Subject: Re: wheel? (was: wheel vs root (newby question?))
To: Shawn Pearce <>
From: Scott Telford <>
List: current-users
Date: 01/09/1996 16:44:17
> At 8:12 AM 1/9/96, David Leonard wrote:
> >Hmm this makes me wonder: what is the history of the name given to gid 0?
> >Why `wheel' and not `privileged', `su' or something like that.
> >
> >d
> Well, both sound a lot dumber than wheel.  And my (very bad) guess is:  the
> root of mankind (invention) started with the wheel.
> Its late.  I better get some sleep.

>From The Jargon File 3.2.0:

:wheel: n.  [from slang `big wheel' for a powerful person] A
   person who has an active {wheel bit}.  "We need to find a wheel
   to unwedge the hung tape drives."  (See {wedged}, sense 1.)
   The traditional name of security group zero in {BSD} (to which
   the major system-internal users like {root} belong) is
   `wheel'.  Some vendors have expanded on this usage, modifying
   UNIX so that only members of group `wheel' can {go root}

:wheel bit: n.  A privilege bit that allows the possessor to
   perform some restricted operation on a timesharing system, such as
   read or write any file on the system regardless of protections,
   change or look at any address in the running monitor, crash or
   reload the system, and kill or create jobs and user accounts.  The
   term was invented on the TENEX operating system, and carried over
   to TOPS-20, XEROX-IFS, and others.  The state of being in a
   privileged logon is sometimes called `wheel mode'.  This term
   entered the UNIX culture from TWENEX in the mid-1980s and has been
   gaining popularity there (esp. at university sites).  See also

Scott Telford, Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre,        <>
University of Edinburgh, Mayfield Rd, Edinburgh, EH9 3JZ, UK.(+44 131 650 5978)
 "Is it a virus, a drug, or a religion?" "What's the difference?" (Snow Crash)