Recall that the operating system normally decides access permission for a file based on the effective user and group IDs of the process and its supplementary group IDs, together with the file’s owner, group and permission bits. These concepts are discussed in detail in The Persona of a Process.
If the effective user ID of the process matches the owner user ID of the file, then permissions for read, write, and execute/search are controlled by the corresponding “user” (or “owner”) bits. Likewise, if any of the effective group ID or supplementary group IDs of the process matches the group owner ID of the file, then permissions are controlled by the “group” bits. Otherwise, permissions are controlled by the “other” bits.
Privileged users, like ‘root’, can access any file regardless of its permission bits. As a special case, for a file to be executable even by a privileged user, at least one of its execute bits must be set.