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27.2.6 The Umask and Protection

If the users part of a symbolic mode is omitted, it defaults to ‘a’ (affect all users), except that any permissions that are set in the system variable umask are not affected. The value of umask can be set using the umask command. Its default value varies from system to system.

Omitting the users part of a symbolic mode is generally not useful with operations other than ‘+’. It is useful with ‘+’ because it allows you to use umask as an easily customizable protection against giving away more permission to files than you intended to.

As an example, if umask has the value 2, which removes write permission for users who are not in the file’s group, then the mode:


adds permission to write to the file to its owner and to other users who are in the file’s group, but not to other users. In contrast, the mode:


ignores umask, and does give write permission for the file to all users.