, Writing, Reading, Discussion, Permalinks, Miscellaneous
  • Import and Export site data.
  • Edit the dashboard.
  • Access the Customizer.
  • The ability to add HTML and Javascript to posts, pages, widgets and comments.
  • Update to a new version of WordPress.

Editor

In terms of available privileges the Editor role is below the Administrator for responsibilities allowed to be performed.

An editor can manage their own content and the content of others but cannot manage plugins, themes or other users.

The editor role has the following capabilities:

  • Posts & Pages – Publish, edit, read and delete. This applies to public and private posts and pages. An editor can manage their own posts and pages as well those of other users.
  • Moderate comments.
  • Links – Create, edit and delete.
  • Categories – Create, edit and delete.
  • Media files – upload, edit and delete.
  • The ability to add HTML and Javascript to posts, pages, widgets and comments.

Author

An Author can only manage their own posts. They don’t have the ability to perform any management of the website.

This role has significantly less capabilities than those above it.

  • Posts – Publish, edit, delete.
  • Media Files – Upload, edit and delete. This role can only edit or delete media that it uploaded.

Contributor

A contributor is similar to the author role but can’t upload media files or publish posts.

The capabilities of this role are very limited. They can only edit and delete posts but cannot publish their own posts.

Subscriber

The subscriber role is the most limited in terms of capabilities. The only action a user with this role can perform is editing their own profile. They cannot edit posts or items in the Media Library.

How to change roles

Changing roles for WordPress users is very easy. From the WordPress dashboard go to Users, click on a user, scroll down to Role, select a new role for that user. Quick and simple.

wordpress user role setting

Deciding what roles to give users

Users should be given the least amount of privilege necessary that still allows them to perform their duties. For example, unless someone needs the ability to delete another user’s posts or edit pages they shouldn’t be assigned a user role that gives them access to those tasks.

The last thing you need is a user who’s only responsibility is publishing or editing posts to have the ability to change critical components of the website.

Customizing and creating user roles

For some websites the default user roles will work just fine. This is usually the case when there aren’t many users or when their duties are very simple. Once you have a lot of users or their responsibilities become complex you can run into situations where the default capabilities assigned to roles are either too limiting or allow too many capabilities.

Luckily there are ways to add or remove capabilities from roles and even create new roles altogether.

Customizing roles

Thanks to the magic of plugins, customizing user roles is easy.

User Role Editor adds the ability to add or remove capabilities to existing WordPress user roles or create completely new roles.

user role editor plugin

To modify an existing role make sure the plugin is installed and activated. Next, within the WordPress dashboard hover over Users and select User Role Editor.

edit user roles

Select a role from the dropdown menu to begin modifying it. Check a box to add a capability. Uncheck a box to remove a capability. Roles can even be renamed to be more descriptive or to match their new capabilities.

ad or remove role capabilities

Creating new roles

To create a new WordPress user role click Add Role and assign a Role Name (ID) and Display Role Name (you can use the same name for both). Make a copy of an existing role to use as a starting point when creating the new role if you don’t want to start from scratch.

create new user role

Once the new role has been created, select capabilities to give to it. Hit Update and the new role is ready to use.

Now the newly created role can be assigned to users or modified if needed.

Final thought

Understanding user roles and capabilities is vital to properly running a WordPress website with multiple users. Each role allows for different responsibilities and should be chosen carefully based on the requirements of users.

With help from the User Role Editor plugin new roles can be created and existing ones modified to best fit the needs of your website.

I build and maintain multiple WordPress websites. By using the experience gained from building these sites I help others create and customize their own websites.
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