Chapter 12 Essential System Administration

Table of Contents
12.1 Users and Groups
12.2 Users and Groups, the Hard Way
12.3 Shutting Down Properly

Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa.... I know what you're thinking. “I'm not a system administrator! I don't even want to be a system administrator!”

Fact is, you are the administrator of any computers for which you have the root password. This might be your desktop box with one or two users, or it might be a big server with several hundred. Regardless, you'll need to know how to manage users, and how to shut down the system safely. These tasks seem simple, but they have some quirks to keep in mind.

12.1 Users and Groups

As mentioned in Chapter 8, you shouldn't normally use your system logged in as root. Instead, you should create a normal user account for everyday use, and use the root account only for system administration tasks. To create a user, you can either use the tools supplied with Slackware, or you can edit the password files by hand.

12.1.1 Supplied Scripts

The easiest way to manage users and groups is with the supplied scripts and programs. Slackware includes the programs adduser, userdel(8), chfn(1), chsh(1), and passwd(1) for dealing with users. The commands groupadd(8), groupdel(8), and groupmod(8) are for dealing with groups. With the exception of chfn, chsh, and passwd, these programs are generally only run as root, and are therefore located in /usr/sbin. chfn, chsh, and passwd can be run by anyone, and are located in /usr/bin.

Users can be added with the adduser program. We'll start out by going through the whole procedure, showing all the questions that are asked and a brief description of what everything means. The default answer is in the brackets, and can be chosen for almost all the questions, unless you really want to change something.

# adduser
Login name for new user []: jellyd

This is the name that the user will use to login. Traditionally, login names are eight characters or fewer, and all lowercase characters. (You may use more than eight characters, or use digits, but avoid doing so unless you have a fairly important reason.)

You can also provide the login name as an argument on the command line:

# adduser jellyd

In either case, after providing the login name, adduser will prompt for the user ID:

User ID ('UID') [ defaults to next available ]:

The user ID (UID) is how ownerships are really determined in Linux. Each user has a unique number, starting at 1000 in Slackware. You can pick a UID for the new user, or you can just let adduser assign the user the next free one.

Initial group [users]:

All users are placed into the users group by default. You might want to place the new user into a different group, but it is not recommended unless you know what you're doing.

Additional groups (comma separated) []:

This question allows you to place the new user into additional groups. It is possible for a user to be in several groups at the same time. This is useful if you have established groups for things like modifying web site files, playing games, and so on. For example, some sites define group wheel as the only group that can use the su command. Or, a default Slackware installation uses the sys group for users authorized to play sounds through the internal sound card.

Home directory [/home/jellyd]

Home directories default to being placed under /home. If you run a very large system, it's possible that you have moved the home directories to a different location (or to many locations). This step allows you to specify where the user's home directory will be.

Shell [ /bin/bash ]

bash is the default shell for Slackware Linux, and will be fine for most people. If your new user comes from a Unix background, they may be familiar with a different shell. You can change their shell now, or they can change it themselves later using the chsh command.

Expiry date (YYYY-MM-DD) []:

Accounts can be set up to expire on a specified date. By default, there is no expiration date. You can change that, if you'd like. This option might be useful for people running an ISP who might want to make an account expire upon a certain date, unless they receive the next year's payment.

New account will be created as follows:
Login name:         jellyd
UID:                [ Next available ]
Initial group:      users
Additional groups:  [ None ]
Home directory:     /home/jellyd
Shell:              /bin/bash
Expiry date:        [ Never ]

This is it... if you want to bail out, hit Control+C. Otherwise, press ENTER to go ahead and make the account.

You now see all the information that you've entered about the new account and are given the opportunity to abort the account creation. If you entered something incorrectly, you should hit Control+C and start over. Otherwise, you can hit enter and the account will be made.

Creating new account...

Changing the user information for jellyd
Enter the new value, or press return for the default
        Full Name []: Jeremy
        Room Number []: Smith 130
        Work Phone []:
        Home Phone []:
        Other []:

All of this information is optional. You don't have to enter any of this if you don't want to, and the user can change it at any time using chfn. However, you might find it helpful to enter at least the full name and a phone number, in case you need to get in touch with the person later.

