In short : is it safe to grant root (user) access to www-data?

Longer statement : as a lot of questions asked on this using chmod g+s, POSIX ACLs and other sites umask as to the appropriate way of granting privileges to /var/www/html etc, but mine is a little different, and all that I've tried doesn't seem to solve the issue.

/var/www/project/html <- contains all web based files /var/www/project/log <- contains all project based logs

I also have crontab set up for the root user to perform maintenance etc. Within those maintenance scripts (mostly PHP so that I can use my common function library), I have the results also piped to the log folder, under the same log file for the day, some scripts run once a day, others (can) run every minute.

In bringing my application up (through Vagrant) I leave it for a few minutes (so that my cron jobs can post to the log file) and then I log into the application. Immediately I get an error writing to the days log file. Upon checking, sure enough it's owned by root:root - of course, the cron jobs have created it (if it didn't already exist)...

But! As part of the installation script in building the application, I perform the following towards the end:

chown -R www-data:www-data /var/www/project
chmod -R 775 /var/www/project
chmod g+s /var/www/project

... after which my server reboots (host name also changes before reboot).

(Please note : I've also tried the above with a trailing /)

My understanding of the last command ("g+s") is that any new file that's created under that folder, would adopt the permissions of the parent folder. That's obviously not the case, as root is creating the file, and its permissions are root:root.

Performing various "ls -l" I see (removing filesize, timestamps etc):

/var/www # ls -l
drwxrwsr-- www-data www-data  project

/var/www # cd project
/var/www/project # ls -l
drwxrwsr--  www-data www-data html
drwxrwsr--  www-data www-data log

/var/www/project # cd log
/var/www/project/log # ls -l
-rw-r--r--  root root 170309.log

So ... I delete that log file and then repeat the chown, chmod and chmod g+s commands to see if it was the reboot, or hostname change, that's throwing me off ... and sure enough, my maintenance script creates the log file once again, with root:root privileges.

If I leave the file there, and repeat the commands, I get the result I was kind of looking for:

/var/www/project/log # ls -l
-rwxrwxr--  2 www-data www-data 170309.log

However, I'm not necessarily going to have the option of applying these commands after the system reboots, and I'm sure that the following day, I'm going to run into the same issues as the log file will be different and my maintenance script is going to create it first.

AFAICS, I have a couple of solutions:

  1. When the function that creates the log file (either through the cron job or through the application), I check to see if it already exists and if it doesn't, create it and then "chown www-data:www-data todaysLogFile" and then "chmod 774" it afterwards ... a work-around perhaps, rather than a solution
  2. add root to the www-data group (any potential security issues? would it help?)
  3. use POSIX ACLs

I'm really after a rock solid solution here, rather than hacks or work-arounds. I know I'm not the only one out there doing this, but there HAS to be an easier way!!! :O)

  • 1
    You don't grant access to root, root is getting in anyway. Why don't you run your cronjobs as www-data?
    – muru
    Mar 10, 2017 at 1:42
  • @muru ... I'm actually trying to get away from using cron and migrating more to running services using frequent-cron. I'm in a transition period right now so I have some of both, however the overall use is effectively the same. Interestingly, I've come in today and found that today's log file had the correct ownership : -rw-r--r-- 1 root www-data 92295 Mar 10 08:33 170310.log That's definitely a step forward! However, the group permissions are set to read only...
    – bnoeafk
    Mar 10, 2017 at 16:41

1 Answer 1


So, the long and short of it is, unless I want to mess with umask (which I ideally never wanted to do) and whilst adding root to the www-data group doesn't really impact any security issues, I've gone with using ACLs.

All in all, it was pretty painless : 14.04 and later automatically mounts partitions with the ACL option anyway, so there was no monkeying around in fstab required, and then simply installing the ACL utilities and setting up the required permissions for that folder (and any subsequent : facl also uses the -R option) was quick, simple and did exactly what is says on the tin.

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