TweetFollow Us on Twitter

File Mode Idioms

Volume Number: 19 (2003)
Issue Number: 6
Column Tag: Section 7

Section 7

File Mode Idioms

by Rich Morin

Which modes are used for what?

Each Mac OS X file system node has a 16-bit mode word, as described in chmod(1,2) and stat(2). This word specifies the node's type, what access modes are allowed, and some specialized handling. 16 bits provides 64 K possible variations, but only a relatively small number of "file mode idioms" are found with any frequency. By learning some of these idioms, you can make your system more secure and understand existing configuration decisions.

File Types and Modes

Before we get into the idioms, however, let's review the basics of file types and modes. The file system recognizes many types of "files", including a number of things (e.g., directories) that aren't really files, at all. The most common file type, however, is the "regular file", followed by the "directory" and the "symbolic link" (aka symlink(7)).

There are dozens of device files (see mknod(1,2,8) for details), but they are almost always segregated into the /dev directory. Sockets and named pipes can be used to enable interprocess communication between arbitrary processes (see mkfifo(2) for details). Finally, the "whiteout" type is used for the (ever-experimental) Union File System, described in FreeBSD's mount_union(8) man page.

The node's type is specified by the top four bits in the mode word, available via the stat(2) system call:

0160000  whiteout
0140000  socket
0120000  symbolic link
0100000  regular file
0060000  block special device
0040000  directory
0020000  character special device
0010000  named pipe (fifo)

The next three bits specify some forms of "special handling". If the node is a regular file, the bits are interpreted as follows:

0004000  set user  id on execution
0002000  set group id on execution
0001000  save swapped text, even after use

The first two bits are described in the setuid(2) man page. Briefly, they allow a program to run with the permissions of its owner (or group), rather than those of the user who started it. This is used to provide controlled access to elevated privileges in (carefully constructed!) system commands.

You can get a list of your system's setuid and setgid commands with the following C-shell command (use whereis(1) or which(1) to find the full path name of a specific command). In the output below, df is setgid to "operator" and rcp is setuid to "root":

% ls -l /{,usr/}{,*/}{,s}bin | grep '[r-]-s'
-r-xr-sr-x  1 root  operator  ...  df
-r-sr-xr-x  1 root  wheel     ...  rcp
...

The third bit, described in sticky(8), tells the system to retain the read-only parts of a program's image in memory, after the program has terminated. This can be used to reduce the start-up time for frequently-run programs. Whether your OS honors the request is, of course, up to the vendor (:-).'

If the node is a directory and the system is SysV-ish (e.g., Red Hat Linux), the setgid bit may be interpreted as forcing "BSDish" behavior in setting the group for a new file. That is, a new file will get the enclosing directory's group, rather than the user's. On BSDish systems (e.g., OSX), this bit has no effect.

Sticky directories are a bit more complex; here's a snippet from the manual: "A file in a sticky directory may only be removed or renamed by a user if the user has write permission for the directory and the user is the owner of the file, the owner of the directory, or the super-user. This feature is usefully applied to directories such as /tmp, which must be publicly writable but should deny users the license to arbitrarily delete or rename each others' files."

The bottom nine bits are divided into three sets of permissions (for the file's owner, members of the file's group, and everyone else); each set specifies read, write, and execute permission:

0000400  read  permission, owner
0000200  write permission, owner
0000100  execute/search permission, owner
0000040  read permission, group
...

The meanings of read, write, and execute are a bit strained, when it comes to directories. Read permission allows the user to "read" the directory, looking for file names, etc. Write permission allows the user to "write" the directory, creating or removing files, etc. Finally, execute permission allows the user to access an item contained within the directory.

File Idioms

Most files are readable and writable by their owners. If nobody else is expected to access the file, no other permissions are needed. However, it is common to allow group access, as well:

% touch 0600 0660
% chmod 0600 0600
% chmod 0660 0660
% ls -l 0*
-rw-------  ...  0600
-rw-rw----  ...  0660

Obviously, executable files need to have the appropriate "execute" bits set. Less obviously, the "read" bit must be set for scripts (so the interpreter can read them!). In practice, even binary executables tend to have read access turned on; for one thing, this allows debuggers to inspect the binary.

Distributed executables often have write access turned off. This seems like a good idea, because it reduces the chance of inappropriate modification. An inspection of /usr/bin on my OSX system, however, shows that this practice isn't universal:

-rwxr-xr-x  ...  cscope
-r-xr-xr-x  ...  ctags

System-wide files, such as the executables in bin directories, generally need to be accessible by everyone on the system. Many system control files also need universal read access:

-r--r--r--  ...  /etc/crontab

sudo(8) allows any command to be run as if by any specified user, assuming that the actual user can supply the required password. Unfortunately, this requires passwords to be handed out, remembered, guarded, etc. Fortunately, the file system provides an elegant solution:

-rwsr-x---  1 root  wheel  ...  so

The "so" command (at least our version :-) gives root privileges to anyone who is in group wheel. If arguments are given, they are run as a command line; otherwise, the user is given a root-enabled shell.

