15.11 File System Access Control Lists (ACLs)

Contributed by Tom Rhodes.

In conjunction with file system enhancements like snapshots, FreeBSD offers the security of File System Access Control Lists (ACLs).

Access Control Lists extend the standard UNIX® permission model in a highly compatible (POSIX®.1e) way. This feature permits an administrator to make use of and take advantage of a more sophisticated security model.

To enable ACL support for UFS file systems, the following:

options UFS_ACL

must be compiled into the kernel. If this option has not been compiled in, a warning message will be displayed when attempting to mount a file system supporting ACLs. This option is included in the GENERIC kernel. ACLs rely on extended attributes being enabled on the file system. Extended attributes are natively supported in the next generation UNIX file system, UFS2.

Note: A higher level of administrative overhead is required to configure extended attributes on UFS1 than on UFS2. The performance of extended attributes on UFS2 is also substantially higher. As a result, UFS2 is generally recommended in preference to UFS1 for use with access control lists.

ACLs are enabled by the mount-time administrative flag, acls, which may be added to /etc/fstab. The mount-time flag can also be automatically set in a persistent manner using tunefs(8) to modify a superblock ACLs flag in the file system header. In general, it is preferred to use the superblock flag for several reasons:

Note: We may change the ACLs behavior to allow the flag to be enabled without a complete fresh mount(8), but we consider it desirable to discourage accidental mounting without ACLs enabled, because you can shoot your feet quite nastily if you enable ACLs, then disable them, then re-enable them without flushing the extended attributes. In general, once you have enabled ACLs on a file system, they should not be disabled, as the resulting file protections may not be compatible with those intended by the users of the system, and re-enabling ACLs may re-attach the previous ACLs to files that have since had their permissions changed, resulting in other unpredictable behavior.

File systems with ACLs enabled will show a + (plus) sign in their permission settings when viewed. For example:

drwx------  2 robert  robert  512 Dec 27 11:54 private
drwxrwx---+ 2 robert  robert  512 Dec 23 10:57 directory1
drwxrwx---+ 2 robert  robert  512 Dec 22 10:20 directory2
drwxrwx---+ 2 robert  robert  512 Dec 27 11:57 directory3
drwxr-xr-x  2 robert  robert  512 Nov 10 11:54 public_html

Here we see that the directory1, directory2, and directory3 directories are all taking advantage of ACLs. The public_html directory is not.

15.11.1 Making Use of ACLs

The file system ACLs can be viewed by the getfacl(1) utility. For instance, to view the ACL settings on the test file, one would use the command:

% getfacl test

To change the ACL settings on this file, invoke the setfacl(1) utility. Observe:

% setfacl -k test

The -k flag will remove all of the currently defined ACLs from a file or file system. The more preferable method would be to use -b as it leaves the basic fields required for ACLs to work.

% setfacl -m u:trhodes:rwx,group:web:r--,o::--- test

In the aforementioned command, the -m option was used to modify the default ACL entries. Since there were no pre-defined entries, as they were removed by the previous command, this will restore the default options and assign the options listed. Take care to notice that if you add a user or group which does not exist on the system, an “Invalid argument” error will be printed to stdout.