I would like to prevent a directory from being deleted, let's assume the directory has this path


is there a way to make it deletable only by the root user, without using sudo and without being the root user?

for example, this should work:

sudo chown -R root:root ~/foo

but if I don't use sudo, the above command will fail

chown -R root:root ~/foo # fail

chown: changing ownership of '/home/olegzandr/foo/bar': Operation not permitted

is it possible to make files undeletable except by the root user without using sudo?

(I also read about the chattr command, but the tag was unavailable so I couldn't add chattr tag to the question.)

If I try this:

enter image description here

It doesn't seem work, because no permission error is thrown.

  • 1
    you are the owner sure you can remove it you and the root can remove it only, if you want it to be removable just by root, make root the owner on the file Dec 6, 2016 at 8:58

2 Answers 2


For your first question use sticky bit like that:

chmod o+t ~/foo

it will make it non removable by any user but the owner and root

For the chown command, you can't change the owner without superuser permission

  • this didn't seem to work for me Dec 6, 2016 at 8:54
  • I edited the question to show what I get when I try this Dec 6, 2016 at 8:55
  • @AlexanderMills you are the owner sure you can remove it if you want to make non removable by any user but the root , make root the owner Dec 6, 2016 at 8:57
  • right, but the question is about how to make a file deletable only by the root user, if you are not the root user Dec 6, 2016 at 8:57
  • 1
    @AlexanderMills I guess there is no way to make it removable just by root without make the root the owner Dec 6, 2016 at 9:03

The owner of a directory is normally allowed to remove and rename files and subdirectories in that directory. Linux security modules and file attributes (if enabled and available) may add additional limitations.

Edited to reflect changes in the question:

A normal user can trivially create a directory that excludes all users except for themselves and root. For example:

mkdir -m 0700 ~/foo

creates a directory only accessible to the owner user (drwx------) and root; whereas

mkdir -m 0770 ~/foo

creates a directory only accessible to the owner user and the members of the group (drwxrwx---), and root.

With the exceptions set by whatever Linux security modules that might be in use (say, SELinux), root can access all files on a system. That's why they're the superuser, after all.

If you run command id -un, you can see your current real user name. The command id -gn reports your real group, and id -Gn the names of the supplementary groups you are a member of. If you are the owner user of a directory, you can change the group of any file or subdirectory to any group you are a member of using the command chgrp.

So, let's say you are user grand and you belong to groups marina and torino. If you want to create directories games-marina and games-torino only you and whatever users that belong to those two groups can access (but others can only read, not modify or delete anything), then do

mkdir                 games-marina
chgrp  marina         games-marina
chmod  u=rwx,g=rx,o=  games-marina

mkdir                 games-torino
chgrp  torino         games-torino
chmod  u=rwx,g=rx,o=  games-torino

In many systems, users are also created a group matching their user name. This is in many ways useful; for example, it is usually the default group for any files you own, so it is explicit that only you control their contents.

A user cannot normally abandon files or directories for others to control. That kind of ownership change really requires superuser privileges. (For example, to change the owner of a file or directory using chown, you need to either be root, or have the CAP_CHOWN capability in Linux.)

There are a number of reasons why letting such abandonment happen would be a bad idea; technically, it could be implemented, but I personally haven't seen any good use case yet. I am pretty certain the OP is trying to do something ... shall we say, non-useful, here.

(I do have written scripts that allow file ownership in certain directory trees between members belonging to a specific group -- yes, web administrators --, but that's pretty easy to safely set up with sudo and a couple of bash/dash helper scripts.)

If we wanted to create directory /home/olegzandr/foo that is not deletable by the owner of the directory /home/olegzandr, we'd need to make foo a mount point, and bind-mount a (root-owned) directory on top of it. For example, we could create directory /root/foo (owned by the root user, obviously), and bind-mount it over /home/olegzandr/foo using e.g.

sudo mount --bind /root/foo /home/olegzandr/foo

With a bind mount, the /home/olegzandr/foo directory must still exist (as it is used as the mount point), and the owner of the /home/olegzandr can manipulate that directory, but they cannot remove it while the bind mount exists. Since /home/olegzandr/foo is a new mount point owned by root, the owner of /home/olegzandr cannot manipulate it.

To protect the mount point from being removed by the owner of /home/olegzandr while the bind mount is not in effect, one should set the mount point /home/olegzandr/foo immutable. To create the initial mount point (without having the bind mount mounted yet), I'd use

sudo mkdir      /home/olegzandr/foo
sudo chmod 0700 /home/olegzandr/foo
sudo chattr +i  /home/olegzandr/foo

Note that this also means nobody can accidentally copy data or create subdirectories in /home/olegzandr/foo, unless the bind mount is in effect. (When the bind mount is in effect, the owner, group, and permissions of /root/foo apply to /home/olegzandr/foo too.)

On ext4 and most other filesystems, we can usually use an intermediate immutable directory to create directory /home/olegzandr/foo/bar, with /home/olegzandr/foo being immutable. This way the owner of /home/olegzandr cannot modify or delete /home/olegzandr/foo, nor delete /home/olegzandr/foo/bar. The latter is furthermore a sub-directory in a root-owned directory, and thus no longer under the thrall of the owner of /home/olegzandr. To experiment with this:

sudo mkdir /home/olegzandr/foo
sudo mkdir /home/olegzandr/foo/bar
sudo chmod 0555 /home/olegzandr/foo
sudo chattr +i /home/olegzandr/foo

You can then set the owner, group, and mode of /home/olegzandr/foo/bar as you wish. It cannot be deleted (even by root) as long as /home/olegzandr/foo is immutable.

To change the immutable file attribute, one needs to be either root, or have the CAP_LINUX_IMMUTABLE capability (which normally only root has).

  • I am looking to accomplish everything without the sudo command! :) Dec 6, 2016 at 10:05
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    @AlexanderMills: No; that would mean any user would have a way to create directories only accessible to root -- not accessible to even themselves -- and what would be the point of that? It would also open up a number of security issues (about resource accounting especially -- not about privilege escalation or cracking). I assumed you wanted to set up such a directory, with superuser privileges, so that the directory could then be used by certain users with privileges not related to the original base directory (some user's home directory). Dec 6, 2016 at 10:12

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