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Revision as of 15:22, 11 December 2013 by Mrk3004 (talk | contribs) (Authentication agents: Add Mate)
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From polkit homepage:

polkit is an application-level toolkit for defining and handling the policy that allows unprivileged processes to speak to privileged processes: It is a framework for centralizing the decision making process with respect to granting access to privileged operations for unprivileged applications.

Polkit is used for controlling system-wide privileges. It provides an organized way for non-privileged processes to communicate with privileged ones. In contrast to systems such as sudo, it does not grant root permission to an entire process, but rather allows a finer level of control of centralized system policy.

Polkit works by delimiting distinct actions, e.g. running GParted, and delimiting users by group or by name, e.g. members of the wheel group. It then defines how – if at all – those users are allowed those actions, e.g. by identifying as members of the group by typing in their passwords.


Polkit can be installed with the package polkit, available in the official repositories.

Authentication agents

An authentication agent is used to make the user of a session prove that the user of the session really is the user (by authenticating as the user) or an administrative user (by authenticating as an administrator). The polkit package contains a textual authentication agent called 'pkttyagent', which is used as a general fallback.

If you are using a graphical environment, make sure that a graphical authentication agent installed and autostarted. Cinnamon, GNOME, GNOME Flashback, MATE, KDE and LXDE have an authentication agent already.

In other desktop environments, you have to choose one of the following implementations:

  • lxpolkit, which provides /usr/lib/lxpolkit/lxpolkit
  • polkit-gnome, which provides /usr/lib/polkit-gnome/polkit-gnome-authentication-agent-1
  • polkit-kde, which provides /usr/lib/kde4/libexec/polkit-kde-authentication-agent-1

Make sure that its executable is autostarted on login.


Polkit definitions can be divided into two kinds:

  • Actions are defined in XML .policy files located in /usr/share/polkit-1/actions. Each action has a set of default permissions attached to it (e.g. you need to identify as an administrator to use the GParted action). The defaults can be overruled but editing the actions files is NOT the correct way.
  • Authorization rules are defined in JavaScript .rules files. They are found in two places: 3rd party packages can use /usr/share/polkit-1/rules.d (though few if any do) and /etc/polkit-1/rules.d is for local configuration. The .rules files designate a subset of users, refer to one (or more) of the actions specified in the actions files and determine with what restrictions these actions can be taken by that/those user(s). As an example, a rules file could overrule the default requirement for all users to authenticate as an admin when using GParted, determining that some specific user doesn't need to. Or isn't allowed to use GParted at all.


The actions available to you via polkit will depend on the packages you have installed. Some are used in multiple desktop environments (org.freedesktop.*), some are DE-specific (org.gnome.*) and some are specific to a single program (org.archlinux.pkexec.gparted.policy). The command pkaction lists all the actions defined in /usr/share/polkit-1/actions for quick reference.

To get an idea of what polkit can do, here are a few commonly used groups of actions:

  • systemd-logind (org.freedesktop.login1.policy) actions regulated by polkit include powering off, rebooting, suspending and hibernating the system, including when other users may still be logged in.
  • udisks (org.freedesktop.udisks2.policy) actions regulated by polkit include mounting file systems and unlocking encrypted devices.
  • NetworkManager (org.freedesktop.NetworkManager.policy) actions regulated by polkit include turning on and off the network, wifi or mobile broadband.

Each action is defined in an <action> tag in a .policy file. The org.archlinux.pkexec.gparted.policy contains a single action and looks like this:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE policyconfig PUBLIC
 "-//freedesktop//DTD PolicyKit Policy Configuration 1.0//EN"

  <action id="org.archlinux.pkexec.gparted">
    <message>Authentication is required to run the GParted Partition Editor</message>
    <annotate key="org.freedesktop.policykit.exec.path">/usr/bin/gparted</annotate>
    <annotate key="org.freedesktop.policykit.exec.allow_gui">true</annotate>


The attribute id is the actual command sent to D-Bus, the message tag is the explanation to the user when authentication is required and the icon_name is sort of obvious.

