FreeBSD access control lists

Monday, 18 August 2003, 7:55 AM EST

Unix permissions are flexible and can solve almost any access control problem, but what about the ones they can't? Do you really want to make a group every time you want to share a file with another user? Perhaps you don't have root, and you can't create a group at will. Sometimes the limitations can cause security problems; it would be nice to be able to make a directory available to a web server or other user without making the files world-readable or world-writable. Root-owned configuration files often need to be edited by those without root privileges; instead of using programs like sudo or calife and risking shell escapes in editors, it would be better just to allow certain non-owners to edit these files.

Access Control Lists (ACLs) solve these problems. They allow more flexibility than the standard Unix user/group/other set of permissions. ACLs have been available in commercial UNIXes such as IRIX and Solaris (and in Windows NT) for years. Now, thanks to the TrustedBSD project's work, ACLs are available in FreeBSD 5.0-RELEASE and beyond. Much of the information below applies, at least in part, to ACL implementations on other platforms; however, you will want to look at specific documentation to avoid being tripped up by differences in syntax. There shouldn't be many, as FreeBSD attempts to conform to the latest POSIX.1e draft.

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