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FreeBSD, being a direct descendant of BSD UNIX, is based on several key UNIX concepts. The first and most pronounced is that FreeBSD is a multi-user operating system that can handle several users working simultaneously on completely unrelated tasks. The system is responsible for properly sharing and managing requests for hardware devices, peripherals, memory, and CPU time fairly to each user. Because the system is capable of supporting multiple users, everything the system manages has a set of permissions governing who can read, write, and execute the resource. These permissions are stored as three octets broken into three pieces, one for the owner of the file, one for the group that the file belongs to, and one for everyone else. This numerical representation works like this: Value 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Permission No read, no write, no execute No read, no write, execute No read, write, no execute No read, write, execute Read, no write, no execute Read, no write, execute Read, write, no execute Read, write, execute Directory Listing
----x -w-wx r-r-x rwrwx

Use the -l argument to ls(1) to view a long directory listing that includes a column of information about a file's permissions for the owner, group, and everyone else. For example, a ls -l in an arbitrary directory may show:
% ls -l total 530 -rw-r--r--rw-r--r--rw-r--r-1 root 1 root 1 root wheel wheel wheel 512 Sep 512 Sep 7680 Sep 5 12:31 myfile 5 12:31 otherfile 5 12:31 email.txt

The first (leftmost) character in the first column indicates whether this file is a regular file, a directory, a special character device, a socket, or any other special pseudo-file device. In this example, the - indicates a regular file. The next three characters, rw- in this example, give the permissions for the owner of the file. The next three characters, r--, give the permissions for the group that the file belongs to. The final three characters, r--, give the permissions for the rest of the world. A dash means that the permission is turned off. In this example, the permissions are set so the owner can read and write to the file, the group can read the file, and the rest of the world can only read the file. According to the table above, the permissions for this file would be 644, where each digit represents the three parts of the file's permission.

How does the system control permissions on devices? FreeBSD treats most hardware devices as a file that programs can open, read, and write data to. These special device files are stored in /dev/. Directories are also treated as files. They have read, write, and execute permissions. The executable bit for a directory has a slightly different meaning than that of files. When a directory is marked executable, it means it is possible to change into that directory using cd. This also means that it is possible to access the files within that directory, subject to the permissions on the files themselves. In order to perform a directory listing, the read permission must be set on the directory. In order to delete a file that one knows the name of, it is necessary to have write and execute permissions to the directory containing the file. There are more permission bits, but they are primarily used in special circumstances such as setuid binaries and sticky directories. For more information on file permissions and how to set them, refer to chmod(1).