Two questions:

  1. What's the difference between the groups "wheel", "staff", and "admin"? What do they do?

  2. specific use case: I'm trying to setup a local CVS repository as stated in the Apple webpage so I can download a remote source tree... and I have to get myself permission to use a new directory /usr/local/cvsrep. It gets created by default as owned by "root" under group "wheel"... but I don't have membership in "wheel", I do have membership in "admin" and "staff" and am just wondering if I should chgrp the directory to admin or staff instead of wheel.

  • Are you just trying to download the source of some project that only you are going to hack on? You can just download it to a folder that you have permissions on already. Commented Aug 9, 2009 at 23:31
  • Oh. you're correct... well, then the 2nd part of the Q is moot for my own purposes. But I'd still like to know about my first question.
    – Jason S
    Commented Aug 9, 2009 at 23:44

1 Answer 1


Regular OS X users are put into the staff group.

Admin users are put in the staff and admin groups. The admin group can do some things that other users cannot do. e.g. Write to the /Applications folder. If you want to put an OS X user into the admin group you should do this by designating him as an admin via System Preferences->Users & Groups.

root is the only member of the wheel group, and should remain the only member. If you have to do something that requires wheel, you should use the command sudo.

  • 17
    "wheel" is a pretty bad name for that Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 23:26
  • do you know a reference for this info? I'd like to read more about it. thanks! Commented Apr 23, 2021 at 21:30
  • I know it is bad but I have a Mac not connected to Internet and want to sudo commands without typing password. Do I have to make an entry in sudoers with myuser ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL
    – Timo
    Commented Apr 2, 2022 at 12:48
  • 8
    @justin-zhang I agree with you. The name "wheel" is inherited by macOS from its BSD UNIX heritage. In turn, BSD gets this from TENEX. The name is originally derived from 1960s/1970s slang "big wheel" for a person with great powers - as in the big wheel of a tricycle or a penny-farthing bicycle. Yes, very antiquated. I don't think that the slang is current any more, but the name persists. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheel_(computing)
    – mike
    Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 11:14
  • 1
    It is misleading to say that a user is put into a group. Rather a group is added to a user. A user may have multiple groups.
    – hans
    Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 13:36

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