Digging Deeper Into Object Lock

A decorative image showing data inside of a vault.

Using Object Lock for your data is a smart choice—you can protect your data from ransomware, meet compliance requirements, beef up your security policy, or preserve data for legal reasons. But, it’s not a simple on/off switch, and accidentally locking your data for 100 years is a mistake you definitely don’t want to make.

Today we’re taking a deeper dive into Object Lock and the related legal hold feature, examining the different levels of control that are available, explaining why developers might want to build Object Lock into their own applications, and showing exactly how to do that. While the code samples are aimed at our developer audience, anyone looking for a deeper understanding of Object Lock should be able to follow along.

I presented a webinar on this topic earlier this year that covers much the same ground as this blog post, so feel free to watch it instead of, or in addition to, reading this article. 

Check Out the Docs

For even more information on Object Lock, check out our Object Lock overview in our Technical Documentation Portal as well as these how-tos about how to enable Object Lock using the Backblaze web UI, Backblaze B2 Native API, and the Backblaze S3 Compatible API:

What Is Object Lock?

In the simplest explanation, Object Lock is a way to lock objects (aka files) stored in Backblaze B2 so that they are immutable—that is, they cannot be deleted or modified, for a given period of time, even by the user account that set the Object Lock rule. Backblaze B2’s implementation of Object Lock was originally known as File Lock, and you may encounter the older terminology in some documentation and articles. For consistency, I’ll use the term “object” in this blog post, but in this context it has exactly the same meaning as “file.”

Object Lock is a widely offered feature included with backup applications such as Veeam and MSP360, allowing organizations to ensure that their backups are not vulnerable to deliberate or accidental deletion or modification for some configurable retention period.

Ransomware mitigation is a common motivation for protecting data with Object Lock. Even if an attacker were to compromise an organization’s systems to the extent of accessing the application keys used to manage data in Backblaze B2, they would not be able to delete or change any locked data. Similarly, Object Lock guards against insider threats, where the attacker may try to abuse legitimate access to application credentials.

Object Lock is also used in industries that store sensitive or personal identifiable information (PII) such as banking, education, and healthcare. Because they work with such sensitive data, regulatory requirements dictate that data be retained for a given period of time, but data must also be deleted in particular circumstances. 

For example, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), an important component of the EU’s privacy laws and an international regulatory standard that drives best practices, may dictate that some data must be deleted when a customer closes their account. A related use case is where data must be preserved due to litigation, where the period for which data must be locked is not fixed and depends on the type of lawsuit at hand. 

To handle these requirements, Backblaze B2 offers two Object Lock modes—compliance and governance—as well as the legal hold feature. Let’s take a look at the differences between them.

Compliance Mode: Near-Absolute Immutability

When objects are locked in compliance mode, not only can they not be deleted or modified while the lock is in place, but the lock also cannot be removed during the specified retention period. It is not possible to remove or override the compliance lock to delete locked data until the lock expires, whether you’re attempting to do so via the Backblaze web UI or either of the S3 Compatible or B2 Native APIs. Similarly, Backblaze Support is unable to unlock or delete data locked under compliance mode in response to a support request, which is a safeguard designed to address social engineering attacks where an attacker impersonates a legitimate user.

What if you inadvertently lock many terabytes of data for several years? Are you on the hook for thousands of dollars of storage costs? Thankfully, no—you have one escape route, which is to close your Backblaze account. Closing the account is a multi-step process that requires access to both the account login credentials and two-factor verification (if it is configured) and results in the deletion of all data in that account, locked or unlocked. This is a drastic step, so we recommend that developers create one or more “burner” Backblaze accounts for use in developing and testing applications that use Object Lock, that can be closed if necessary without disrupting production systems.

There is one lock-related operation you can perform on compliance-locked objects: extending the retention period. In fact, you can keep extending the retention period on locked data any number of times, protecting that data from deletion until you let the compliance lock expire.

