Subject: Re: wheel? (was: wheel vs root (newby question?))
To: Josh Huber <,>
From: Erik E. Fair <>
List: current-users
Date: 01/09/1996 11:18:43
At 14:12 1/8/96, 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.

It's a TOPS-20ism (an OS for a fondly remembered ancient DEC 36-bit
mainframe). The "superusers" of TOPS-20 were "wheels" because they had the
"wheel" bit enabled in their user account record. No doubt so that they
could call themselves "Big Wheels" (an ex-DECie someplace might remember
the original derevation)...

Anyway, once 4BSD UNIX gave gid 0 a special property (can't su unless
you're in the wheel group, whether or not you know the root password), I
suppose that name seemed appropriate to the folks who did the hack. Like so
many things, it's the number that matters to the software, not the name. On
System V machines, I've more typically seen gid 0 as "root" in the group

Erik Fair