Q: What’s meant by a “Profile” in the context of Salesforce?
In Salesforce, a profile is one of several tools an administrator has to determine what levels of access a user receives.
Salesforce orgs come with some standard profiles loaded, such as “System Administrator” and “Standard User.” As you can imagine, the System Administrator profile has vastly more access than a standard user. In addition to a set of standard profiles, you can also create custom profiles, starting from stratch or from a standard profile.
The access an admin may grant is separated in two broad categories, App-specific permissions, which pertain to applications and tabs, objects and field visibility, page layouts, record types, for example, are one category. The other category is system permissions, which apply across apps and objects, and include things like access to Apex classes and Visualforce pages or restricting access during certain hours or to certain IP address ranges.
For an admin, the general rule of access and visibility is to start as locked down as possible, and grant access as needed. Profiles are the first and most important step in granting access, and every user is required to have a profile. Your profile should define at a high level what you can do and see within Salesforce, and from there an admin can use a combination of roles, permission sets, and sharing rules to make more granular changes.
One last note: Profiles are very important, but they shouldn’t be overused. If an admin finds herself creating many different profiles with granular changes to each, she might not be utilizing Permission Sets to their full potential.
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