5.2. Advantages of ACLs

Traditionally, three permission sets are defined for each file object on a Linux system. These sets include the read (r), write (w), and execute (x) permissions for each of three types of users—the file owner, the group, and other users. In addition to that, it is possible to set the set user id, the set group id, and the sticky bit. This lean concept is fully adequate for most practical cases. However, for more complex scenarios or advanced applications, system administrators formerly had to use a number of tricks to circumvent the limitations of the traditional permission concept.

ACLs can be used as an extension of the traditional file permission concept. They allow assignment of permissions to individual users or groups even if these do not correspond to the original owner or the owning group. Access control lists are a feature of the Linux kernel and are currently supported by ReiserFS, Ext2, Ext3, JFS, and XFS. Using ACLs, complex scenarios can be realized without implementing complex permission models on the application level.

The advantages of ACLs are evident if you want to replace a Windows server with a Linux server. Some of the connected workstations may continue to run under Windows even after the migration. The Linux system offers file and print services to the Windows clients with Samba. With Samba supporting access control lists, user permissions can be configured both on the Linux server and in Windows with a graphical user interface (only Windows NT and later). With winbindd, part of the samba suite, it is even possible to assign permissions to users only existing in the Windows domain without any account on the Linux server.