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User Management

In this chapter you will learn how to manage user.

Objectives : In this chapter, future Linux administrators will learn how to:

✔ add, delete or modify a group ;
✔ add, delete or modify a user ;
✔ know the syntax of the files associated with the management of groups and users ;
✔ change the owner or the group owner of a file;
✔ secure user accounts;
✔ change identity.

🏁 users

Knowledge: ⭐ ⭐
Complexity: ⭐ ⭐

Reading time: 30 minutes


Each user is a member of at least one group: this is their main group.

Several users can be part of the same group.

Users can belong to other groups. These users are invited to these secondary groups.


Each user has a primary group and can be invited into one or more secondary groups.

Groups and users are managed by their unique numerical identifiers GID and UID.

Account and group declaration files are located in /etc. * UID: User IDentifier. Unique user ID. * GID: Group IDentifier. Unique group identifier.


You should always use the administration commands instead of manually editing the files.

Group management

Modified files, added lines:

  • /etc/group
  • /etc/gshadow

groupadd command

The groupadd command adds a group to the system.

groupadd [-f] [-g GID] group


$ sudo groupadd -g 1012 GroupeB
Option Description
-g GID GID of the group to create.
-f The system chooses a GID if the one specified by the -g option already exists.
-r Creates a system group with a GID between SYS_GID_MIN and SYS_GID_MAX. These two variables are defined in /etc/login.defs.

Group naming rules:

  • No accents or special characters;
  • Different from the name of an existing user or system files.


Under Debian, the administrator should use, except in scripts intended to be portable to all Linux distributions, the addgroup and delgroup commands as specified in the man:

$ man addgroup
adduser and addgroup add users and groups to the system according to command line options and configuration information
in /etc/adduser.conf. They are friendlier front ends to the low level tools like useradd, groupadd and usermod programs,
by default choosing Debian policy conformant UID and GID values, creating a home directory with skeletal configuration,
running a custom script, and other features.

Command groupmod

The groupmod command allows you to modify an existing group on the system.

groupmod [-g GID] [-n nom] group


$ sudo groupmod -g 1016 GroupP
$ sudo groupmod -n GroupC GroupB
Option Description
-g GID New GID of the group to modify.
-n name New name.

It is possible to change the name of a group, its GID or both simultaneously.

After modification, the files belonging to the group have an unknown GID. They must be reassigned the new GID.

$ sudo find / -gid 1002 -exec chgrp 1016 {} \;

groupdel command

The groupdel command is used to delete an existing group on the system.

groupdel group


$ sudo groupdel GroupC


To be deleted, a group must no longer contain users.

Deleting the last user of an eponymous group will cause the system to delete the group.


Each group has a unique GID. A group can be duplicated. By convention, the GID of system groups range from 0 (root) to 999.


Since a user is necessarily part of a group, it is best to create the groups before adding the users. Therefore, a group may not have any members.

/etc/group file

This file contains the group information (separated by :).

$ sudo tail -1 /etc/group
  (1)  (2)(3)   (4)
  • 1: Name of the group.
  • 2: Password (x if defined in /etc/gshadow).
  • 3: GID.
  • 4: Guest members (separated by commas, does not contain core members).


Each line in the /etc/group file corresponds to a group. Users whose group is their main group are not listed at this level. This membership information is in fact already provided by the /etc/passwd file...

/etc/gshadow file

This file contains the security information about the groups (separated by :).

$ sudo grep GroupA /etc/gshadow
   (1)      (2)            (3)      (4)
  • 1: Name of the group.
  • 2: Encrypted password.
  • 3: Administrator of the group.
  • 4: Guest members (separated by commas, does not contain core members).


For each line in the /etc/group file there must be a corresponding line in the /etc/gshadow file.

A ! in the password indicates that it is locked. Thus no user can use the password to access the group (since group members do not need it).

User management


A user is defined as follows in the /etc/passwd file:

  • 1: Login;
  • 2: Password;
  • 3: UID;
  • 4: GID of the main group;
  • 5: Comments;
  • 6: Home directory;
  • 7: Shell (/bin/bash, /bin/nologin, ...).

There are three types of users:

  • root: the system administrator ;
  • system users: Used by the system to manage application access rights ;
  • regular user: Other account to log in to the system.

Modified files, added lines:

  • /etc/passwd
  • /etc/shadow

useradd command

The useradd command is used to add a user.

useradd [-u UID] [-g GID] [-d directory] [-s shell] login


$ sudo useradd -u 1000 -g 1013 -d /home/GroupC/carine carine
Option Description
-u UID UID of the user to create.
-g GID GID of the main group.
-d directory Home directory.
-s shell Shell.
-c Add a comment.
-U Adds the user to a group with the same name created simultaneously.
-M Does not create the connection directory.

At creation, the account has no password and is locked.

A password must be assigned to unlock the account.

Account naming rules:

  • No accents, capital letters or special characters;
  • Different from the name of an existing group or system file;
  • Set the options -u, -g, -d and -s at creation.


The home directory tree must be created except for the last directory.

