capget, capset - set/get capabilities of thread(s)


#include <sys/capability.h>

int capget(cap_user_header_t hdrp, cap_user_data_t datap);

int capset(cap_user_header_t hdrp, const cap_user_data_t datap);


As of Linux 2.2, the power of the superuser (root) has been partitioned into a set of discrete capabilities. Each thread has a set of effective capabilities identifying which capabilities (if any) it may currently exercise. Each thread also has a set of inheritable capabilities that may be passed through an execve(2) call, and a set of permitted capabilities that it can make effective or inheritable.

These two functions are the raw kernel interface for getting and setting thread capabilities. Not only are these system calls specific to Linux, but the kernel API is likely to change and use of these functions (in particular the format of the cap_user_*_t types) is subject to extension with each kernel revision, but old programs will keep working.

The portable interfaces are cap_set_proc(3) and cap_get_proc(3); if possible you should use those interfaces in applications. If you wish to use the Linux extensions in applications, you should use the easier-to-use interfaces capsetp(3) and capgetp(3).

Current details

Now that you have been warned, some current kernel details. The structures are defined as follows.
 #define _LINUX_CAPABILITY_VERSION_1  0x19980330
 #define _LINUX_CAPABILITY_U32S_1     1
 #define _LINUX_CAPABILITY_VERSION_2  0x20071026
 #define _LINUX_CAPABILITY_U32S_2     2
 typedef struct __user_cap_header_struct {
    __u32 version;
    int pid;
 } *cap_user_header_t;
 typedef struct __user_cap_data_struct {
    __u32 effective;
    __u32 permitted;
    __u32 inheritable;
 } *cap_user_data_t;

effective, permitted, inheritable are bitmasks of the capabilities defined in capability(7). Note the CAP_* values are bit indexes and need to be bit-shifted before ORing into the bit fields. To define the structures for passing to the system call you have to use the struct __user_cap_header_struct and struct __user_cap_data_struct names because the typedefs are only pointers.

Kernels prior to 2.6.25 prefer 32-bit capabilities with version _LINUX_CAPABILITY_VERSION_1, and kernels 2.6.25+ prefer 64-bit capabilities with version _LINUX_CAPABILITY_VERSION_2. Note, 64-bit capabilities use datap[0] and datap[1], whereas 32-bit capabilities only use datap[0].

Another change affecting the behavior of these system calls is kernel support for file capabilities (VFS capability support). This support is currently a compile time option (added in kernel 2.6.24).

For capget() calls, one can probe the capabilities of any process by specifying its process ID with the hdrp->pid field value.

With VFS Capability Support

VFS Capability support creates a file-attribute method for adding capabilities to privileged executables. This privilege model obsoletes kernel support for one process asynchronously setting the capabilities of another. That is, with VFS support, for capset() calls the only permitted values for hdrp->pid are 0 or getpid(2), which are equivalent.

Without VFS Capability Support

When the kernel does not support VFS capabilities, capset() calls can operate on the capabilities of the thread specified by the pid field of hdrp when that is nonzero, or on the capabilities of the calling thread if pid is 0. If pid refers to a single-threaded process, then pid can be specified as a traditional process ID; operating on a thread of a multithreaded process requires a thread ID of the type returned by gettid(2). For capset(), pid can also be: -1, meaning perform the change on all threads except the caller and init(8); or a value less than -1, in which case the change is applied to all members of the process group whose ID is -pid.

For details on the data, see capabilities(7).


On success, zero is returned. On error, -1 is returned, and errno is set appropriately.

The calls will fail with the error EINVAL, and set the version field of hdrp to the kernel preferred value of _LINUX_CAPABILITY_VERSION_? when an unsupported version value is specified. In this way, one can probe what the current preferred capability revision is.


Bad memory address. hdrp must not be NULL. datap may only be NULL when the user is trying to determine the preferred capability version format supported by the kernel.
One of the arguments was invalid.
An attempt was made to add a capability to the Permitted set, or to set a capability in the Effective or Inheritable sets that is not in the Permitted set.
The caller attempted to use capset() to modify the capabilities of a thread other than itself, but lacked sufficient privilege. For kernels supporting VFS capabilities, this is never permitted. For kernels lacking VFS support, the CAP_SETPCAP capability is required. (A bug in kernels before 2.6.11 meant that this error could also occur if a thread without this capability tried to change its own capabilities by specifying the pid field as a nonzero value (i.e., the value returned by getpid(2)) instead of 0.)
No such thread.


These system calls are Linux-specific.


The portable interface to the capability querying and setting functions is provided by the libcap library and is available here:


clone(2), gettid(2), capabilities(7)


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