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I have a git-based wiki system which has a PHP web front-end using a local Apache2 web server. From within PHP I run git commit ... which should be allowed to commit changes made to the wiki files. However, I have to pull and push using my default user because of the user identity (my private SSH key file). Which permissions should I use for the .git folder and its contents? If I use the default permissions, apache isn't allowed to lock the index and thus fails to commit the changes.

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Rather than running shell commands from your PHP application, I suggest to start writing your web application to use Git programmatically using a PHP-Git binding library. For example php-git.

This has many advantages, such as not having to parse the command line output which may change in a future release of Git.

About the file system permissions, just log in on the server as which the PHP application server is running (i.e. su -l www-data -s /bin/bash on Debian-based systems) and create a public/private keypair for that user. Keep all file ownership to the web user for that clone of the repository.

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