Managing Users

The passwd file

On my Fedora 34 virtual machine, I can see the following information about my user account in the passwd file:

cat /etc/passwd

Or, I can also grep or awk for specific accounts:

grep "$(whoami)" /etc/passwd

grep "sean" /etc/passwd

awk '/sean/ { print $0 }' /etc/passwd

Any of those commands can be piped through sed to look at the individual fields, one line at a time:

grep "sean" /etc/passwd | sed 's/:/\n/g'


The fields represent the following information:

  • username
  • password indicator
  • user id
  • group id
  • user name or comment
  • home directory
  • default shell

You can read about these fields via man 5 passwd. [ EXPLAIN THE 5 ]

Note that the user name or comment line is blank. We can add a comment using the chfn, and there are multiple options to use. If I use the -f option, I can set my full name to appear here. See man chfn for more options to set:

sudo chfn -f "Sean Burns" sean

The /etc/passwd file is a pretty standard Linux file, but some things will change depending on the distribution. For example, the user id may start at a different point depending on the system. However, nowadays both Ubuntu and Fedora set the starting UID and group ID for new users at 1000.

The shadow file

The /etc/passwd file does not contain any passwords but a simple x to mark the password field. Passwords on Linux are stored in /etc/shadow and are hashed with sha512, which is indicated by $6$. You need to be root to examine the shadow file or use sudo:

sudo su
grep "sean" /etc/shadow
grep "sean" /etc/shadow | sed 's/:/\n/g'


The fields are (see man 5 passwd):

  • login name (username)
  • encrypted password
  • days since 1/1/1970 since password was last changed
  • days after which password must be changed
  • minimum password age
  • maximum password age
  • password warning period
  • password inactivity period
  • account expiration date
  • a reserved field

The group file

The /etc/group file holds group information about the entire system (see man group). In the following command, you can see that I'm a member of the wheel group (which allows my account to use the sudo command) and that there's a group name that is also the name of my user account. The sean at the end of the wheel line indicates that I am a member of the wheel group. Although user sean is a member of group sean, users do not have to be listed as members of their own group.

grep -E 'wheel|^sean' /etc/group

The fields are:

  • group name
  • group password
  • group ID (GID)
  • group members (user list)

Management Tools

Other user and group utilities include:

  • /usr/sbin/useradd
  • /usr/sbin/usermod
  • /usr/sbin/userdel
  • /usr/sbin/groupadd
  • /usr/sbin/groupdel
  • /usr/sbin/groupmod
  • /usr/sbin/gpasswd


Modify default new user setttings

In today's demo, we will modify some default user account settings for new users, and then we'll create a new user account.

Before we proceed, let's review several important configuration files that establish some default settings:

  • /etc/login.defs : see man login.defs
  • /etc/skel
  • /etc/default/useradd

Let's change some defaults. We can either user sudo or become su. Here I use sudo to become root:

sudo su

Let's edit the default .bashrc file:

nano /etc/skel/.bashrc

We want to add these lines at the end of the file:

# Dear New User,
# I have made the following settings to make your life a bit easier:
# make "c" a shortcut for "clear"
alias c='clear'
# make vi the default command line keybinding
set -o vi

Now use nano again to create a README file. This file will be added to the home directories of all new users. Add any welcome message you want to add, plus any guidelines for using the system.

nano /etc/skel/README

Add new user account

After writing (saving) and exiting nano, we can go ahead and create a new user named linus. The -m option creats the user's home directory, the -U option creates a group with the same name as the user, and the -s option sets the default shell to /usr/bin/bash.

useradd -m -U -s /usr/bin/bash linus
grep "linus" /etc/passwd

Let's add the user's full name:

chfn -f "Linus Torvalds" linus

The user does not yet have a password set. Let's create a password for linus:

grep "linus" /etc/shadow
passwd linus
grep "linus" /etc/shadow

Let's modify the minimum days and maximum days of the password's lifetime:

passwd -n 90 linus
passwd -x 180 linus

Create a new group; add users to the group

Let's now create a new group, and then I will add my account and my new user's account to the group:

grep "linus" /etc/group
groupadd developers
grep "developers" /etc/group
gpasswd -a linus developers
gpasswd -a sean developers
grep "developers" /etc/group

Exit out of root if logged in as root.

Now login as user linus and examine the user's group memberships:

su linus

Great! Let's exit out and become root again:

sudo su

Let's make the /projects directory/logical volume a shared directory:

ls -ld /projects
# change ownership of the directory to the group developers
chown :developers /projects
# allow all group users to add and delete from the folder and read/write to each other's files
# See this post for various options:
chmod 2770 /projects

Log all the way out and then login again:

exit # from root
exit # from regular user

And then relogin so that the group modification will take affect. Check with the groups command:


User account and group deletion

If we want to delete the new user's account:

userdel -r linus
grep "linus" /etc/passwd
grep "linus" /etc/shadow
cd /home ; ls -l

And then delete the new group:

grep "developers" /etc/group
groupdel developers
grep "developers" /etc/group