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Last updated: 20 Feb 2024

How the draft stack works

GOV.UK has a Content Preview feature, also known as the draft stack. Content Preview lets content editors preview new or updated content before making it available on the public website.


Content Preview consists of separate “draft” deployments of Router, Content Store and the frontend rendering apps such as government-frontend.

Publishing tools send content to publishing-api. Every content change is pushed to the draft content store as soon as it is saved, whereas a content change is only pushed to the live content store when it is published.


Content Preview runs in each GOV.UK environment:

Authentication and authorisation

In Whitehall Publisher, content editors can choose to limit access to pre-publication content to specific users. To support this, the draft stack has an authenticating proxy between the load balancer and Router to control access.

The proxy passes the user’s Signon user ID to Content Store via the request header. Content Store is responsible for authorisation.

A draft content item has an optional metadata field, access_limited, which represents an access control list (ACL). This ACL can contain:

  • user IDs for allowing access to individual Signon users
  • organisation IDs for allowing access to any user in a Signon organisation, such as a particular government department
  • bearer tokens (internally called auth_bypass_ids) for constructing shareable preview URLs

GOV.UK uses the auth_bypass_ids bearer token feature to generate URLs for draft content that can be shared with non-Signon users for preview or fact checking. The token is encoded as a JSON Web Token (JWT) and appended to the URL for sharing. When the recipient requests the URL, authenticating-proxy extracts the auth_bypass_id bearer token from the JWT and passes it to content-store via the request header.

Publishing API removes the access_limited field when sending content items to the live Content Store, since all published content is public by definition.