Tackling Security with the Sticky Bit

In the world of Linux permissions, there’s a lesser-known but important concept called the sticky bit. While the read, write, and execute permissions are familiar to most users, the sticky bit serves a different purpose, primarily in directories. Let’s delve into what the sticky bit is, why it exists, and how it's used.

What is the Sticky Bit?

In Linux, each file and directory has a set of permissions that determine who can read, write, or execute it. The sticky bit, denoted as a 't' at the end of the permission string for directories, has a unique function. Originally, it was designed to prevent users from deleting files in a directory that they don’t own.

Why does Sticky Bit Exist?

Consider a directory that multiple users have write access to, like the /tmp directory that is used for temporary files. Without the sticky bit set, any user with write permissions could delete files owned by other users. This could lead to accidental or even malicious deletion of important files.

The sticky bit solves this problem by restricting the ability to delete files within a directory to only the file's owner, the directory's owner, or the superuser, regardless of the directory's permissions.

How is Sticky Bit Used?

To set the sticky bit on a directory, you can use the chmod command with the +t option followed by the directory name.

chmod +t directory_name

For example

chmod +t /tmp

After setting the sticky bit, the permissions for the directory will include a lowercase 't' at the end of the permission string.


Practical Use Cases

Aside from the /tmp directory, the sticky bit, is also commonly used on directories where users share files, such as public FTP directories or shared project directories. By setting the sticky bit, administrators can ensure that users can write to the directory but cannot delete each other's files.


While the sticky bit might not be as commonly encountered as other permission concepts in Linux, it plays a crucial role in maintaining security and preventing accidental data loss. Understanding how it works and when to use it can help administrators better manage file permissions and ensure the integrity of shared directories in a Linux system.

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