The last directory is created by the useradd command, which takes the opportunity to copy the files from /etc/skel into it.

A user can belong to several groups in addition to their main group.

For secondary groups, the -G option must be used.


$ sudo useradd -u 1000 -g GroupA -G GroupP,GroupC albert


Under Debian, you will have to specify the -m option to force the creation of the login directory or set the CREATE_HOME variable in the /etc/login.defs file. In all cases, the administrator should use the adduser and deluser commands as specified in the man, except in scripts intended to be portable to all Linux distributions:

$ man useradd
    **useradd** is a low level utility for adding users. On Debian, administrators should usually use **adduser(8)**

Default value for user creation.

Modification of the file /etc/default/useradd.

useradd -D [-b directory] [-g group] [-s shell]


$ sudo useradd -D -g 1000 -b /home -s /bin/bash
Option Description
-D Sets the default values for user creation.
-b directory Sets the default login directory.
-g group Sets the default group.
-s shell Sets the default shell.
-f The number of days after the password expires before the account is disabled.
-e The date the account will be disabled.

usermod command

The usermod command allows to modify a user.

usermod [-u UID] [-g GID] [-d directory] [-m] login


$ sudo usermod -u 1044 carine

Options identical to the useradd command.

Option Description
-m Associated with the -d option, moves the contents of the old login directory to the new one.
-l login New name.
-e AAAA-MM-JJ Account expiration date.
-L Locks the account.
-U Unlocks the account.
-a Prevents the user from being deleted from a subgroup when added to another subgroup.
-G Specifies multiple subgroups when adding.

With the usermod command, locking an account results in the addition of ! before the password in the /etc/shadow file.


To be modified, a user must be disconnected and have no running processes.

After changing the identifier, the files belonging to the user have an unknown UID. It must be reassigned the new UID.

$ sudo find / -uid 1000 -exec chown 1044: {} \;

Where 1000 is the old UID and 1044 is the new one.

It is possible to invite a user into one or more subgroups with the options -a and -G.


$ sudo usermod -aG GroupP,GroupC albert

The usermod command acts as a modification and not as an addition.

For a user invited to a group by this command and already positioned as a guest in other secondary groups, it will be necessary to indicate in the group management command all the groups to which he belongs otherwise he will disappear from them.

The -a option changes this behavior.


  • Invite albert in the group GroupP.
$ sudo usermod -G GroupP albert
  • Invites albert into the GroupG group, but removes him from the GroupP guest list.
$ sudo usermod -G GroupG albert
  • So either :
$ sudo usermod -G GroupP,GroupG albert
  • Or :
$ sudo usermod -aG GroupG albert

userdel command

The userdel command allows you to delete a user's account.

$ sudo userdel -r carine
Option Description
-r Deletes the connection directory and the contained files.


To be deleted, a user must be logged out and have no running processes.

userdel removes the user's line from the /etc/passwd and /etc/gshadow files.

/etc/passwd file

This file contains user information (separated by :).

$ sudo head -1 /etc/passwd
(1)(2)(3)(4)(5)  (6)    (7)
  • 1: Login.
  • 2: Password (x if defined in /etc/shadow).
  • 3: UID.
  • 4: GID of the main group.
  • 5: Comment.
  • 6: Home directory.
  • 7: Shell.

/etc/shadow file

This file contains the users' security information (separated by :).

$ sudo tail -1 /etc/shadow
 (1)    (2)  (3) (4) (5) (6)(7,8,9)

  • 1: Login.
  • 2: Encrypted password.
  • 3: Date of last change.
  • 4: Minimum lifetime of the password.
  • 5: Maximum lifetime of the password.
  • 6: Number of days before warning.
  • 7: Time to deactivate account after expiration.
  • 8: Account expiration time.
  • 9: Reserved for future use.


For each line in the /etc/passwd file there must be a corresponding line in the /etc/shadow file.

File owners


All files necessarily belong to one user and one group.

The main group of the user creating the file is, by default, the group that owns the file.

Modification commands

chown command

The chown command allows you to change the owners of a file.

chown [-R] [-v] login[:group] file


$ sudo chown root myfile
$ sudo chown albert:GroupA myfile

Option Description
-R Changes the owners of the directory and its contents.
-v Displays the executed changes.

To change only the owner user:

$ sudo chown albert file

To modify only the owner group:

$ sudo chown :GroupA file

Changing the user and owner group:

$ sudo chown albert:GroupA file

In the following example the group assigned will be the main group of the specified user.

$ sudo chown albert: file

chgrp command

The chgrp command allows you to change the owner group of a file.

chgrp [-R] [-v] group file


$ sudo chgrp group1 file

Option Description
-R Modifies the owner groups of the directory and its contents (recursion).
-v Displays the executed changes.


It is possible to apply to a file an owner and an owner group by taking as reference those of another file:

chown [options] --reference=RRFILE FILE

For example:

chown --reference=/etc/groups /etc/passwd

Guest management

gpasswd command

The command gpasswd allows to manage a group.

gpasswd [-a login] [-A login] [-d login] [-M login] group


$ sudo gpasswd -A alain GroupA
[alain]$ gpasswd -a patrick GroupA
Option Description
-a login Adds the user to the group.
-A login Sets the group administrator.
-d login Remove the user from the group.
-M login Defines the complete list of guests.

