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39. Capabilities > Older Kernels and Systems Without File Capabilities

Older Kernels and Systems Without File Capabilities

In this section, we describe various differences in the implementation of capabilities in older kernels. We also describe the differences that occur on kernels where file capabilities are not supported. There are two scenarios where Linux doesn’t support file capabilities:

  • Before Linux 2.6.24, file capabilities were not implemented.

  • Since Linux 2.6.24, file capabilities can be disabled if the kernel is built without the CONFIG_SECURITY_FILE_CAPABILITIES option.


Although Linux introduced capabilities and allowed them to be attached to processes starting with kernel 2.2, the implementation of file capabilities appeared only several years later. The reasons that file capabilities remained unimplemented for so long were matters of policy, rather than technical difficulties. (Extended attributes, described in Chapter 16, which are used to implement file capabilities, had been available since kernel 2.6.) The weight of opinion among kernel developers was that requiring system administrators to set and monitor different sets of capabilities—some of whose consequences are subtle but far-reaching—for each privileged program would create an unmanageably complex administration task. By contrast, system administrators are familiar with the existing UNIX privilege model, know to treat set-user-ID programs with due caution, and can locate the set-user-ID and set-group-ID programs on a system using simple find commands. Nevertheless, the developers of file capabilities made the case that file capabilities could be made administratively workable, and eventually provided a convincing enough argument that file capabilities were integrated into the kernel.


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