What is "root"?

One of the things I have found in helping new Linux users understand the Linux way of doing things, is that the concept of "root" can be a bit perplexing because of the inconsistent way it is used in the Linux lexicon. In much the same way a new computer user might confuse the concept of gigabytes of RAM with gigabytes of hard disk space, so too can newer Linux users be confused with the various connotations of root.

I apologize if this is not germane to the original poster's question, but it may shed some light (or perhaps muddy the waters more) for someone.

  1. First of all there is "/" (pronounced root), aptly described by CO. The top most level of the root filesystem. (As in root directory) I find it ironic that? "/" is used to describe the topmost level of the Linux filesystem when most of us probably would intuit just the opposite.....but I digress. I think of "/" as the container for the entire root filesystem.
  2. The root filesystem. Often represented as "/" but really encompassing all of the files and folders that make up the Linux operating system.
  3. The root partition. The physical partion or drive that the root file system lives on. ALSO frequently referred to as "/"?
  4. /root. This is not the root partition or root filesystem, but the home folder of the root user.
  5. root. Most frequently used to denote the user "root". Or more specifically the name of the login account of the the administrative user that has full filesystem access privileges. Also known as superuser.
  6. As root, gain root, root access,etc.: perform some action with the administrative privileges of the root user.

As can be seen, "root" has various connotations dependent upon the context in which it is used. It is no wonder that it is hard for many of us to grasp at first.

And I won't even get into? root-window, rootkit, get rooted, root portal, chroot and many other similarly phrased terms. Yikes!


And from member manwananchi, a great "alternative" discussion of "root"

It would seem odd if the root partition is stuck in the midst of the the filesystem, because then where do all the folders and everything above root reside?

..everything above root? root is like GOD in your system, there is no "above root", everything is and must be under HIM, the whole universe is under "/", heck, the universe is the "/", going above this is like going over the boundary of the universe, or cruising past the speed of light? What are you going to see? It just doesn't make sense ..

HE has his own chilling place at /root where he puts his personal stuff and where his desktop is. Its locked because he is just personal ..

You live in HIS universe and you have your own place to grow up in called "home directory", you live in /home ..

He occasionally, allows an extension to his universe from others (usb devices, hard drives, cd-roms, floppy drives) under /mnt but this isn't a requirement, HE just likes them there since HE can remember where they are all the time.

HE occassionally allows HIS children to fiddle around in places they shouldn't be by giving them temporary access to HIS powers by requiring them to provide a root access.

HE is a very forgetful GOD so he keeps most of his phyiscal assets in the /dev folder where ironically is where his universe is attached too?? Grin (/dev/hdaX).

He keeps most of his likes and dislikes about how HE runs his universe in /etc. He provided a nice place where his kids and anyone who cares to know what he is upto in /proc, wanna know what he is smoking? Well, hang around there and if you pray hard enough ..you might find out.

The lost+found place? ..well, he generally puts stuff there that he doesn't know/remembers where they are supposed to be. It is locked because you aren't supposed to "see" his mistakes??