Pulseaudio for multi-user Linux

Categories: pulseaudio linux

My setup

For some time I’ve been using several unix users for my daily work in my desktop computer. After trying out Qubes OS for some time (an OS that achieves security by compartmentalization: different kinds of activites are performed in a different VM, isolating the data of each activity from each other), I came back to GNU/Linux and realized that there’s already a security separation in Unix (albeit not as secure as virtualization as in Qubes): users.

So lately I’m using a user for browsing, another for playing audio and video, another for developing, etc. This way, if an attacker succesfully exploits my web browser, they won’t be able to access my ssh nor gpg keys (unless they are able to escalate privileges).


Here comes PulseAudio, which has a default configuration to run as a single user. After playing around with the configuration I found this to work for my needs:

  • pulseaudio server runs as my main user (I could actually create a new user just to run the pulseaudio server)
  • Every user that belongs to the audio group is able to access the pulseaudio server (and thus play sound).

For this, I just need to add the required users to the audio group:

usermod -aG audio user

The following setup creates the pulseaudio server unix socket at a place where every user can find it, and only accepts users that belong to the audio group. Data transfer of audio will happen via memfd shared memory.


autospawn = no
default-server = unix:/tmp/pulse-server
enable-memfd = yes

/etc/pulse/daemon.conf was not modified from the default.

/etc/pulse/default.pa (Only showing the relevant part):


### Load several protocols
load-module module-dbus-protocol
.ifexists module-esound-protocol-unix.so
load-module module-esound-protocol-unix
load-module module-native-protocol-unix auth-group=audio socket=/tmp/pulse-server


The only remaining part is starting the pulseaudio server as my main user:

pulseaudio -D
Written by Dhole