Changing password for jellyd
Enter the new password (minimum of 5, maximum of 127 characters)
Please use a combination of upper and lower case letters and numbers.
New password:
Re-enter new password:
Password changed.

Account setup complete.

You'll have to enter a password for the new user. Generally, if the new user is not physically present at this point, you'll just pick some default password and tell the user to change it to something more secure.


Choosing a Password: Having a secure password is the first line of defense against getting cracked. You do not want to have an easily guessed password, because that makes it easier for someone to break into your system. Ideally, a secure password would be a random string of characters, including upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and random characters. (A tab character might not be a wise choice, depending on what kinds of computers you'll be logging in from.) There are many software packages that can generate random passwords for you; search the Internet for these utilities.

In general, just use common sense: don't pick a password that is someone's birthday, a common phrase, something found on your desk, or anything that is easily associated with you. A password like “secure1” or any other password you see in print or online is also bad.

Removing users is not difficult at all. Just run userdel with the name of the account to remove. You should verify that the user is not logged in, and that no processes are running as that user. Also, remember that once you've deleted the user, all of that user's password information is gone permanently.

# userdel jellyd

This command removes that annoying jellyd user from your system. Good riddance! :) The user is removed from the /etc/passwd, /etc/shadow, and /etc/group files, but doesn't remove the user's home directory.

If you'd wanted to remove the home directory as well, you would instead use this command:

# userdel -r jellyd

Temporarily disabling an account will be covered in the next section on passwords, since a temporary change involves changing the user's password. Changing other account information is covered in Section 12.1.3.

The programs to add and remove groups are very simple. groupadd will just add another entry to the /etc/group file with a unique group ID, while groupdel will remove the specified group. It is up to you to edit /etc/group to add users to a specific group. For example, to add a group called cvs:

# groupadd cvs

And to remove it:

# groupdel cvs

12.1.2 Changing Passwords

The passwd program changes passwords by modifying the /etc/shadow file. This file holds all the passwords for the system in an encrypted format. In order to change your own password, you would type:

% passwd
Changing password for chris
Old password:
Enter the new password (minumum of 5, maximum of 127 characters)
Please use a combination of upper and lower case letters and numbers.
New password:

As you can see, you are prompted to enter your old password. It won't appear on the screen as you type it, just like when you log in. Then, you are prompted to enter the new password. passwd performs a lot of checks on your new password, and it will complain if your new password doesn't pass its checks. You can ignore its warnings if you want. You will be prompted to enter your new password a second time for confirmation.

If you are root, you can also change another user's password:

# passwd ted

You will then have to go through the same procedure as above, except that you won't have to enter the user's old password. (One of the many benefits of being root...)

If needed, you can also temporarily disable an account, and reenable it at a later time if needed. Both disabling an account and reenabling an account can be done with passwd. To disable an account, do the following as root:

# passwd -l david

This will change david's password to something that can never match any encrypted value. You would reenable the account by using:

# passwd -u david

Now, david's account is back to normal. Disabling an account might be useful if the user doesn't play by the rules you've set up on your system, or if they've exported a very large copy of xeyes(1) to your X desktop.

12.1.3 Changing User Information

There are two pieces of information that users can change at any time: their shell and their finger information. Slackware Linux uses chsh (change shell) and chfn (change finger) to modify these values.

A user can pick any shell that is listed in the /etc/shells file. For most people, /bin/bash will do just fine. Others might be familiar with a shell found on their system at work or school and want to use what they already know. To change your shell, use chsh:

% chsh
Changing the login shell for chris
Enter the new value, or press return for the default
        Login Shell [/bin/bash]:

After entering your password, enter the full path to the new shell. Make sure that it's listed in the /etc/shells(5) file first. The root user can also change any user's shell by running chsh with a username as the argument.

The finger information is the optional information such as your full name, phone numbers, and room number. This can be changed using chfn, and follows the same procedure as it did during account creation. As usual, root can change anyone's finger information.