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The Unix operating system (and likewise, Linux) differs from other computing environments in that it is not only a multitasking system but it is also a multi-user system as well.
What exactly does this mean? It means that more than one user can be operating the computer at the same time. While your computer will only have one keyboard and monitor, it can still be used by more than one user. For example, if your computer is attached to a network, or the Internet, remote users can log in via telnet or ssh (secure shell) and operate the computer. In fact, remote users can execute X applications and have the graphical output displayed on a remote computer. The X Windows system supports this.
The multi-user capability of Unix is not a recent "innovation," but rather a feature that is deeply ingrained into the design of the operating system. If you remember the environment in which Unix was created, this makes perfect sense. Years ago before computers were "personal," they were large, expensive, and centralized. A typical university computer system consisted of a large mainframe computer located in some building on campus and terminals were located throughout the campus, each connected to the large central computer. The computer would support many users at the same time.
In order to make this practical, a method had to be devised to protect the users from each other. After all, you could not allow the actions of one user to crash the computer, nor could you allow one user to interfere with the files belonging to another user.
Linux uses the same permissions scheme as Unix. Each file and directory on your system is assigned access rights for the owner of the file, the members of a group of related users, and everybody else. Rights can be assigned to read a file, to write a file, and to execute a file (i.e., run the file as a program).
In the diagram below, we see how the first portion of the listing is interpreted. It consists of a character indicating the file type, followed by three sets of three characters that convey the reading, writing and execution permission for the owner, group, and everybody else.
To see the permission settings for a file, we can use the ls command as follows:
[me@linuxbox me]$ ls -l some_file -rw-rw-r-- 1 me me 1097374 Sep 26 18:48 some_file
We can determine a lot from examining the results of this command:
Let's try another example. We will look at the bash program which is located in the /bin directory:
[me@linuxbox me]$ ls -l /bin/bash -rwxr-xr-x 1 root root 316848 Feb 27 2000 /bin/bash
Here we can see:
The chmod command is used to change the permissions of a file or directory. To use it, you specify the desired permission settings and the file or files that you wish to modify. There are two ways to specify the permissions, but I am only going to show one way.
It is easy to think of the permission settings as a series of bits (which is how the computer thinks about them). Here's how it works:
rwx rwx rwx = 111 111 111 rw- rw- rw- = 110 110 110 rwx --- --- = 111 000 000
and so on…
rwx = 111 in binary = 7 rw- = 110 in binary = 6 r-x = 101 in binary = 5 r-- = 100 in binary = 4
Now, if you represent each of the three sets of permissions (owner, group, and other) as a single digit, you have a pretty convenient way of expressing the possible permissions settings. For example, if we wanted to set some_file to have read and write permission for the owner, but wanted to keep the file private from others, we would:
[me@linuxbox me]$ chmod 600 some_file
Here is a table of numbers that covers all the common settings. The ones beginning with "7" are used with programs (since they enable execution) and the rest are for other kinds of files.
The chmod command can also be used to control the access permissions for directories. In most ways, the permissions scheme for directories works the same way as they do with files. However, the execution permission is used in a different way. It provides control for access to file listing and other things. Here are some useful settings for directories: