Wheel (Unix term)

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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.[1][2] The term is derived from the slang phrase big wheel, referring to a person with great power or influence.[1] It was first used in this context with regard to the TENEX operating system, later distributed under the name TOPS-20 in the 1960s and early 1970s.[2][3]

The term was adopted by Unix users in the 1980s, due to the movement of operating system developers and users from TENEX/TOPS-20 to Unix.[2]

Wheel group[edit]

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 sudo command, which allows a user to masquerade as another user (usually the super user).[1][2][4]

Wheel war[edit]

The phrase wheel war, which originated at Stanford University,[5] 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.[6] By 2008, it had come into colloquial use amongst Wikipedia administrators in reference to the misuse of administrative tools during disputes.[7]


  1. ^ a b c "Wheel". Jargon File 4.4.7. Eric S. Raymond. Retrieved 2017-04-22. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Wheel bit". Jargon File 4.4.7. Eric S. Raymond. Retrieved 2017-04-22. 
  3. ^ "TWENEX". Jargon File 4.4.7. Eric S. Raymond. Retrieved 2008-09-12. 
  4. ^ Levi, Bozidar (2002). UNIX Administration: A Comprehensive Sourcebook for Effective Systems and Network Management. CRC Press. p. 207. ISBN 0-8493-1351-1. 
  5. ^ Raymond; et al. "Jargon File". Jargon File 2.1.1. Eric S. Raymond. Retrieved 2016-08-15. 
  6. ^ Steele; et al. "Jargon File". Jargon File 1.5.0. Retrieved 2016-08-15. 
  7. ^ "Wikipedia:Administrators". Wikipedia:Administrators revision 187251258. 2008-01-27. Retrieved 2016-08-15.