On my mac I'm using an unjournaled HFS partition to share files between OSX 10.8 and Ubuntu 12.04.

It was a nice thought at first, because Time Machine will automatically backup the volume in OSX, but I soon noticed that OSX and Ubuntu mess with the permission in a way that makes things messy for me.

So, in order to fully view and change files, I keep using chmod to apply permissions that will allow me to fully use a document. But I don't understand why I have to keep applying changes over and over.

Is possible to set some kind of permission permanently so that both operating systems will respect permanently?

I guess 777 will work, but I thought that this is not a smart thing to do. But as long as 'others' does not get full access (third seven), I see a lock icon on the file in ubuntu.

  • 1
    Do you have the same username in both OS X and Ubuntu? If you have different usernames you can try adding the Ubuntu username to your group in OS X, and vice versa. This way you would only need 774 for permissions.
    – edwin
    Jul 1, 2013 at 16:47
  • @edwin Thanks for the tip. How do I add a username to my group? Is using 777 reasonable or unsafe?
    – user24668
    Jul 1, 2013 at 16:49

3 Answers 3


User names are irrelevant. Permissions in both HFS+ and Linux-native filesystems are stored in terms of user IDs (UIDs), which are numbers associated with usernames. In Ubuntu, as in most modern Linux distributions, the first user is given a UID of 1000 by default. In OS X, the first user is given a UID of 501 by default. Thus, when sharing media that encode UID values, the UID values are likely to not match.

One way to fix this is by setting loose permissions (the mode value, as in rwxr-xr-x, or 755 in octal). Note that the permissions octal code is not the same as the UID value. In either OS, you can set the default permissions used on files with the umask command, which specifies the bit value to be removed from file permissions. For instance, umask 022 removes write permission for the group and other permissions, resulting in 755 (rwxr-xr-x) permissions on new files (or 644 if something removes the execute permission bit, which is common practice for files). This is largely a command-line tool, though; if you're largely a GUI user, you'll need to find another tool to do the job, probably related to your desktop environment's defaults. This may be obscure and poorly documented. Also, setting loose permissions in this way can have security drawbacks, especially if yours is a multi-user system.

A better approach is to synchronize your account UIDs across Linux and OS X. You can easily change the UID value in Linux with the usermod command, as in:

usermod -u 501 dale

This command sets the UID for dale to 501. There are some significant caveats, though:

  • You should log out of the account you're modifying before you modify it. Trying to modify an in-use account will cause that account to begin behaving strangely.
  • usermod must be used as root. You can execute it via sudo, but doing so from the account you're modifying is inadvisable in the extreme. Thus, you'll need to either give root a password and log into root directly or use sudo from a second user account.
  • The usermod command won't change the ownership of any files owned by the user in question. To adjust ownership of those files, you'll need to locate them and then change their ownership with chown. Most of the files will be in the user's home directory, so chown -R dale: /home/dale, typed as root after changing dale's UID, will change most of dale's files to use the new UID number. Some of the user's files may be located elsewhere, though. Typing find / -uid 1000 will find all the files that use the old UID (assuming it was 1000). Note that this find command will probably take several minutes to complete. To speed it up, unmount any filesystems on which you're sure it will find no hits, such as FAT or NTFS volumes.
  • If you access FAT or NTFS volumes, their UID values are determined by options at mount time. If you use a GUI file manager, chances are the UID value is set to whoever is running the file manager, so you need do nothing special. If you mount the volume via an /etc/fstab entry, though, you may need to adjust the UID value it specifies.
  • Ubuntu stores the minimum value it uses for UIDs in /etc/login.defs. If you fail to change the UID_MIN value in this file, you'll likely discover that your account will seem to "disappear" from the GUI login screen, and perhaps from some other systems. Thus, you should edit that file.

In theory, you could change the UID of your OS X account(s) in a similar way to achieve the same goal. I'm less familiar with the OS X account-maintenance tools, though, so I can't provide explicit instructions for doing so. Adjusting the OS X values would have the advantage of your not having to adjust UID_MIN in Linux.

If you've got multiple accounts on your computer, you should adjust them all to keep them all synchronized across your OS installations.

One more point: The Group ID (GID) value is stored in a similar way. IIRC, Ubuntu assigns a GID value for each account that's identical to its UID value. I don't recall what OS X does by default. You might want to adjust the GID values for the two OSes in a way that's analogous to the UID changes, but this isn't likely to be as important as adjusting the UID values.

