Linux File and Directory Permissions Guide

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Mastering Linux File and Directory Permissions: A Comprehensive Guide

Ensuring the security and integrity of your Linux system involves mastering file and directory permissions. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the core permission types—read (r), write (w), and execute (x)—and explore how to leverage them effectively. From basic permission assignments to advanced techniques like ACLs, this article will equip you with the knowledge needed to secure your Linux environment.

Understanding Basic Permissions:

1. Read (r) Permission:

The read permission, denoted by “r,” allows users to view the contents of a file or list files in a directory. For instance:

chmod +r file.txt  # Grant read permission to the file owner

Permission Symbol: r

2. Write (w) Permission:

With the write permission (“w”), users can modify file contents or create, delete, and rename files within a directory:

chmod +w file.txt  # Grant write permission to the file owner

Permission Symbol: w

3. Execute (x) Permission:

Execute permission (“x”) enables users to execute a file as a program or access files within a directory:

chmod +x  # Grant execute permission to the file owner

Permission Symbol: x

4. Combining Permissions:

Fine-tune access control with combinations of read, write, and execute permissions for the owner, group, and others:

chmod u=rwx,g=rx,o=r file.txt  # Set permissions for owner, group, and others

Permission Symbols: u (user/owner), g (group), o (others)

5. Numeric Representation:

Use numeric representation (octal notation) for efficient permission assignment:

chmod 644 file.txt  # Equivalent to u=rw,g=r,o=r

Numeric Representation: 4 (read), 2 (write), 1 (execute)

Advanced Permission Features

Changing Ownership

Transfer ownership of a file with chown and change group ownership with chgrp:

chown user:group file.txt  # Change the owner and group of the file

Sticky Bit (t) and Set-Group-ID (s) Bit

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Employ special permissions like the sticky bit on directories or set-group-ID bit on executables:

chmod +t directory  # Set the sticky bit on the directory
chmod +s executable  # Set the set-group-ID bit on the executable

Permission Symbols: t (sticky bit), s (set-group-ID bit)

Access Control Lists (ACLs)

Go beyond basic permissions with ACLs for granular control over resources:

setfacl -m u:username:rw file.txt  # Grant read and write permissions to a specific user

Permission Information

Permission Symbols:

  1. r (Read): Grants the ability to read or view the content of a file or list the files in a directory.
  2. w (Write): Allows the modification of a file’s content or the creation, deletion, and renaming of files in a directory.
  3. x (Execute): Permits the execution of a file as a program or access to files within a directory.


  1. User/Owner (u): The user who owns the file or directory.
  2. Group (g): The group associated with the file or directory.
  3. Others (o): Everyone else, i.e., users who are neither the owner nor in the group.

Numeric Representation:

  1. 4 (Read): Equivalent to the read permission.
  2. 2 (Write): Equivalent to the write permission.
  3. 1 (Execute): Equivalent to the execute permission.

Special Permissions:

  1. t (Sticky Bit): Restricts the deletion of files in a directory to the owner of the file.
  2. s (Set-Group-ID Bit): For executables, ensures that the process runs with the group ownership of the executable, not the user who started it.


Linux file and directory permissions are the cornerstone of system security. Mastery of these permissions empowers you to control access, safeguard sensitive data, and organize resources effectively. Whether you’re a Linux novice or an experienced user, understanding these concepts will elevate your system administration skills. Embrace the depth and versatility of Linux permissions to fortify your system and ensure a secure and organized computing environment.

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