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The way permissions are set-up on different wikis can vary, but the default MediaWiki installation has several different permissions available; most notably the sysop and bureaucrat permissions.
Wikis are often set up to be freely and openly editable. This means anyone can edit the pages, often without even registering/logging in. This is only possible because wikis offer a unique kind of "soft security". By making it very simple to monitor edits, and revert changes to retrieve an older version of a page, a wiki doesn't need to be very restrictive at all.
There are no permissions. Everyone is an administrator. You don't need permission to edit, and you are encouraged to "be bold", go forth and edit!
...at least that is the theory. In practice MediaWiki software does offer many options related to permissions.
By default MediaWiki provides extra functionality to a group of trusted users called 'sysops' (or known more generally as 'administrators') Most of the time this should go largely unnoticed by the normal users of a wiki community. Everyone can get involved in editing pages, and even undertaking drastic reorganisation of the wiki. The extra powers of a sysop user are intended for use in settling disputes and preventing repeated vandalism.
You can find out who the sysops are at Special:ListUsers/sysop
There are a number of extra features available to sysops. The key ones are as follows:
Another level of permissions within a default MediaWiki set-up, is the 'bureaucrat' group.
The main thing a bureaucrat can do, which 'sysop' cannot, is promote users to be sysops (and demote sysops to normal users). See Help:Assigning permissions