Directory Idioms

The mode bits for home directories should keep each user's files safe from casual inspection (let alone modification). Depending on the environment, and your own level of paranoia, one of the following is probably appropriate:

drwx------  ...  abc  grp1  ...
drwx--x---  ...  def  grp2  ...
drwxr-x---  ...  ghi  grp3  ...
drwxr-x--x  ...  jkl  grp4  ...
drwxr-xr-x  ...  mno  grp5  ...

User abc doesn't want anyone else doing anything with his files. User def is willing to let members of group grp2 access files, but only if they know the file's name (removing read access from directories turns off ls access, wild cards, etc.). User ghi seems to trust his group fairly well, but still doesn't want them creating files in his home directory.

Users jkl and mno trust everyone on their computer as much as users def and ghi trust members of their groups. Because security tends to be antithetical to convenience, user ghi has the least problems sharing files, etc. For what it's worth, I use mno's mode on my desktop machine and jkl's mode on my server account.

Allowing directory execute access by others can be quite useful. Let's say that you want to set up a "drop box" where other users can leave files. Anyone should be able to drop stuff off, but only you should be able to look into the box, retrieve files, or (gasp!) remove files. Here's how:

% chmod 1733 drop_box
% ls -d drop_box
drwx-wx-wt  ... drop_box

As the owner, I am allowed to do anything to the directory. Others (including members of my group) are allowed to access and even create files in the directory, but they are not allowed to list its contents. Finally, the "sticky" bit (described above), keeps anyone but me from removing files from the directory.

I encourage you to set up a "testbed" directory and try out different modes within it. Try out different combinations to see how they might be useful; all of this will pay off some day when you're trying to figure out an obscure "file not found" or "permission denied" error message!


Rich Morin has been using computers since 1970, Unix since 1983, and Mac-based Unix since 1986 (when he helped Apple create A/UX 1.0). When he isn't writing this column, Rich runs Prime Time Freeware (www.ptf.com), a publisher of books and CD-ROMs for the Free and Open Source software community. Feel free to write to Rich at rdm@ptf.com.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

A Better Finder Rename 10.00b1 - File, p...
A Better Finder Rename is the most complete renaming solution available on the market today. That's why, since 1996, tens of thousands of hobbyists, professionals and businesses depend on A Better... Read more
CrossOver 14.1.6 - Run Windows apps on y...
CrossOver can get your Windows productivity applications and PC games up and running on your Mac quickly and easily. CrossOver runs the Windows software that you need on Mac at home, in the office,... Read more
Printopia 2.1.14 - Share Mac printers wi...
Run Printopia on your Mac to share its printers to any capable iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Printopia will also add virtual printers, allowing you to save print-outs to your Mac and send to apps.... Read more
Google Drive 1.24 - File backup and shar...
Google Drive is a place where you can create, share, collaborate, and keep all of your stuff. Whether you're working with a friend on a joint research project, planning a wedding with your fiancé, or... Read more
Chromium 45.0.2454.85 - Fast and stable...
Chromium is an open-source browser project that aims to build a safer, faster, and more stable way for all Internet users to experience the web. Version 45.0.2454.85: Note: Does not contain the "... Read more
OmniFocus 2.2.5 - GTD task manager with...
OmniFocus helps you manage your tasks the way that you want, freeing you to focus your attention on the things that matter to you most. Capturing tasks and ideas is always a keyboard shortcut away in... Read more
iFFmpeg 5.7.1 - Convert multimedia files...
iFFmpeg is a graphical front-end for FFmpeg, a command-line tool used to convert multimedia files between formats. The command line instructions can be very hard to master/understand, so iFFmpeg does... Read more
VOX 2.6 - Music player that supports man...
VOX is a beautiful music player that supports many filetypes. The beauty is in its simplicity, yet behind the minimal exterior lies a powerful music player with a ton of features and support for all... Read more
Box Sync 4.0.6567 - Online synchronizati...
Box Sync gives you a hard-drive in the Cloud for online storage. Note: You must first sign up to use Box. What if the files you need are on your laptop -- but you're on the road with your iPhone? No... Read more
Carbon Copy Cloner 4.1.4 - Easy-to-use b...
Carbon Copy Cloner backups are better than ordinary backups. Suppose the unthinkable happens while you're under deadline to finish a project: your Mac is unresponsive and all you hear is an ominous,... Read more

