[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[ih] What is the origin of the root account?

On 4/11/2013 1:58 PM, Eduardo A. Su?rez wrote:

> this is off-topic, but perhaps anyone can help. What is the origin of
> the root account in unix?

It certainly is "history" although the "internet" part is a little weak 
since unix existed before the Internet did, I don't think unix had much 
to do with the development of the Internet except as the operating 
system on some hosts that were reachable in the early days.

Be fore I continue let me confirm for you all that I have no credentials 
whatever in the area and all I say is based on an accretion of hearsay, 
the result of working one, with, and for computers and networks of 
several kinds for several years in several "environments".

Every computer (or more precisely, every operating system instance) with 
an "account structure" has to have a place to start.

On EXEC 8 systems, the first accesses via the construction of the boot 
tape, fleshed out via the (presumed) physically secure console.  From 
those come the first accounts and their "permissions" and from there the 
construction of additional accounts and file structures expands.

MS-DOS systems presumed the only accesses were via the (presumed) 
physically secure console and were presumed to be be single-user and 
there was not much in the way of control or constraint on the 
file-system structure.

MS-WINDOWS (I have not forgotten the original question--I'll arrive back 
there momentarily) introduced the notions of (at first, serial) 
multi-user and installed itself with an "admin" account (with either a 
publicly known, or no password) that the authority to establish 
file-system structures and to construct "accounts" with some subset of 
its "permissions" (the most common subset was "all of them", I think).

I think unix (and multics, from which it sprouted*) was designed to 
support multiple users from the outset, and since that first or starter 
account (also accessible initially only via the (presumed) physically 
secure console) had to have permissions on the "root" directory it no 
doubt seemed natural to the GE, MIT and Bell Labs people to call it the 
"root" account.

Obviously, MS had to use another symbol for the root directory and 
another name for the starter account with access to it.

I have not mentioned any of the myriad IBM "OS"s, nor any other because 
I don't know anything about them, and don't (as I did here) pretend to.

Requiescas in pace o email           Two identifying characteristics
                                         of System Administrators:
Ex turpi causa non oritur actio      Infallibility, and the ability to
                                         learn from their mistakes.
                                           (Adapted from Stephen Pinker)