Charlie Calvert on Elvenware

Writing Code and Prose on Computers


IIS Security

IIS security is complex and confusing. Since the market share of IIS is currently around 15%, and Apache has a 64% share, I suggest that you use Linux and Apache to serve up your web site. If you have a reason to continue using IIS despite these warnings, I have tried to gather a few notes here which make the task a bit easier.


An ACL is an Access Control List. It represents the permissions on objects in the server such as pages, files and folders. A single definition is called an access control entry, or ACE.

We can set the ACL with the Windows Explorer by right clicking, choosing Properties | Security. The basic properties you can set are to

Note that the files and folders inside a folder usually inherit the rights of that folder.

Identities and Users

There are various different users, or identities. You can use ACL to grant or deny permissions to these users.

It is important to understand that User Accounts, found on the User Accounts and Family Safety page of the Control, are merely a subset of all accounts on a Windows machine. In particular, there are set of Group Accounts. 

Rights in c:/inetpub/wwwroot

By default, you have no rights to c:\inetput\wwwroot. You can change this by opening a command prompt with administrator privileges and issuing the following command, which changes the access control list permissions for c:\inetpub and all its folders and subdirectories:

icacls %systemdrive%\inetpub /grant %userdomain%\%username%:(OI)(CI)(F) /grant %userdomain%\%username%:F 

Here is my understanding of F, OI and CI:

If you are unclear as to what is the systemdrive or userdomain, you can view them from the command prompt:

echo %systemdrive%

Is it safe to give the long icacls command shown above to change permission on the wwwroot directory? If you have a laptop or desktop machine which is running behind a firewall in your home or workplace, then the answer is probably yes. If you are on a production server, then the answer is probably no. If you are on a shared machine running behind a firewall, then the answer is probably yes, but if someone else has similar permissions then they might change or delete your files. If you don't understand a word of what you are reading in this section, then the answer is certainly no.

An alternative to this whole mess is to use the IIS manager to create a web site on your machine that runs at some particular port. (If you want to switch to Apache, you will find that there are also some permission issues to overcome there. However, I find the Apache rules for permissions much more sensible, much more consistent, and much easier to understand than the rules in Windows.)

Create a Web Site

When you install IIS, there is a default web site created at c:\inetpub\wwwroot, where C:\ is your System Drive. By default, you have no easy means of reading and writing files to that location, as described above. Frequently, however, the biggest problem with wwwroot is that you must share it with other users of your computer, or else you want to use it as the default web site for all visitors to your machine. This is fine in some cases, but frequently we want to create custom sites in which we can run tests, experiments, and temporary web sites.

To create a site:

Now you have to give yourself permission to run files out of the site.

Now create a test file called index.html and put in your MySite folder.


Click the Browse *:20123 (http) link on the right site of the IIS Manager to browse to your web site at http://localhost:20123.

If it doesn't work, you either missed a step above, or you should uninstall and then reinstall IIS. To try to trouble shoot problems with IIS is well beyond the skill of mere mortals. I personally suspect there are two people at Microsoft who can troubleshoot broken IIS deployments, and perhaps 5, extremely wealthy, consultants. You can either give one of the consultants your life savings, or reinstall IIS: your choice.

To create your first user web site in Apache is probably of equal difficulty to the process shown above. However, I find trouble shooting problems in Apache much simpler than trouble shooting most problems in IIS. Also, I find adding additional user directories is much easier in Apache, or in some cases, no additional work at all.

If you want to add a CGI directory for serving up Python files, you can find out how in the Python section

Downloads and Permissions

When using INetMgr it is fairly obvious what you need to give users permissions to read access files. The thing that is confusing is that the permissions on individual folders or files might also have to be set at the OS level. You need to right click on the folder or file, choose properties and turn to the security page. There will you need to add IUSR, and possibly as IIS_IUSRS. It is best to add only IUSR, as IIS_IUSRS is more permissive.

It is possible, though rare, that a particular file will not be able to be downloaded because of its encryption or permissions or some such thing. Try to do something simple, like download a text file from a directory first. If that works, and you cannot download some other type of file, such as epub or mobi file, and both files have the same permissions, then this is a mysterious issue. The best course of action is to zip up the mobi and epub files and then you will be able to download them.