Newbie question on permissions

Daniel Carrera daniel.carrera at
Sat Apr 1 19:30:50 UTC 2006

William Stephens wrote:
> Ever since I switched over to Linux

Yay! \o/

> My question is if I run a few apps that are
> run "as root" is that the same as being logged on as root or is only the
> app that I am using at risk?

Only the apps. So, if you *must* run an app as root, it makes sense to 
still login as a regular user and use root ony for that one app. That's 
actually the point of "sudo". It "encourages" you to use root only when 
you absolutely must.

I can only think of one instance when you need to use root and that's to 
install/remove software (e.g. Synaptic).

> Also if I am logged on as root on a
> terminal does that risk everything? Thanks for the help.

It's an unnecessary risk. How great the risk is depends on how you use 
it. For example:

If you are alone at home, have no kids, and you never use that terminal, 
then it's probably ok. The greatest risk is that you'll forget that you 
are root and use the terminal to do something dangerous. Not a huge 
risk, but still not a necessary one. For example, when I began using 
Linux 8 years ago, I was in that situation (alone at home as root) and 
one time I accidentally deleted my mouse device. I had to get a friend 
to get my mouse working again.

If you are not alone (e.g. are at work, have kids or a cat) the risk 
increases accordingly. A kid is more likely to break something out of 
ignorance, and your cat might walk on the Enter key at the worst 
possible time.

There's another consideration: How do you know which actions are safe 
and which ones aren't? If you are root you'll never know the difference. 
If you are a regular user, you will. This means that (1) you'll learn 
about your system faster (knowledge is power) and (2) you'll be safe 
over-all because you'll be warned about potentially dangerous actions.

For example, suppose someone tells you to run this really cool program 
called Atomix that they found on the Ubuntu forums. You try to run it 
and it says that you must run it as root. That should make you think 
twice, so you ask here for opinions. Some people will tell you that it's 
great, others that it's terrible. You might still decide to run it, but 
you will have made an informed decision.

So, those are the reasons for not running as root. What are the benefits 
of running as root? I can only think of one: when you install software 
you won't have to type your password again. Are there any others? I 
can't think of any.

So, you have to make a cost-benefit decision. Are the risks of running 
as root worth the benefits? I think not.

    /\/_/   A life? Sounds great!
    \/_/    Do you know where I could download one?

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