I'm working through a Linux textbook, and it's telling me about devices. It says that if I send the appropriate output to /dev/dsp, then it will play a sound. The example is cat file.wav > /dev/dsp, where file.wav is just any .wav file.

When I do this I get permission denied. If I run this with sudo I still get permission denied. If I su first, no sound plays.

Why do I get permission denied with sudo? Why does no sound play even with su?

  • 1
    Make sure your user is in the audio group. Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 22:10
  • You might also need to ensure that your wav file is raw audio - not all .wav files are raw. Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 22:27
  • @DrakeClarris, that would cause noise to be output, not a permission denied error.
    – cjm
    Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 22:56
  • @cjm I was thinking more of the silence when playing using su Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 16:51

3 Answers 3


/dev/dsp is part of OSS, which hasn't been part of the Linux kernel in... a very long time. It has long been supplanted by ALSA, which uses different devices, different programs, and a different API.

There is an emulation layer module though. If it is available then loading the snd-pcm-oss module will enable you to use the PCM devices for OSS such as /dev/dsp.

Or just stick to piping data to aplay or paplay instead.

  • 2
    sudo modprobe snd-pcm-oss works on my ubuntu to load that module. I get a /dev/dsp1 and a /dev/dsp2 out of this.
    – Veda
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 8:25
  • 1
    How do you load the snd-pcm-oss module? On Ubuntu 18.04, when I run sudo modprobe snd-pcm-oss, I get error: modprobe: FATAL: Module snd-pcm-oss not found in directory /lib/modules/4.15.0-169-generic Commented Mar 12, 2022 at 7:20

If I run this with sudo I still get permission denied.

By this statement, it sounds like you are trying a command like:

sudo cat file.wav > /dev/dsp

The reason you continue to get "permission denied" is that your shell first tries to open the /dev/dsp device for output, before running the command (which is sudo). To have the shell open the redirection with root privileges, you would have to do something like:

sudo sh -c 'cat file.wav > /dev/dsp'

Out of date book, as noted.

So to make the examples work with more modern linux, where it says something like

cat music.wav > /dev/dsp

change it to:

cat music.wav | aplay
# or
aplay music.wav
  • Examples you can test on Ubuntu 18.04+, for example: cat /usr/share/sounds/alsa/Front_Center.wav | aplay or aplay /usr/share/sounds/alsa/Front_Center.wav Commented Mar 12, 2022 at 7:24
  • Doesn't work for all audio format output. Piping sidplay2 to paplay results in Failed to open audio file.. Piping to aplay results in aplay: read_header:2834: read error.
    – jimjamz
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 11:47

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