Linux and Solaris ACLs - Backup of Access Control Lists


POSIX 1003.1-2001 defines a backup utility called pax, and along with that utility, a revised archive format that is to a large degree backwards compatible with tar's archive format. This format is extensible and can contain vendor specific extensions. Additional information that is added to this format is stored in extended headers.

The Star tape archiver uses this backup format for Access Control Lists.

Star tape archiver

The Star tape archiver by Jörg Schilling, available at, since version 1.4a07 supports backing up and restoring of POSIX Access Control Lists. For best results, it is recommended to use a recent star-1.5 version. Star is compatible with SUSv2 tar (UNIX-98 tar), understands the GNU tar archive extensions, and can generate pax archives.

Getting and building Star

Star snapshots are available at

Solaris always includes ACL support in the base OS since Solaris-2.5, but before building Star on Linux, you first need to install the ACL utilities. The ACL utilities in Linux include the ACL library, which Star depends on.

To build Star under Linux, unpack the Star archive, change into the star-1.5 directory, and invoke make. The Star package of course contains more detailed information.

Backing up and restoring with Star

Star supports all command line parameters defined for SUSv2 tar (UNIX-98 tar). There are some differences with GNU tar, for which mostly GNU tar is to blame. Archives can be created as follows. The H=exustar option tells star to create an extended pax archive. The Option -acl tells star to include ACLs in extended headers, for those files that have ACLs.

star H=exustar -acl -c path > archive.tar

Archives can be restored as shown below.

star -acl -x < archive.tar

The archive format Star uses for Access Control Lists

Since no official backup format for POSIX access control lists has been defined, Star uses the vendor defined attributes SCHILY.acl.access and SCHILY.acl.default for storing the ACL and Default ACL of a file, respectively. The access control lists are stored in the short text form as defined in POSIX 1003.1e draft standard 17. To each named user ACL entry a fourth colon separated field field containing the user identifier (UID) of the associated user is appended. To each named group entry a fourth colon separated field containing the group identifier (GID) of the associated group is appended. (POSIX 1003.1e draft standard 17 allows to add fields to ACL entries.)

This is an example of the format used (lines broken for readability, additional fields highlighted):

SCHILY.acl.access= user::rwx,user:lisa:r-x:502,group::r-x, \

SCHILY.acl.default= user::rwx,user:lisa:r-x:502,group::r-x, \

The numerical user and group identifiers are essential when restoring a system completely from a backup, as initially the name-to-identifier mappings may not be available, and then file ownership restoration would not work.

As the archive format that is used for backing up access control lists is compatible with the pax archive format, archives created that way can be restored by star or a POSIX.1-2001 compliant pax. Note that programs other than star will ignore the ACL information.

This page originally was written by Andreas Grünbacher, See the ACL info page for Linux from Andreas Grünbacher.
It has been updated by Jörg Schilling.