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What is an Operator in NATS?

In the realm of NATS, operators play a pivotal role in managing accounts and users, governing policies, and ensuring secure, efficient messaging. An operator represents the highest level of trust in the NATS security model and is foundational to building a secure, distributed communication infrastructure.

What is an Operator?

An operator in NATS is a digital entity that serves as the highest authority within the NATS security and trust hierarchy. It is responsible for creating and managing accounts, defining security policies, and enforcing organizational rules and standards. Operators use private keys to sign accounts, thus providing verification and trust throughout the system.

Key Functions of an Operator

  1. Account Management: Operators are responsible for creating and managing accounts. Accounts are used to group users and services, defining a collection bound by common policies and permissions.

  2. Trust Establishment: By signing accounts and user credentials with their private key, operators establish a chain of trust. This ensures that all entities within a NATS ecosystem can verify the authenticity of each other.

  3. Policy Enforcement: Through operators, administrators can enforce policies such as message retention, resource limits, and access controls. Operators define what each account can or cannot do, ensuring adherence to organizational standards and regulations.

  4. Security and Encryption: Operators play a crucial role in the security architecture of NATS by managing encryption keys and ensuring proper distribution and revocation of credentials. This helps maintain secure communication channels.

Importance of Operators

Operators offer a structured way to manage large, distributed systems by centralizing control while allowing for flexibility and scalability. They enable a multi-tenancy approach, where different accounts can belong to different organizations but still coexist securely within the same NATS ecosystem.

  1. Scalability: By delegating responsibilities through accounts and users, operators can manage large-scale, distributed systems efficiently.

  2. Security: With cryptographic signing and trust chains, operators ensure that communications are secure and authenticated. This significantly reduces the risk of unauthorized access and data breaches.

  3. Flexibility: Operators provide the ability to define fine-grained control over permissions and policies. This helps tailor the NATS system to specific organizational requirements and use cases.

  4. Governance: Operators maintain overall governance and compliance, making it easier to adhere to legal and regulatory requirements while managing a distributed system.

Creating and Managing Operators

Operators are typically created using NATS tooling, such as the nsc (NATS Security and Configuration) tool. During the creation process, a public-private key pair is generated for the operator. The public key is used by clients to verify signatures, while the private key remains secure and is used to sign accounts.


Operators are the cornerstone of the NATS security model, providing the highest level of control and trust. Their role in account management, policy enforcement, security, and governance ensures that NATS deployments are scalable, secure, and compliant with organizational and regulatory standards. Understanding and effectively leveraging operator functionalities is crucial for any organization aiming to build and maintain a robust NATS infrastructure.