I know that roles in WordPress are not hierarchical, but I'm wondering if there is any type of capability to "assign users to roles". All I can see if being able to add users or not.

The real kicker here is, I've used Justin Tadlock's Members plugin to create a new role, called "Clients" which removes all the stuff they should either not need to see, or shouldn't be able to control - which works great.
But, if I give them the ability to create a new user, they can also choose my "super admin" role, which can see everything. So, in a way, they kinda cheat the system a little bit.

Is there anyway to "hide" a certain role from showing up in what a user can set a new user/edit a user to? Or, possibly remove the role identifier from the add/edit user screen based on their role?
I know it sounds a bit off of what WordPress is mean to do for user permissions, but from an administrative stand-point, it sounds useful - at least in my head ;)


  • Does this one sound a little too crazy? ;)
    – Zach
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 15:54
  • No, absolutely not :)
    – kaiser
    Commented May 29, 2012 at 22:26

2 Answers 2


The UI select element

On user-edit.php, you see the drop-down in the UI. The drop down <select> wrapper is hard coded.

Then the admin interface does a nifty thing 1) according to the inline comment: // Get the highest/primary role for this user. In fact it is getting the first role, that was assigned to the user (this we have to keep in mind).

Then there's basically only a call to wp_dropdown_roles(). This function doesn't do anything else, than looping through the available roles and wrapping them inside <option> elements. But, there's one kool thing it does: It uses the roles retrieved by get_editable_roles(). And here comes the magic! A filter, for the global $wp_roles->roles. By default this returns all roles, but you can jump in and simply unset whatever you want.

// Add this as mu-plugin
function wpse32738_get_editable_roles( $editable_roles )
    if ( current_user_can( 'client' ) )
        // unset whatever you need here.

    return $editable_roles;
add_filter( 'editable_roles', 'wpse32738_get_editable_roles' );

1) Roles are a "flat" system. A role can have capabilities that overrule other capabilities.

  • 1
    Nice! I'll give this a shot and report back. Thanks for the detailed explanation!
    – Zach
    Commented May 30, 2012 at 16:01
  • Tried the following without success: pastebin.com/1GPMcWD9 Anything I'm missing? Thanks!
    – Zach
    Commented Jun 4, 2012 at 19:16
  • Ah -- $role_names needed to be $editable_roles. Thanks!
    – Zach
    Commented Jun 4, 2012 at 19:49

I've followed Kaiser's instructions and written the following code that allows me to grant user-management capabilities to a specific role and prevent privilege escalation to any built-in role (my code should be tweaked if you define custom intermediary roles).

// add user-management capabilities
add_action('admin_init', function() {
  $role = get_role( 'editor' );

  $role->add_cap( 'list_users' );
  $role->add_cap( 'create_users' );
  $role->add_cap( 'edit_users' );
  $role->add_cap( 'delete_users' );

// prevent privilege escalation
add_filter( 'editable_roles', function( $editable_roles ) {
  if ( ! current_user_can( 'promote_users' ) ) {
    // always remove admin roles
    if ( isset($editable_roles['super_admin']) ) {
      unset( $editable_roles['super_admin'] );
    unset( $editable_roles['administrator'] );

    // remove other roles conditionnaly to prevent escalation
    if ( ! current_user_can( 'editor' ) ) {
      unset( $editable_roles['editor'] );

      if ( ! current_user_can( 'author' ) ) {
        unset( $editable_roles['author'] );

        if ( ! current_user_can( 'contributor' ) ) {
          unset( $editable_roles['contributor'] );

  return $editable_roles;

With this code, a contributor can be granted user-management capabilities, and he/she should only be able to create other contributors or subscribers.

BEWARE: this is a hacky solution, it hasn't been tested in network mode and no validation of input is made: a malicious user could still escalate privileges!

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