Check Linux file permissions with ls
This article explains how to use the
ls command to check Linux® file permissions.
Being able to check the permissions on a file is useful, especially for
troubleshooting. You can ensure that a user can read a particular file, for example,
or examine a directory structure to ensure that users can follow the hierarchy to
the files that they need.
For a more in depth discussion on Linux file permissions, see Linux file permission concepts.
ls command (the first letter is a lowercase L) to see what files are in
a directory. When run by itself,
ls returns a list of the current working directory.
You can also specify a directory to list. The following example shows a list of the
first few files in the
/etc directory on a Gentoo system.
$ ls /etc DIR_COLORS gentoo-release man.conf runlevels adjtime gpm mime.types sandbox.conf apache2 group mke2fs.conf sandbox.d bash group- modprobe.d scsi_id.config ca-certificates host.conf modules.autoload.d securetty ca-certificates.conf hosts modprobe.d scsi_id.config ...
-h option changes the way file sizes are displayed. When you use the -h option,
files sizes are displayed in the human-readable format of kilobytes, megabytes,
and so on, rather than in raw bytes. Other linux tools such as
df also support
this flag. The command
df -h shows current disk usage in a easier to read format.
To display hidden files (files with names that start with a period), use the
option. For example, if you use only
ls to look at the root home directory on a
clean Linux installation, no files are returned:
$ ls /root
However, if you add the
-a option, the
ls command returns a list of
$ ls -a /root . .. .bash_history .bashrc .profile .viminfo
Files that start with a period are often system files and application
settings files, and you usually don’t want them included in directory
lists. But it’s important to know that they’re there and how to see
.bashrc file is especially useful to know about because it
contains user environment settings that you can change.
If you combine the
-a option with the
-l option (see the next section) into
-la, you get all the details of the hidden files:
$ ls -la /root total 24 drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 2009-12-16 01:10 . drwxr-xr-x 23 root root 4096 2010-02-18 10:14 .. -rw------- 1 root root 123 2010-01-21 15:49 .bash_history -rw-r--r-- 1 root root 2227 2007-10-20 11:51 .bashrc -rw-r--r-- 1 root root 141 2007-10-20 11:51 .profile -rw------- 1 root root 868 2009-12-16 00:47 .viminfo
Consider the single period and double period in both directory lists:
The single period (.) refers to the directory itself. This is convenient if you want it to run a command and reference your current directory (for example, when you want to copy a file there).
The double period (..) refers to the parent directory. If you type
cd ..the directory changes to the one above the one you’re in, in the file system hierarchy. For example, if your current directory is
cd ..would take you to
/, the very top of the hierarchy.
To get more information about the files in a directory, use the
option with ls, as shown in the following example.
$ ls -l /etc total 492 -rw-r--r-- 1 root root 4468 Nov 19 2009 DIR_COLORS -rw-r--r-- 1 root root 10 Jun 30 03:29 adjtime drwxr-xr-x 4 root root 4096 Jun 30 03:44 apache2 drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 Nov 19 2009 bash drwxr-xr-x 3 root root 4096 Nov 19 2009 ca-certificates -rw-r--r-- 1 root root 5955 Nov 19 2009 ca-certificates.conf drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 Jul 5 20:37 conf.d drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 Dec 3 2009 cron.d drwxr-x--- 2 root root 4096 Dec 3 2009 cron.daily -rw-r--r-- 1 root root 220 Dec 3 2009 cron.deny drwxr-x--- 2 root root 4096 Dec 3 2009 cron.hourly drwxr-x--- 2 root root 4096 Dec 3 2009 cron.monthly drwxr-x--- 2 root root 4096 Dec 3 2009 cron.weekly -rw-r--r-- 1 root root 611 Dec 3 2009 crontab ...
The file names are on the far right side of each line, and the file
details precede the names. The necessary details to check file permissions
are (1) the series of letters and dashes on the far left of each line, and
(2) the two columns that have
root in them (in the preceding example). The
rest of this article explains how to interpret and use these details.
This section explains the series of letters and dashes that define the file permissions.
The first character: file type
In the preceding examples, the first character in each list was either a
dash (-) or the letter
A dash (-) indicates that the file is a regular file.
dindicates that the file is a directory, which is basically a special kind of file.
A special file type that you might see is a symlink, sometimes
called a soft link. It begins with a lowercase
L, as shown in the
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 4 Jun 30 03:29 sh -> bash
A symlink is a pointer to another location in the file system.
Permissions for files are represented by the following letters.
rrefers to the read permission.
wrefers to the write permission.
xrefers to the execute permission.
The permissions characters
Consider the following example:
drwxrwxr-x 2 root mail 4096 Dec 3 2009 mail
The first trio of letters after the file type in a file list (
shows the permissions for the
user, or file owner.
The next trio of characters (also
rwx) shows the permissions for the
The last trio of characters (
r-x) shows the permissions for the final
other. In this example, users who are neither the file owner nor
in the group have read and execute permissions but not write, as
indicated by the dash (-) in the middle position.
Notice the specific order to the permissions in a trio: read, write, execute. A dash in place of a letter for a permission means that category doesn’t have that permission.
The first number
The number listed after the permissions indicates the link count of a file or the number of contained directory entries, for a directory. This number is not relevant for permissions.
Owner and group
After the number of links, two names are listed. In the preceding example, the
The first name indicates the owner of the file. The
user permissions apply to
the owner of the file, so in this case, the user ‘root’ has read,
write, and execute permissions for this directory.
The second name is the file’s group. The
group permissions apply to
any user in the same group as the file, so in this case, those permissions
apply to anyone in the
The remainder of the file details are the size of the file, the date and time that the file was created or last modified, and the file name.
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