Governance Mode: Override Permitted

In our other Object Lock option, objects can be locked in governance mode for a given retention period. But, in contrast to compliance mode, the governance lock can be removed or overridden via an API call, if you have an application key with appropriate capabilities. Governance mode handles use cases that require retention of data for some fixed period of time, with exceptions for particular circumstances.

When I’m trying to remember the difference between compliance and governance mode, I think of the phrase, “Twenty seconds to comply!”, uttered by the ED-209 armed robot in the movie “RoboCop.” It turned out that there was no way to override ED-209’s programming, with dramatic, and fatal, consequences.

ED-209: as implacable as compliance mode.

Legal Hold: Flexible Preservation

While the compliance and governance retention modes lock objects for a given retention period, legal hold is more like a toggle switch: you can turn it on and off at any time, again with an application key with sufficient capabilities. As its name suggests, legal hold is ideal for situations where data must be preserved for an unpredictable period of time, such as while litigation is proceeding.

The compliance and governance modes are mutually exclusive, which is to say that only one may be in operation at any time. Objects locked in governance mode can be switched to compliance mode, but, as you might expect from the above explanation, objects locked in compliance mode cannot be switched to governance mode until the compliance lock expires.

Legal hold, on the other hand, operates independently, and can be enabled and disabled regardless of whether an object is locked in compliance or governance mode.

How does this work? Consider an object that is locked in compliance or governance mode and has legal hold enabled:

  • If the legal hold is removed, the object remains locked until the retention period expires.
  • If the retention period expires, the object remains locked until the legal hold is removed.

Object Lock and Versioning

By default, Backblaze B2 Buckets have versioning enabled, so as you upload successive objects with the same name, previous versions are preserved automatically. None of the Object Lock modes prevent you from uploading a new version of a locked object; the lock is specific to the object version to which it was applied.

You can also hide a locked object so it doesn’t appear in object listings. The hidden version is retained and can be revealed using the Backblaze web UI or an API call.

As you might expect, locked object versions are not subject to deletion by lifecycle rules—any attempt to delete a locked object version via a lifecycle rule will fail.

How to Use Object Lock in Applications

Now that you understand the two modes of Object Lock, plus legal hold, and how they all work with object versions, let’s look at how you can take advantage of this functionality in your applications. I’ll include code samples for Backblaze B2’s S3 Compatible API written in Python, using the AWS SDK, aka Boto3, in this blog post. You can find details on working with Backblaze B2’s Native API in the documentation.

Application Key Capabilities for Object Lock

Every application key you create for Backblaze B2 has an associated set of capabilities; each capability allows access to a specific functionality in Backblaze B2. There are seven capabilities relevant to object lock and legal hold. 

Two capabilities relate to bucket settings:

  1. readBucketRetentions 
  2. writeBucketRetentions

Three capabilities relate to object settings for retention: 

  1. readFileRetentions 
  2. writeFileRetentions 
  3. bypassGovernance

And, two are specific to Object Lock: 

  1. readFileLegalHolds 
  2. writeFileLegalHolds 

The Backblaze B2 documentation contains full details of each capability and the API calls it relates to for both the S3 Compatible API and the B2 Native API.

When you create an application key via the web UI, it is assigned capabilities according to whether you allow it access to all buckets or just a single bucket, and whether you assign it read-write, read-only, or write-only access.

An application key created in the web UI with read-write access to all buckets will receive all of the above capabilities. A key with read-only access to all buckets will receive readBucketRetentions, readFileRetentions, and readFileLegalHolds. Finally, a key with write-only access to all buckets will receive bypassGovernance, writeBucketRetentions, writeFileRetentions, and writeFileLegalHolds.

In contrast, an application key created in the web UI restricted to a single bucket is not assigned any of the above permissions. When an application using such a key uploads objects to its associated bucket, they receive the default retention mode and period for the bucket, if they have been set. The application is not able to select a different retention mode or period when uploading an object, change the retention settings on an existing object, or bypass governance when deleting an object.

