The default account is normal user, and I used it to install Google Play Store APK (to /data). Then Google Play Store was opened using my current user's permissions, and it is used to download and install other APKs to /data. That means I have full access to the /data partition.

Why are file manager apps unable to view that partition without root permissions?


1 Answer 1


First to clarify only root (UID 0) isn't enough to get access to /data at least since Android 5. Discretionary Access Control based on traditional UNIX UIDs/GIDs alone doesn't fulfill the needs of modern complex OSes like Android. DAC is supplemented by Mandatory Access Control (MAC); SELinux in case of Android. So to access /data your process/user must have an allowed policy explicitly defined.

Google Play Store was opened under my current user permission

This isn't correct. Concept of “users” is different on Android than on normal Linuxes. On Android every app is assigned a unique UID (from range 10000 to 19999) and it runs under its own user. Privileges are then controlled through Android's permission framework. At filesystem level every app is bound to a few directories (private and shared), that too subject to some permissions. For details see Where Android apps store data?

So there is no human user which could run its all programs under current user/UID.

it downloaded and installed other APKs to /data. That means I have full access to the /data partition.

Play Store doesn't install apk files, it just performs a few verifications and downloads the file using Download Manager (com.android.providers.downloads) which runs under its own UID. App installation to /data/app and other relevant directories is mainly handled by Package Manager service running under UID 1000 (system_server process) in Java stack and installd running under UID 0 in native stack. Package Installer (com.android.packageinstaller) is the system app - running under its own UID - which provides user interface to (un)install apps manually. See more details here. Similarly all apps and processes have their own SELinux contexts to allow access to required processes and files. There are a number of APIs and IPCs involved in this whole process.

Why superuser permission is needed for accessing /data partition?

Simply put, it's protection. As you need root access to change /etc directory on Linux OSes and as you need Administrator rights to open Registry Editor on Windows. This restriction is to isolate and protect every app's process in a confined environment. Other than DAC and MAC, other phenomena like Linux capabilities, namespaces, cgroups and seccomp filters are also used for this sandboxing. It also enforces apps' limited access to resources and makes auditing easy.

A few common reasons from my answer to How do I access $HOME/storage outside of Termux?:

/data partition also contains system settings including sensitive data like password databases (though not saved as plain text), contacts, call logs and apps statistics. So /data isn't accessible without root in order to:

  • Protect apps' private data from other apps
  • Protect system data and settings from bad apps and malware
  • Isolate users/profiles from other users/profiles
  • Not let apps access shared storage without Storage permission granted
  • Enforce APIs by Android framework so that apps can't use system resources and read/manipulate device information and settings without proper permissions

And possibly there are other reasons. For more details see Are multiple-users protected from each other differently than apps?

  • MAC is not needed to "fulfill the needs of modern complex OSes". It's a gratuitously more complex model for things that DAC/conventional unix permissions model could handle just fine. The purpose of MAC is impedance match with TLAs' mental model of access control, not any technical need. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 2:07
  • 3
    @R.. my statement gives that impression? I said old traditional UNIX permission model used in 80's/90's isn't enough, that was designed to isolate human users, not processes. Some innovation is needed, whether that's capabilities or ACL's or MAC. I'm not an expert in security models but with my limited knowledge I don't have a strong reason to disagree with you. However it's an opinion and the opponents have strong arguments too. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 2:36
  • @R @Ifran Latif. So why the does one app disappear after reboot after its linked to /data/sdext2 partition & another app similarly linked with Exact same DAC Octals & Selinux will survive a reboot. The disappearing app's ./app-lib & ./data folders are there but their folders in apk have vanished in /data/sdext2 partition . This is besides ... /data/app/<disappeared app folder deleted here>. When I link everything short of the apk it will remain & everything is fine. Why this behavior ( magisk rooted android Q project Treble ROM ) ? Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 13:00
  • seLinux is permissive Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 13:09
  • because sdext2 is mounted too late
    – alecxs
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 11:48

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