You Can Play Madfinger Games' Unkil...
Madfinger Games - probably best known for the Dead Trigger series - has officially launched their newest zombie shooter (that isn't called Dead Trigger), named Unkilled. [Read more] | Read more »
KORG iELECTRIBE for iPhone (Music)
KORG iELECTRIBE for iPhone 1.0.1 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Music Price: $9.99, Version: 1.0.1 (iTunes) Description: ** 50% OFF Special Launch Sale - For a Limited Time **The ELECTRIBE reborn in an even smaller form A full-fledged... | Read more »
I am Bread (Games)
I am Bread 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: ‘I am Bread’ is the latest quirky adventure from the creators of 'Surgeon Simulator', Bossa Studios. This isn't the best thing... | Read more »
Rock(s) Rider - HD Edition (Games)
Rock(s) Rider - HD Edition 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: *** PLEASE NOTE: Compatible with iPhone 4s, iPad 2, iPad mini, iPod touch (5th generation) or newer *** Do you... | Read more »
Rebuild 3: Gangs of Deadsville (Games)
Rebuild 3: Gangs of Deadsville 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: It's been a few years since the zombpocalypse turned the world's cities into graveyards and sent the few... | Read more »
Power Ping Pong (Games)
Power Ping Pong 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Do you wield your bat with zen-like focus or do your balls of fury give you a killer spin? Table tennis goes mobile with a... | Read more »
Z.O.N.A Project X (Games)
Z.O.N.A Project X 1.00 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.00 (iTunes) Description: Z.O.N.A Project X - shooter in the post-apocalyptic world. | Read more »
Trick Shot (Games)
Trick Shot 1.0.6 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0.6 (iTunes) Description: A game where all you have to do is throw a ball into a box, simple? Trick Shot is a minimalist physics puzzler with 90 levels... | Read more »
VoxelCity (Games)
VoxelCity 1.0.2 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0.2 (iTunes) Description: Looking for a new city builder? Tired of social media anti-games with no strategy? Look no further! NO IAP EVER! VoxelCity is a... | Read more »
Goat Simulator MMO Simulator (Games)
Goat Simulator MMO Simulator 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: ** IMPORTANT - SUPPORTED DEVICESiPhone 4S, iPad 2, iPod Touch 5 or better.** Coffee Stain Studios brings next-gen... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Near-Office Input Functionality Virtually Any...
Today Logitech introduced the Logitech K380 Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard and the Logitech M535 Bluetooth Mouse, giving users the freedom to work on any device, most anywhere. According to... Read more
College Student Deals: Additional $100 off Ma...
Take an additional $100 off all MacBooks and iMacs at Best Buy Online with their College Students Deals Savings, valid through September 4, 2015. Anyone with a valid .EDU email address can take... Read more
Will You Buy An iPad Pro? – The ‘Book Mystiqu...
It looks like we may not have to wait much longer to see what finally materializes as a new, larger-panel iPad (Pro/Plus?) Usually reliable Apple product prognosticator KGI Securities analyst Ming-... Read more
eFileCabinet Announces SMB Document Managemen...
Electronic document management (EDM) eFileCabinet, Inc., a hosted solutions provider for small to medium businesses, has announced that its SecureDrawer and eFileCabinet Online services will be... Read more
WaterField Designs Unveils American-Made, All...
San Francisco’s WaterField Designs today unveiled their all-leather Cozmo 2.0 — an elegant attach laptop bag with carefully-designed features to suit any business environment. The Cozmo 2.0 is... Read more
Apple’s 2015 Back to School promotion: Free B...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad at The Apple Store for Education and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free,... Read more
128GB MacBook Airs on sale for $100 off MSRP,...
B&H Photo has 11″ & 13″ MacBook Airs with 128GB SSDs on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 11″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air: $799.99, $100 off MSRP... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro (refurbished) avai...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pros available for $829, or $270 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 13″ 2.... Read more
27-inch 3.2GHz iMac on sale for $1679, save $...
B&H Photo has the 27″ 3.2GHz iMac on sale for $1679.99 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $120 off MSRP. Read more
Apple and Cisco Partner to Deliver Fast-Lane...
Apple and Cisco have announced a partnership to create a “fast lane” for iOS business users by optimizing Cisco networks for iOS devices and apps. The alliance integrates iPhone with Cisco enterprise... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Customer Support P...
Job Description: Customer Support Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the Read more
*Apple* Desktop Analyst - KDS Staffing (Unit...
…field and consistent professional recruiting achievement. Job Description: Title: Apple Desktop AnalystPosition Type: Full-time PermanentLocation: White Plains, NYHot Read more
Simply Mac *Apple* Specialist- Repair Techn...
Simply Mac is the greatest premier retailer of Apple products expertise in North America. We're looking for dedicated individuals to provide personalized service and Read more
Simply Mac *Apple* Specialist- Service Repa...
Simply Mac is the greatest premier retailer of Apple products expertise in North America. We're looking for dedicated individuals to provide personalized service and Read more
*Apple* Desktop Analyst - KDS Staffing (Unit...
…field and consistent professional recruiting achievement. Job Description: Title: Apple Desktop AnalystPosition Type: Full-time PermanentLocation: White Plains, NYHot Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.