You may want to create application keys with more granular permissions when working with Object Lock and/or legal hold. For example, you may need an application restricted to a single bucket to be able to toggle legal hold for objects in that bucket. You can use the Backblaze B2 CLI to create an application key with this, or any other set of capabilities. This command, for example, creates a key with the default set of capabilities for read-write access to a single bucket, plus the ability to read and write the legal hold setting:

% b2 create-key --bucket my-bucket-name my-key-name listBuckets,readBuckets,listFiles,readFiles,shareFiles,writeFiles,deleteFiles,readBucketEncryption,writeBucketEncryption,readBucketReplications,writeBucketReplications,readFileLegalHolds,writeFileLegalHolds

Enabling Object Lock

You must enable Object Lock on a bucket before you can lock any objects therein; you can do this when you create the bucket, or at any time later, but you cannot disable Object Lock on a bucket once it has been enabled. Here’s how you create a bucket with Object Lock enabled:


Once a bucket’s settings have Object Lock enabled, you can configure a default retention mode and period for objects that are created in that bucket. Only compliance mode is configurable from the web UI, but you can set governance mode as the default via an API call, like this:

        'ObjectLockEnabled': 'Enabled',
        'Rule': {
            'DefaultRetention': {
                'Mode': 'GOVERNANCE',
                'Days': 7

You cannot set legal hold as a default configuration for the bucket.

Locking Objects

Regardless of whether you set a default retention mode for the bucket, you can explicitly set a retention mode and period when you upload objects, or apply the same settings to existing objects, provided you use an application key with the appropriate writeFileRetentions or writeFileLegalHolds capability.

Both the S3 PutObject operation and Backblaze B2’s b2_upload_file include optional parameters for specifying retention mode and period, and/or legal hold. For example:

    Body=open('/path/to/local/file', mode='rb'),
        2023, 9, 7, hour=10, minute=30, second=0

Both APIs implement additional operations to get and set retention settings and legal hold for existing objects. Here’s an example of how you apply a governance mode lock:

        'Mode': 'GOVERNANCE',  # Required, even if mode is not changed
        'RetainUntilDate': datetime(
            2023, 9, 5, hour=10, minute=30, second=0

The VersionId parameter is optional: the operation applies to the current object version if it is omitted.

You can also use the web UI to view, but not change, an object’s retention settings, and to toggle legal hold for an object:

A screenshot highlighting where to enable Object Lock via the Backblaze web UI.

Deleting Objects in Governance Mode

As mentioned above, a key difference between the compliance and governance modes is that it is possible to override governance mode to delete an object, given an application key with the bypassGovernance capability. To do so, you must identify the specific object version, and pass a flag to indicate that you are bypassing the governance retention restriction:

# Get object details, including version id of current version
object_info = s3_client.head_object(

# Delete the most recent object version, bypassing governance

There is no way to delete an object in legal hold; the legal hold must be removed before the object can be deleted.

Protect Your Data With Object Lock and Legal Hold

Object Lock is a powerful feature, and with great power… you know the rest. Here are some of the questions you should ask when deciding whether to implement Object Lock in your applications:

  • What would be the impact of malicious or accidental deletion of your application’s data?
  • Should you lock all data according to a central policy, or allow users to decide whether to lock their data, and for how long?
  • If you are storing data on behalf of users, are there special circumstances where a lock must be overridden?
  • Which users should be permitted to set and remove a legal hold? Does it make sense to build this into the application rather than have an administrator use a tool such as the Backblaze B2 CLI to manage legal holds?

If you already have a Backblaze B2 account, you can start working with Object Lock today; otherwise, create an account to get started.


About Pat Patterson

Pat Patterson is the chief technical evangelist at Backblaze. Over his three decades in the industry, Pat has built software and communities at Sun Microsystems, Salesforce, StreamSets, and Citrix. In his role at Backblaze, he creates and delivers content tailored to the needs of the hands-on technical professional, acts as the “voice of the developer” on the Product team, and actively participates in the wider technical community. Outside the office, Pat runs far, having completed ultramarathons up to the 50 mile distance. Catch up with Pat via Twitter or LinkedIn.