Understanding Linux Permissions

k_penguin_sato profile image K-Sato Updated on ・2 min read

Table of contents


The multi-user capability of Unix-like systems is a feature that is deeply ingrained into the design of the operating system.

File Permissions

On a Linux system, each file and directory is assigned access rights for the owner of the file.

You can check the permission settings with ls -l.

$ ls -l 
drwxr-xr-x. 13 root  root  1027 Jan  3 12:32 bin/cat

Let's explore what drwxr-xr-x. 13 root root 1077 Jan 3 12:32 bin/cat means one by one.

Command Meaning
d File Type
rwxr-xr-x. File Mode
13 Number of links
root The owner of the file
root The group the file belongs to
1027 Size of the file
Jan 3 12:32 Time Stamp
bin/cat The name of the file/directory

File Type

Command File Type
- File
d Directory
l Symbolic Link

File Mode

The r letter means the user has permission to read the file/directory. The w letter means the user has permission to write the file/directory. And the x letter means the user has permission to execute the file/directory.

Command Meaning
r read
w write
x execute
- not allowed

Let's take a look at the 9 letters in the command.
The first 3 letters show the permissions for the file owner, the second 3 letters show the permissions for the group owner and the last 3 letters show the permissions for other users.

rwx/ r-x/ r-x/

Owner: rwx
Group: r-x
Users: r-x

Change File Modes

The chmod command is used to change the permissions of a file or directory.

Octal Mode

Each permission may be specified with an octal number: read = 4; write = 2; execute = 1; no permission = 0.

Meaning  Number
read(r) 4
write(w) 2
execute(x) 1


The command below means giving permissions to read(4), write(2) and execute(1) to the owner and permissions to read(4) and execute(1) to the group user and permissions to read(4) to other users.

chmod 754 myfile

Symbolic Mode

The below is the basic syntax of chmod.

% chmod who operator permission filename

You can use the following commands to change modes.

Command Meaning
u(user) user access
g(group) group access
o(other) other access
a(all) user, group, and other access
Command Meaning
+ add specified permissions
- remove specified permissions
= set the specified permissions


In the following example, read permission are taken away from others.

% chmod o-r filea

In the following example, read and execute permissions are added for user, group, and others.

$ chmod a+rx fileb

In the following example, read, write, and execute permissions are assigned to the group.

$ chmod g=rwx filec


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k_penguin_sato profile



I am a software-engineer based somewhere on earth.


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When it comes to Linux I make it a point to read even intro level articles like this one. Why? 'cause I am constantly learning new things, like I did here.

Thank you for this. Keep up the good posting!


Thank you for your kind words!


If you really want to get into powerful permissioning systems, take a look at extended filesystem access control lists (via the setfacl and getfacl utilities), extended attributes (xattrs managed via the chattr and lsattr commands) and, the ultimate cause of headaches, SELinux.

If you're running an Internet-facing system, these are all security-extensions that you want to be reasonably well versed in.


the "x" letter stand for "eXecute", not the "e" letter :)


Thank you for pointing that out:) Fixed it!


There's also suid/sgid permissions. Normally, when you execute a program, it will run as the user which called it. suid will instead run the program as the owner of the file. For example, if you are logged in as user developer and try to execute a suid program owned by root, it will execute as root instead of developer.

su, sudo, passwd rely on suid to work.


The extension to suid-/sgid-enabled operations being that, when you run auditing services on a system, actions are logged both by actual executing-user and effective executing user.


From what I know, I guess you can forgo "a" in the "a+rx".


Thank you for sharing your knowledge:)!


This article did not introduce anything brand new to me, but nonetheless very concise and well written!
Thank you for sharing.


Thank you for taking the time to read it!!