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Permissions

So far you have learned about users, groups and ownerships. But how do they all stick together? Why these are necessary to have in the first place? The reason is simple: security. In multiuser operating systems you normally don't like users snooping around other people's files, especially when those files contain sensitive information, such as passwords. The most common method for overcoming this problem is to assign permissions on each system item, controlling who can do what. This simple concept works wonderfully; it's like putting doors on a building and giving people only the keys for the doors to areas they should have access to.

The three types of permissions

We already learned that each system item is owned by a user ID and a group ID. Whenever a process tries to access a system item, the operating system checks the permissions and decides if it will proceed with the operation or deny access. It seems reasonable to have control over what a process with the same owning user ID can do with it, what the a process with the same owning group ID can do with it and, finally, what the rest of the world can do with it. Indeed, this is the rationale behind the three types of permissions we can define on UNIX systems. In order of precedence they are:

User permissions

They are the access rights granted to the owning user of the item. Every process with the same owning user ID as the item's owning user ID has these access rights. These access rights have precedence over all other permissions.

Group permissions

These are the access rights granted to the owning group of the item. Every process with the same owning group ID as the item's owning group ID has these access rights. These access rights are applied only if the owning user ID's of the process and the item do not match, but their owning group ID's match.

Other permissions

These are the access rights granted to the rest of the world. If the owning user ID's of the process and the item do not match and the same happens for the owning group ID's as well, these access rights will be applied.

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