EDIT: If you want to change your UID (and GID, if desired) in macOS/OS X rather than in Ubuntu, you can do so. As this modification in macOS is beyond the scope of this site, I'll just link to a few pages that provide procedures for doing this in macOS:

  • Wow, thank you! This is a really well written comprehensive answer - explaining the full context of the problem! This solution helped me to get a flawless shared partition without making any compromises. At first there was still the problem of file ownership: "ignoring the ownership of this volume" in OSX would not give me write access to newly created files of OSX when running under ubuntu (lock icon) and vice versa. So I ended up setting a new new account in ubuntu using the same username as in OSX and changing the UID again.
    – user24668
    Jul 2, 2013 at 11:14
  • 1
    Now I have full access from both operating systems for existing and newly created files without having to change access restrictions. Since this is such an exemplary answer, I'll give you a bounty once the question becomes eligible for a bounty. ;-)
    – user24668
    Jul 2, 2013 at 11:18
  • After following your instructions I tried to log in in ubuntu. When I hit enter I saw a black screen for a second and then landed back in the login screen. After changing back anything to standard 1000 from my temp account I could log in again. Any idea why I couldn't log in with the new uid? Jan 1, 2014 at 23:57
  • If you neglected to change the permissions on your own home directory, that might account for the problem. If you're using 13.10, it's also conceivable that something in Ubuntu has changed that's causing problems if you didn't adjust UID_MIN.
    – Rod Smith
    Jan 2, 2014 at 0:40
  • 1
    UPDATE: i just did usermod on my system and somehow the permission of my home directory did not have to be changed!? Everything work nicely after only usermod (as root). Feb 1, 2015 at 20:46

I have found that sometimes you can click on a folder you would like to share and hit command + I. Then click on the lock and enter your password if it is not unlocked Next, then where it says "everyone" choose read and write.

Another thing that works is to set up a folder as a "shared folder" you can do this in the sharing preference pane in system preferences.
Go to system preferences > sharing > file sharing. Then make share that the file sharing box is checked and add the folder you would like to share using the plus button. Then you can change the permissions to read an write.

ONE NOTE: using the second option will also open up your computer to allow access to the folder of your choice over the internet (only while booted into os x)!! Make share you have a secure password and that you probably disable this in public places (don't forget get your tinfoil hat!)

  • This works in both cases, but I will only use the first option. Yet allowing "everyone" access (i.e permission 777) seems too radical - or is it not? Is this safe?
    – user24668
    Jul 1, 2013 at 17:38
  • 1
    Well, it is not recommended for sure. "Everyone" will be able to modify and read the documents with those permissions (but this is unix stuff mostly, I think). Its definitely a little bit more secure to use 774.
    – edwin
    Jul 1, 2013 at 18:42

Open a terminal and:

In OS X, try this

sudo dscl / -create /Users/<ubuntu-username>
sudo dscl / -append /Groups/<os-x-username> GroupMembership <ubuntu-username>

In Ubuntu, run this

sudo adduser --system --no-create-home --ingroup <ubuntu-username> <os-x-username>

Now you should be able to use 774 or even 770 for file permissions.

  • This doesn't work. The OSX command doesn't work either. But I've managed to add the ubuntu user via the GUI interface in OSX. After adding the user of the other OS to the running OS and changing the permissions to 774 in both operating systems, Ubuntu can still not get full access to all files on the shared partition. Some sub directories for example I cannot open (permission is 774). So I had to change it to 777 in order to open it. Are these gracious permission safe?
    – user24668
    Jul 1, 2013 at 17:35
  • In Ubuntu at least, the command should work I have tried myself before adding the answer. Are you sure you substituted <ubuntu-username> with your actual username in Ubuntu (idem for <os-x-usernanme>)? And can you be more specific about what errors OS X gives you when trying to run this command?
    – edwin
    Jul 1, 2013 at 18:19
  • I only said that the command did not work in OSX. If I remember correctly, the command adduser does not exit.
    – user24668
    Jul 1, 2013 at 18:23
  • I have edited the answer for this. Try it. I am not sure since I am not familiar with OS X user management. In OS X, you could also use the GUI to create the Ubuntu user (with the username you use in Ubuntu) and then adding it to your actual OS X user group.
    – edwin
    Jul 1, 2013 at 18:30
  • It does not matter. OSX offers a simple GUI when using CMD+I where you can create and add users very easily. But this did not resolve the issue after all. I ended up using 777 permissions.
    – user24668
    Jul 1, 2013 at 18:31

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