The default tag is where the permissions or lack thereof are located. It contains three settings: allow_any, allow_inactive, and allow_active. Inactive sessions are generally remote sessions (SSH, VNC, etc.) whereas active sessions are logged directly into the machine on a TTY or an X display. allow_any is the setting encompassing both scenarios.

For each of these settings the following options are available:

  • no: The user is not authorized to carry out the action. There is therefore no need for authentication.
  • yes: The user is authorized to carry out the action without any authentication.
  • auth_self: Authentication is required but the user need not be an administrative user.
  • auth_admin: Authentication as an administrative user is require.
  • auth_self_keep: The same as auth_self but, like sudo, the authorization lasts a few minutes.
  • auth_admin_keep: The same as auth_admin but, like sudo, the authorization lasts a few minutes.

These are default setting and unless overruled in later configuration will be valid for all users.

As can be seen from the GParted action, users are required to authenticate as administrators in order to use GParted, regardless of whether the session is active or inactive.

Authorization rules

Authorization rules that overrule the default settings are laid out in a set of directories as described above. For all purposes relating to personal configuration of a single system, only /etc/polkit-1/rules.d should be used.

The addRule() method is used for adding a function that may be called whenever an authorization check for action and subject is performed. Functions are called in the order they have been added until one of the functions returns a value. Hence, to add an authorization rule that is processed before other rules, put it in a file in /etc/polkit-1/rules.d with a name that sorts before other rules files, for example 00-early-checks.rules.

The layout of the .rules files is fairly self-explanatory:

/* Allow users in admin group to run GParted without authentication */
polkit.addRule(function(action, subject) {
    if (action.id == "org.archlinux.pkexec.gparted" &&
        subject.isInGroup("admin")) {
        return polkit.Result.YES;

Inside the function, we check for the specified action ID (org.archlinux.pkexec.gparted) and for the user's group (admin), then return a value "yes".

Administrator identities

The addAdminRule() method is used for adding a function may be called whenever administrator authentication is required. The function is used to specify what identities may be used for administrator authentication for the authorization check identified by action and subject. Functions added are called in the order they have been added until one of the functions returns a value.

The default configuration for administrator identities is contained in the file 50-default.rules so any changes to that configuration should be made by copying the file to, say, 40-default.rules and editing that file.

polkit.addAdminRule(function(action, subject) {
    return ["unix-group:wheel"];

The only part to edit (once copied) is the return array of the function: as whom should a user authenticate when asked to authenticate as an administrative user? If she herself is a member of the group designated as admins, she only need enter her own password. If some other user, e.g. root, is the only admin identity, she would need to enter in root's password. The format of the user identification is the same as the one used in designating authorities. The Arch default is to make all members of the group wheel administrators.


Polkit operates on top of the existing permissions systems in Linux – group membership, administrator status – it does not replace them. The example above prohibited the user jack from using the GParted action, but it does not preclude him running GParted by some means that do not respect polkit, e.g. the command line. Therefore it's probably better to use polkit to expand access to privileged services for unprivileged users, rather than to try using it to curtail the rights of (semi-)privileged users. For security purposes, the sudoers file is still the way to go.


Disable suspend and hibernate

The following rule disables suspend and hibernate for all users.

polkit.addRule(function(action, subject) {
    if (action.id == "org.freedesktop.login1.suspend" ||
        action.id == "org.freedesktop.login1.suspend-multiple-sessions" ||
        action.id == "org.freedesktop.login1.hibernate" ||
        action.id == "org.freedesktop.login1.hibernate-multiple-sessions") {
        return polkit.Result.NO;

Allow mounting a filesystem on a system device

The following rule enables mounting a filesystem on a system device for the storage group.

polkit.addRule(function(action, subject) {
    if (action.id == "org.freedesktop.udisks2.filesystem-mount-system" && subject.isInGroup("storage")) {
        return polkit.Result.YES;

See also