Groups are simple and intuitive - you put users in a group, then you can refer to them via that group. They are global. They have to be maintained by Jira admins, and often become unweildy and outdated.
Roles are more complex - you define a role globally, but the membership of the role is only local to a project. The admins in a project can maintain their own users within that role. They can also use groups to effectively add all the users in a group into the role in that project.
Generally, roles are far better to use - they allow you to delegate the maintenance to project owners, who are best placed to decide who can or can not use their projects. Groups are a lot less flexible and powerful, and really should be used for global stuff ONLY. Such as "can log in", "be an admin"
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