PostgreSQL manages database access permissions using the concept of roles. A role can be thought of as either a database user, or a group of database users, depending on how the role is set up. Roles can own database objects (for example, tables) and can assign privileges on those objects to other roles to control who has access to which objects. Furthermore, it is possible to grant membership in a role to another role, thus allowing the member role use of privileges assigned to the role it is a member of.
The concept of roles subsumes the concepts of "users" and "groups". In PostgreSQL versions before 8.1, users and groups were distinct kinds of entities, but now there are only roles. Any role can act as a user, a group, or both.
This chapter describes how to create and manage roles and introduces the privilege system. More information about the various types of database objects and the effects of privileges can be found in Chapter 5.
While this page may give you the impression that USER and ROLE are now synonymous, that is not the case. CREATE USER creates a role with the login privilege, while CREATE ROLE creates a role without login privilege by default.