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Revision as of 14:17, 3 April 2012 by Harald (talk | contribs)

Usermode Migration


All granting of privileged operations to ordinary users should exclusively be handled by a centrally managed authority. Usermode/consolehelper should be phased-out and entirely replaced by polkit.


Current status

  • Targeted release: Fedora 18
  • Last updated: 2012-04-03
  • Percentage of completion: 20%

Detailed Description

The usermode/consolehelper program is a setuid-root wrapper around a couple of tools, to provide superuser privileges to ordinary users. Its policy is controlled by text files in /etc.

Most privileged user operations are already controlled by polkit today, a well-established, fine-grained, possible network-transparent infrastructure to manage privileged operations by ordinary users. Enterprise environments should be able to centrally define the domain’s policy, and automatically apply it to all connected workstations.

  • Polkit can be used by privileged process to decide if it should execute privileged operations on behalf of the requesting user. For directly executed tools, polkit provides a setuid-root helper program called ‘’pkexec’’.The hooks to ask the user for authorizations are well-integrated into text, and natively into all major graphical environments.
  • The concept of a console user is no longer a sufficient concept to derive privileges from. Polkit authorizations can properly distinguish between multiple active sessions and seats: e.g. an untrusted user’s reboot request is only granted, if only a single user session runs at that time.

Polkit(8) manpage

Benefit to Fedora

  • Consistency of system configuration.
  • Centralization of policy.
  • Cleaner system integration; no implicit interception of tools residing in sbin/ with symlinks in bin/, which is less dependent on $PATH ordering.
  • No difference regarding the hookup between tools installed in bin/ or sbin/.


  • Document how to convert consolehelper to polkit:
    • python: put pkexec in the wrapper shell
    • C tools: re-exec with pkexec in C code
    • C tools: move original to /usr/lib/<pkg>/<tool>, and wrap /usr/bin/<tool> with a pkexec shell (ugly!)
  • Open tracker bug and file bugs against all individual packages.
  • Convert all packages, where it makes sense to use polkit, to pkexec.
  • For the unconverted rest, drop the usermode part and recommend to use pkexec on the command line, like sudo is used to run tools.

How to convert

A fast and easy way to convert a former consolehelper program is the use of pkexec.

As an example, we convert system-config-date to PolicyKit:

# ls -l /usr/bin/system-config-date
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 13  5. Feb 02:34 /usr/bin/system-config-date -> consolehelper

# rm /usr/bin/system-config-date
# cat /etc/security/console.apps/system-config-date
. config-util

Ok, running /usr/bin/system-config-date would have executed /usr/share/system-config-date/, so we create /usr/bin/system-config-date like the following:

# cat /usr/bin/system-config-date
exec /usr/bin/pkexec /usr/share/system-config-date/

This will not export the DISPLAY variable, so we have to add a policy file, although starting a GUI as root is not encouraged. The important part is: <annotate key="org.freedesktop.policykit.exec.allow_gui">true</annotate>


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

 <vendor>System Config Date</vendor>

 <action id="">
    <description>Run System Config Date</description>
    <message>Authentication is required to run system-config-date</message>
    <annotate key="org.freedesktop.policykit.exec.path">/usr/share/system-config-date/</annotate>
    <annotate key="org.freedesktop.policykit.exec.allow_gui">true</annotate>

How To Test

# yum remove usermode usermode-gtk

should succeed for an installation with all Fedora packages installed.

# repoquery --whatrequires usermode --whatrequires usermode-gtk

should not output a single package, except the usermode-gtk package.

Make sure, you can call all the tools, which used to use usermode and be asked the appropriate password.

User Experience

The user should experience no noticeable changes.


  • anaconda
  • audit-viewer
  • authconfig-gtk
  • backintime-gnome
  • backintime-kde
  • beesu
  • bootconf-gui
  • chkrootkit
  • driftnet
  • drobo-utils-gui
  • eclipse-oprofile
  • ejabberd
  • fwfstab
  • galternatives
  • gsmartcontrol
  • hddtemp
  • kdenetwork-kppp
  • kismet
  • liveusb-creator
  • livna-config-display
  • lshw-gui
  • mock
  • mtr-gtk
  • netgo
  • nmap-frontend
  • ntfs-config
  • policycoreutils-gui
  • preupgrade
  • pure-ftpd
  • qtparted
  • realcrypt
  • revisor-cli
  • rhn-setup
  • rhn-setup-gnome
  • sabayon
  • setools-gui
  • setuptool
  • smart-gui
  • subscription-manager-gnome
  • synaptic
  • system-config-audit
  • system-config-bind
  • system-config-boot
  • system-config-date
  • system-config-httpd
  • system-config-kdump
  • system-config-keyboard
  • system-config-language
  • system-config-lvm
  • system-config-network
  • system-config-network-tui
  • system-config-nfs
  • system-config-rootpassword
  • system-config-users
  • system-switch-displaymanager
  • system-switch-java
  • system-switch-mail
  • system-switch-mail-gnome
  • tuned
  • usermode-gtk
  • vpnc-consoleuser
  • wifi-radar
  • wlassistant
  • xawtv
  • yumex
  • zyx-liveinstaller

Contingency Plan

Even, if we cannot drop usermode, the changes in the packages do not have to be reverted.


Release Notes

Comments and Discussion