File Permissions and Ownership | Bash

In a Unix-based operating system, including Linux, file permissions and ownership are crucial aspects of security and access control. These mechanisms help determine who can do what with a file or directory. Bash is a common shell used in Unix-like systems, and understanding how file permissions and ownership work in Bash is essential for managing and securing your system.

File Permissions in Bash

File permissions determine the actions (read, write, execute) allowed on a file or directory and identify users or groups permitted to perform these actions. They are essential for controlling access and maintaining security in Unix-like operating systems like Linux. There are three basic permission types:

  1. Read (r):Allows the reading of a file or the listing of a directory.
  2. Write (w):Allows the modification of a file or the creation and deletion of files in a directory.
  3. Execute (x):Allows the execution of a file or the access to a directory.

Permission Groups

There are three permission groups for a file:

  1. Owner (u):The user who owns the file.
  2. Group (g):The group associated with the file.
  3. Others (o):All other users who are not the owner or in the group.

Numeric Representation

File permissions can also be represented using numeric values:

  1. Read (r):4
  2. Write (w):2
  3. Execute (x):1
  4. No permission:0

These values are added together to create a three-digit number representing the permissions for owner, group, and others. For example, if a file has read and write permissions for the owner, read-only for the group, and no permissions for others, the numeric representation would be 640.


Setting Permissions

# Give the owner read, write, and execute permissions $ chmod u+rwx file.txt
# Give read and execute permissions to the group $ chmod g+rx file.txt
# Give read-only permissions to others $ chmod o+r file.txt

Numeric Representation

# Set permissions to read and write for owner, read-only for group and others $ chmod 644 file.txt

File Ownership in Bash

Every file and directory has an owner and a group assigned to it. The owner determines the default permissions, and the group can have specific permissions granted. Changing ownership requires sudo privileges (administrator rights).

Managing Permissions and Ownership

  1. Viewing:Use the ls -l command to list detailed information about files and directories, including permissions and ownership.
  2. Changing permissions:Use the chmod command to modify permissions (e.g., chmod +w filename to grant write permission to the owner).
  3. Changing ownership:Use the chown command to transfer ownership (e.g., sudo chown user:group filename to change owner and group).

Changing Ownership

# Change the owner of a file $ chown newowner file.txt
# Change the owner and group of a file $ chown newowner:newgroup file.txt

Changing Group

# Change the group of a file $ chgrp newgroup file.txt

Viewing Permissions

$ ls -l file.txt -rw-r--r-- 1 owner group 1024 Feb 5 10:00 file.txt

In this example, the file "file.txt" is readable and writable by the owner, readable by the group, and readable by others.

Checking Ownership

$ ls -l file.txt -rw-r--r-- 1 owner group 1024 Feb 5 10:00 file.txt

The owner of the file is "owner," and the group is "group."

Best Practices

Grant the least permissions necessary for users

Assign minimal permissions to users, limiting access to only what's essential for their tasks. This practice enhances security by reducing the potential impact of unauthorized actions and minimizing the risk of unintentional data modifications or deletions.

Avoid using chmod 777

Refrain from setting permissions to 777, which grants full read, write, and execute access to everyone. This broad permission setting poses a significant security risk, as any user can manipulate or compromise files. Opt for more granular and restricted permissions to enhance system security.

Use groups effectively

Utilize group permissions to efficiently manage access for multiple users. Assign users to relevant groups based on their roles or responsibilities. This facilitates streamlined permission management, ensuring that changes to access levels can be applied to entire groups rather than individual users, simplifying administration.

Regularly review and adjust permissions

Periodically assess and modify file permissions to align with evolving user roles and organizational needs. Regular reviews help identify potential security vulnerabilities or unnecessary access, enabling administrators to make timely adjustments and maintain a secure and well-controlled file system.

Additional Considerations

Directory permissions

Directories in Unix-like systems have additional permissions—execute (x) is necessary to list directory contents, and write (w) is required to create or delete files within. These permissions control access to directory contents and modifications within the directory.

Sticky bit

The sticky bit (t) on directories prevents users from deleting or renaming files they didn't create. It ensures data integrity and security by limiting users' ability to alter or remove files created by others within the same directory.

Special permissions

Special permissions include setuid (s), setgid (s), and sticky (t). Setuid and setgid change the effective user or group ID during execution, impacting file execution behavior. The sticky bit on files prevents unauthorized users from deleting or overwriting files, enhancing security in shared directories.


Suppose you have a file named secret_document.txt that you want only you (the owner) to be able to read and write. You would use the following command:

chmod 600 secret_document.txt

This sets the permissions to rw------ (read-write for the owner, no permissions for others).

Understanding and properly managing file permissions and ownership is crucial for maintaining a secure and well-organized Unix-like file system. These concepts are fundamental for controlling access to files and ensuring that users can only perform the actions they are authorized to do.


File permissions in Unix-like systems dictate who can perform actions (read, write, execute) on a file, with distinctions for owners, groups, and others. Ownership specifies the user and group associated with a file, influencing access control and security. Managing both is crucial for maintaining a secure and organized file system.