How can I know who opened a particular file recently but might not have kept it opened at the moment?

Anyone has an idea?

  • There has to be a way to find who all opened a particular file in unix.. I think this is nominal to expect from such a powerful OS.
    – peakit
    Sep 1, 2009 at 17:56
  • 1
    keeping track of which users opened a file is not necessarily useful for most files or workloads. For example, many computers have only one user, so that user opens all the files and nobody else opens any. Many servers run a process that has its own user accounts (httpd, sql server, etc) and does not use the OS's users accounts; any files it opens are opened by the user account under which the service runs. Also for many computers keeping track of this list will cause a significant impact to performance and disk usage. Your best bet is probably, as scoopdreams suggested, to enable auditing. Sep 1, 2009 at 19:05
  • You can't do this by default on Windows either.
    – pjc50
    Nov 25, 2009 at 14:44

5 Answers 5


Well, if you mean in the past, you probably cannot, unless you have some kind of audtiting turned on.

Assuming you do not, you can look at the permissions of the file and the directories to see who has has access. You can grep everyone's .bash_history file for the file name.

And that is about it, as far as I know. If they still have it open, you could use lsof, for instance.


You can use auditd package as suggested in another answer. A simple use would be:

auditctl -w /etc/passwd -p war -k password-file

which will watch for write, append, read operations on this file.

You can then retrieve the audit logs through the command:

ausearch -f /etc/passwd

These examples are taken from this article which provides a fuller overview of these commands. The auditd package typically includes these commands.

If you're only interested in monitoring operations on the files, and not who actually performed those operations, you can use the inotifywatch command instead of enabling audit. This is typically available through the inotify-tools package. It records the filesystem events using linux's inotify interface.


Auditd is your friend.

Auditd man page

Not installed by default on most Linux distros yet though.


The fuser command does just that. Also, lsof does a similar job.

Note that fuser usually comes pre-installed on most distributions while lsof is less common, in my experience.

  • spatz, are you saying that fuser can be used to see that historically who all opened this file?
    – peakit
    Sep 1, 2009 at 17:39
  • Not historically, right now. Maybe I misunderstood your question, but I thought you were looking for a way to see what process/user is accessing a particular file, and fuser does just that.
    – drrlvn
    Sep 1, 2009 at 17:41

Another way of doing this is inotify, http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/linux/library/l-inotify.html

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