The command gpasswd -M acts as a modification, not an addition.

# gpasswd GroupeA
New Password :
Re-enter new password :

id command

The id command displays the group names of a user.

id login
$ sudo id alain
uid=1000(alain) gid=1000(GroupA) groupes=1000(GroupA),1016(GroupP)

newgrp command

The newgrp command allows you to temporarily use a secondary group for file creation.

newgrp [secondarygroups]
[alain]$ newgrp GroupB


After using this command, the files will be created with the GID of its subgroup.

The command newgrp without parameters reassigns the main group.


passwd command

The passwd command is used to manage a password.

passwd [-d] [-l] [-S] [-u] [login]
$ sudo passwd -l albert
$ sudo passwd -n 60 -x 90 -w 80 -i 10 patrick

Option Description
-d Removes the password.
-l Locks the account.
-S Displays the account status.
-u Unlocks the account.
-e Expires the password.
-n days Minimum password lifetime.
-x days Maximum password lifetime.
-w days Warning time before expiration.
-i days Delay before deactivation when the password expires.

With the passwd command, locking an account is accomplished by adding !! before the password in the /etc/shadow file.

Using the command usermod -U command only removes one of the !. So the account remains locked.


  • Alain changes his password:
[alain]$ passwd
  • root changes Alain's password
$ sudo passwd alain


The passwd command is available to users to change their password (the old password is requested). The administrator can change the passwords of all users without restriction.

They will have to comply with the security restrictions.

When managing user accounts by shell script, it may be useful to set a default password after creating the user.

This can be done by passing the password to the passwd command.


$ sudo echo "azerty,1" | passwd --stdin philippe


The password is entered in clear text, passwd takes care of encrypting it.

chage command

The chage command is used to manage the account strategy.

chage [-d date] [-E date] [-I days] [-l] [-m days] [-M days] [-W days] [login]
$ sudo chage -m 60 -M 90 -W 80 -I 10 alain

Option Description
-I days Delay before deactivation, password expired.
-l Displays the policy details.
-m days Minimum lifetime of the password.
-M days Maximum lifetime of the password.
-d AAAA-MM-JJ Last password change.
-E AAAA-MM-JJ Account expiration date.
-W days Warning time before expiration.

The chage command also offers an interactive mode.

The -d option forces the password to be changed at login.


$ sudo chage philippe
$ sudo chage -d 0 philippe


If no user is specified, the order will concern the user who enters it.

User account management with chage

Advanced management

Configuration files: * /etc/default/useradd * /etc/login.defs * /etc/skel


Editing the /etc/default/useradd file is done with the useradd command.

The other files are to be modified with a text editor.

/etc/default/useradd file

This file contains the default data settings.


When creating a user, if the options are not specified, the system uses the default values defined in /etc/default/useradd.

This file is modified by the command useradd -D (useradd -D entered without any other option displays the contents of the /etc/default/useradd file).

Value Comment
GROUP Default group.
HOME Path where the login directory for the user's name will be created.
INACTIVE Number of days after the password expires before the account is disabled.
EXPIRE Account expiration date.
SHELL Command interpreter.
SKEL Skeleton directory of the login directory.
CREATE_MAIL_SPOOL Mailbox creation in /var/spool/mail.


Without the -g option, the useradd command creates a group of the user's name name and places it there.

In order for the useradd command to retrieve the value of the GROUP field from the /etc/default/useradd file, you must specify the -N option.


$ sudo useradd -u 501 -N GroupeA

/etc/login.defs file

This file contains many default parameters useful for creating or modifying users. This information is grouped by paragraph according to their use:

  • Mailboxes;
  • Passwords ;
  • UID and GID ;
  • Umask ;
  • Connections;
  • Terminals.

/etc/skel directory

When a user is created, their home directory and environment files are created.

These files are automatically copied from the /etc/skel directory.

  • .bash_logout
  • .bash_profile
  • .bashrc

All files and directories placed in this directory will be copied to the user tree when they are created.

Identity change

su command

The su command allows you to change the identity of the connected user.

su [-] [-c command] [login]


$ sudo su - alain
[albert]$ su -c "passwd alain"
Option Description
- Loads the user's complete environment.
-c command Executes the command under the user's identity.

If the login is not specified, it will be root.

Standard users will have to type the password for the new identity.


There are successive 'layers' created (a stack of bash environments). To switch from one user to another, you must first type the exit command to take back your identity and then the su command to take another identity.

Profile loading

root endorses the identity of the user alain with su:


root assumes the identity of the user alain with su -:


A user can temporarily (for another command or an entire session) assume the identity of another account.

If no user is specified, the command will be for root (su -).

It is necessary to know the password of the user whose identity is being endorsed unless it is root that is executing the command.

An administrator can thus work on a standard user account and use the rights of the root account only occasionally.

Last update: January 4, 2022