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User and Group Administration on Debian and Ubuntu

0. Specs

Aimed for Debian 12/11 and Ubuntu 24.04/22.04 Servers

But works fine on Debian, Ubuntu and derivatives' desktops (Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, MX, Mint etc) too.

Based on the book Mastering Ubuntu Server 2nd Ed. by Jay LaCroix.

1. User Add and Delete

1.1. Add a new user jdoe and create home folder

sudo useradd -d /home/jdoe -m jdoe

1.2. Change a user's password

sudo passwd jdoe

1.3. Delete a user

sudo userdel jdoe

Remove home directory too

sudo userdel -r jdoe

2. Files of User Information

2.1. /etc/passwd file


2.2. /etc/shadow file

Passwords are stored as hashed in shadow file


2.3. User pw information extracted from /etc/shadow

sudo passwd -S username

2.4. Default contents for home folders:

Contents of /etc/skel folder is distributed to created user's home directory

3. root user

3.1. root is locked by default in Ubuntu. It is optional in Debian.

To give a pw to (and unlock) root

sudo passwd

3.2. switch to root account without unlocking it

sudo -i

3.3. switch to another user (if you know pw)

su - username

3.4. switch to another user (if you don't know pw)

sudo su - username

4. Batch user add

4.1. Create a text file for users

touch users.txt

4.2. Change the permissions of the file

chmod 600 users.txt

4.3. Add users information to the file

sudo nano users.txt

Fill as below:

#username:passwd:uid:gid:full name:home_dir:shell

4.4. Process file to add users

sudo newusers users.txt

You can check users from /etc/passwd

4.5. It is a good idea to change passwords of the users

sudo passwd user1

5. Group Management

5.1. List of groups



cat /etc/group  

it is similar to /etc/password

5.2. Add a new group

sudo groupadd admins

5.3. Delete a group

sudo groupdel admins

5.4. List members of a group

getent group groupname

5.5. Add a user to a group

-a append new group to groups of user
-G as a secondary group

sudo usermod -aG admins myuser
sudo usermod -a -G admins myuser


sudo gpasswd -a <username> <group>

5.6. Change a users primary group

sudo usermod -g admins myuser

5.7. Remove user from a group

sudo gpasswd -d <username> <grouptoremove>

6. User manipulation

6.1. Change username

First change home directory

sudo usermod -d /home/jsmith -m jdoe 

Then change username

sudo usermod -l jsmith jdoe

6.2. Lock a user

sudo passwd -l <username>

6.3. unlock

sudo passwd -u <username>

6.4. Password expiration info

sudo chage -l <username>

7. sudo Group

Members of sudo group can use sudo command

7.1. Configuration of sudo group members

sudo visudo

Opens the sudo configuration file in the default editor (Generally vim or nano)

Below is a sample file with explanations:

%sudo   ALL=(ALL:ALL) ALL
# sudo group members
#  can use sudo from any terminal
#  can use sudo to impersonate any user
#  can use sudo to impersonate any group
#  can use sudo for any command

charlie  ubuntu-server=(dscully:admins) /usr/bin/apt
#  user charlie, 
#   can only use sudo on ubuntu_server
#   can only impersonate dscully user
#   can only impersonate admins group
#   can only run /usr/bin/apt

#  For a user to sudo without passwd

7.2. List granted sudo privileges

sudo -l