In computing, the term wheel refers to a user account with a wheel bit, a system setting that provides additional special system privileges that empower a user to execute restricted commands that ordinary user accounts cannot access.
The term wheel was first applied to computer user privilege levels after the introduction of the TENEX operating system, later distributed under the name TOPS-20 in the 1960s and early 1970s. The term was derived from the slang phrase big wheel, referring to a person with great power or influence.
Modern Unix systems generally use user groups as a security protocol to control access privileges. The wheel group is a special user group used on some Unix systems to control access to the su or sudo command, which allows a user to masquerade as another user (usually the super user).
The phrase wheel war, which originated at Stanford University, was first documented in the 1983 version of The Jargon File. A 'wheel war' was characterized as a part of an immature 'larval phase' wherein students with administrative privileges would attempt to lock each other out of a university's multi-user (see also:multiseat) computer system, sometimes causing unintentional harm to other users. By January 2006, it had come into colloquial use amongst Wikipedia administrators in reference to the misuse of administrative tools by one administrator against another administrator, during editor disagreements and disputes.
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- "Wikipedia:Wheel War". Wheel War description page on Wikipedia, revision 34591218. 2006-01-10. Retrieved 2018-04-14.