Users and Groups

In a multiuser system, each user has a private space on the machine; typically, he owns some quota of the disk space to store files, receives private mail messages, and so on. The operating system must ensure that the private portion of a user space is visible only to its owner. In particular, it must ensure that no user can exploit a system application for the purpose of violating the private space of another user.

All users are identified by a unique number called the User ID, or UID. Usually only a restricted number of persons are allowed to make use of a computer system. When one of these users starts a working session, the operating system asks for a login name and a password. If the user does not input a valid pair, the system denies access. Since the password is assumed to be secret, the user's privacy is ensured.

To selectively share material with other users, each user is a member of one or more groups, which are identified by a unique number called a Group ID, or GID. Each file is associated with exactly one group. For example, access can be set so the user owning the file has read and write privileges, the group has read-only privileges, and other users on the system are denied access to the file.

Any Unix-like operating system has a special user called root, superuser, or supervisor. The system administrator must log in as root to handle user accounts, perform maintenance tasks such as system backups and program upgrades, and so on. The root user can do almost everything, since the operating system does not apply the usual protection mechanisms to her. In particular, the root user can access every file on the system and can interfere with the activity of every running user program.

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