Capability, or capability-based, operating systems (OSs) are those which use, and are often structured via, capabilities (in some systems called a key), for security. Many OSs, such as Unix types, or later versions of Microsoft Windows, use privileges for security. Privileges apply to users, and are course-grained. Capabilities are somewhat similar, but apply to objects within the software environment, and are fine-grained. A capability is a communicable, unforgeable token of authority. It refers to a value that references an object, along with an associated set of access rights. User programs on capability OSs must use a capability to access an object; they are designed to directly share capabilities with each other according to the principle of least privilege, and with the OS infrastructure needed to make such transactions efficient and secure.

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Capability-Based Computer Systems
Henry M. Levy; Digital Press, 1984, ISBN 0932376223. Thorough survey and description of early capability and object based hardware and software systems. Out of print, available as free download, PDF format.
KeyKOS
Persistent, pure capability, nanokernel OS, for IBM S/370 mainframe systems, by Key Logic, Inc. Influenced design of other capability OSs, notably EROS and successors. Set of papers, notes, patents, bibliography.
Wikipedia: Capability-based Addressing
Encyclopedia article, with links to many related topics.
Wikipedia: Capability-based Security
Encyclopedia article, with links to many related topics.
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