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A Guide to Setting Permissions on Files and Directories in Ubuntu Server 22.04

Managing file and directory permissions is crucial for maintaining a secure and organized Ubuntu Server. In Ubuntu, permissions define who can access, modify, or execute files and directories. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the process of setting permissions on files and directories, ensuring that you can control access and safeguard your server.

Understanding File and Directory Permissions

In Ubuntu, each file and directory is associated with a set of permissions, which are defined for three categories of users:

  1. Owner: The user who created the file or directory.
  2. Group: A designated group of users with specific access permissions.
  3. Others: All other users on the system.

For each category, there are three types of permissions:

  • Read (r): Allows users to view the content of the file or list the contents of a directory.
  • Write (w): Permits users to modify the file or add, remove, and rename files within a directory.
  • Execute (x): Grants permission to execute a file (for scripts and binaries) or access a directory (to change to that directory).

Viewing Current Permissions

To check the current permissions of files and directories, use the ls command with the -l option. Open your terminal and navigate to the directory of interest, then run:

$ ls -l

You’ll see an output similar to the following:

-rw-r--r-- 1 user group 1234 Oct 1 12:34 myfile.txt drwxr-xr-x 2 user group 4096 Oct 1 12:34 mydirectory

The permissions are represented by the first set of characters (-rw-r--r-- or drwxr-xr-x). In this example, the first file has read (r) and write (w) permissions for the owner but only read (r) permission for the group and others. The second item is a directory (d) with the execute (x) permission for the owner, but only read (r) permission for the group and others.

Changing Permissions

1. Using chmod Command

The chmod command allows you to change file and directory permissions. Here’s a basic syntax for changing permissions:

$ chmod who=permissions file_or_directory
  • who can be a combination of:
    • u: Owner
    • g: Group
    • o: Others
    • a: All (equivalent to ugo)
  • permissions is a combination of:
    • r: Read
    • w: Write
    • x: Execute
    • -: Remove the permission

For example, to add execute permission for the owner and group on a file, you can use:

$ chmod u+x,g+x file

2. Using Numeric Mode

You can also use numeric values to represent permissions. Each permission is assigned a numeric value: 4 for read, 2 for write, and 1 for execute. To set permissions, you sum these values:

  • Read (4) + Write (2) + Execute (1) = 7

For example, to grant read, write, and execute permissions for the owner and group while allowing only read for others, use:

$ chmod 770 file

Changing Ownership

You can change the owner and group of a file or directory using the chown and chgrp commands, respectively.

For example, to change the owner of a file:

$ sudo chown new_owner file

To change the group of a file:

$ sudo chgrp new_group file


Understanding and managing file and directory permissions in Ubuntu Server is essential for maintaining a secure and organized system. By using the chmod command and understanding the numeric mode, you can effectively control access to your files and directories. Be mindful of the permissions you assign to ensure the integrity and security of your server.

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