In FreeBSD, every file and directory has an associated set of permissions and several utilities are available for viewing and modifying these permissions. Understanding how permissions work is necessary to make sure that users are able to access the files that they need and are unable to improperly access the files used by the operating system or owned by other users.
This section discusses the traditional UNIX permissions used in FreeBSD. For finer grained file system access control, refer to Section13.9, “Access Control Lists”.
In UNIX, basic permissions are assigned using
three types of access: read, write, and execute. These access
types are used to determine file access to the file's owner,
group, and others (everyone else). The read, write, and execute
permissions can be represented as the letters
x. They can also be represented as binary
numbers as each permission is either on or off
0). When represented as a number, the
order is always read as
r has an on value of
w has an on value of
x has an on value of
Table 4.1 summarizes the possible numeric and alphabetic
possibilities. When reading the “Directory
Listing” column, a
- is used to
represent a permission that is set to off.
|0||No read, no write, no execute|
|1||No read, no write, execute|
|2||No read, write, no execute|
|3||No read, write, execute|
|4||Read, no write, no execute|
|5||Read, no write, execute|
|6||Read, write, no execute|
|7||Read, write, execute|
-l argument to ls(1) to view a
long directory listing that includes a column of information
about a file's permissions for the owner, group, and everyone
else. For example, a
ls -l in an arbitrary
directory may show:
ls -ltotal 530 -rw-r--r-- 1 root wheel 512 Sep 5 12:31 myfile -rw-r--r-- 1 root wheel 512 Sep 5 12:31 otherfile -rw-r--r-- 1 root wheel 7680 Sep 5 12:31 email.txt
The first (leftmost) character in the first column indicates
whether this file is a regular file, a directory, a special
character device, a socket, or any other special pseudo-file
device. In this example, the
- indicates a
regular file. The next three characters,
in this example, give the permissions for the owner of the file.
The next three characters,
r--, give the
permissions for the group that the file belongs to. The final
r--, give the permissions
for the rest of the world. A dash means that the permission is
turned off. In this example, the permissions are set so the
owner can read and write to the file, the group can read the
file, and the rest of the world can only read the file.
According to the table above, the permissions for this file
644, where each digit represents the
three parts of the file's permission.
How does the system control permissions on devices? FreeBSD
treats most hardware devices as a file that programs can open,
read, and write data to. These special device files are
Directories are also treated as files. They have read, write, and execute permissions. The executable bit for a directory has a slightly different meaning than that of files. When a directory is marked executable, it means it is possible to change into that directory using cd(1). This also means that it is possible to access the files within that directory, subject to the permissions on the files themselves.
In order to perform a directory listing, the read permission must be set on the directory. In order to delete a file that one knows the name of, it is necessary to have write and execute permissions to the directory containing the file.
There are more permission bits, but they are primarily used in special circumstances such as setuid binaries and sticky directories. For more information on file permissions and how to set them, refer to chmod(1).
Symbolic permissions use characters instead of octal values to assign permissions to files or directories. Symbolic permissions use the syntax of (who) (action) (permissions), where the following values are available:
|(action)||=||Explicitly set permissions|
|(permissions)||s||Set UID or GID|
These values are used with chmod(1), but with
letters instead of numbers. For example, the following
command would block other users from accessing
chmod go= FILE
A comma separated list can be provided when more than one
set of changes to a file must be made. For example, the
following command removes the group and
“world” write permission on
FILE, and adds the execute
permissions for everyone:
In addition to file permissions, FreeBSD supports the use of
“file flags”. These flags add an additional
level of security and control over files, but not directories.
With file flags, even
root can be
prevented from removing or altering files.
File flags are modified using chflags(1). For
example, to enable the system undeletable flag on the file
file1, issue the following
chflags sunlink file1
To disable the system undeletable flag, put a
“no” in front of the
chflags nosunlink file1
To view the flags of a file, use
ls -lo file1
-rw-r--r-- 1 trhodes trhodes sunlnk 0 Mar 1 05:54 file1
Other than the permissions already discussed, there are
three other specific settings that all administrators should
know about. They are the
These settings are important for some UNIX operations as they provide functionality not normally granted to normal users. To understand them, the difference between the real user ID and effective user ID must be noted.
The real user ID is the UID who owns
or starts the process. The effective UID
is the user ID the process runs as. As an example,
passwd(1) runs with the real user ID when a user changes
their password. However, in order to update the password
database, the command runs as the effective ID of the
root user. This
allows users to change their passwords without seeing a
Permission Denied error.
The setuid permission may be set by prefixing a permission set with the number four (4) as shown in the following example:
chmod 4755 suidexample.sh
The permissions on
now look like the following:
-rwsr-xr-x 1 trhodes trhodes 63 Aug 29 06:36 suidexample.sh
Note that a
s is now part of the
permission set designated for the file owner, replacing the
executable bit. This allows utilities which need elevated
permissions, such as passwd(1).
nosuid mount(8) option will
cause such binaries to silently fail without alerting
the user. That option is not completely reliable as a
nosuid wrapper may be able to circumvent
To view this in real time, open two terminals. On
passwd as a normal user.
While it waits for a new password, check the process
table and look at the user information for
In terminal A:
Changing local password for trhodes Old Password:
In terminal B:
ps aux | grep passwd
trhodes 5232 0.0 0.2 3420 1608 0 R+ 2:10AM 0:00.00 grep passwd root 5211 0.0 0.2 3620 1724 2 I+ 2:09AM 0:00.01 passwd
Although passwd(1) is run as a normal user, it is
using the effective UID of
setgid permission performs the
same function as the
except that it alters the group settings. When an application
or utility executes with this setting, it will be granted the
permissions based on the group that owns the file, not the
user who started the process.
To set the
setgid permission on a
file, provide chmod(1) with a leading two (2):
chmod 2755 sgidexample.sh
In the following listing, notice that the
s is now in the field designated for the
group permission settings:
-rwxr-sr-x 1 trhodes trhodes 44 Aug 31 01:49 sgidexample.sh
In these examples, even though the shell script in question is an executable file, it will not run with a different EUID or effective user ID. This is because shell scripts may not access the setuid(2) system calls.
setgid permission bits may lower system
security, by allowing for elevated permissions. The third
special permission, the
sticky bit, can
strengthen the security of a system.
sticky bit is set on a
directory, it allows file deletion only by the file owner.
This is useful to prevent file deletion in public directories,
/tmp, by users
who do not own the file. To utilize this permission, prefix
the permission set with a one (1):
chmod 1777 /tmp
sticky bit permission will display
t at the very end of the permission
ls -al / | grep tmp
drwxrwxrwt 10 root wheel 512 Aug 31 01:49 tmp