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I mistakenly entered

chsh -s /usr/bin 

instead of

chsh -s /bin/bash 

and now I can't log into a root shell, how do I start a bash shell as root manually ?

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in what context did you do this. In a current terminal, for the users default shell? – jgr208 Mar 28 at 13:17
dont you have users in the sudo group? – Rui F Ribeiro Mar 28 at 13:26
@RuiFRibeiro I do but when I run sudo bash or sudo chsh -s /bin/bashit asks me for a password and whether I give the one from the user or from root it says chsh: PAM: Authentication failure – ChiseledAbs Mar 28 at 13:28
does sudo vipw work? – Rui F Ribeiro Mar 28 at 13:30
@RuiFRibeiro yes it did thanks, I wasn't aware I could change the default root shell in that file – ChiseledAbs Mar 28 at 13:32
up vote 26 down vote accepted

While root does not have access, a user in the sudo group can still run privileged commands - it seems the error is not in sudo, but elsewhere in the sudo chshcommand (e.g. chsh error). As such your sudo is apparently working.

The passwd file can be edited with:

sudo vipw

And the root shell changed manually.

(first line of /etc/passwd usually)


Fom man vipw

The vipw and vigr commands edits the files /etc/passwd and /etc/group, respectively. With the -s flag, they will edit the shadow versions of those files, /etc/shadow and /etc/gshadow, respectively. The programs will set the appropriate locks to prevent file corruption.

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I never knew about vipw and vigr, thank you! I always used sudo vim /etc/passwd – cat Mar 28 at 15:54
You might be interested in visudo sudo.ws/man/1.8.15/visudo.man.html too, @tac – Rui F Ribeiro Mar 28 at 16:05
Or sudo -e, that performs this locking-editing feature for any edit. – kojiro Mar 28 at 21:54

Another option, assuming you have access to another account, is to manually override the default shell by using su --shell=/bin/bash:

-s, --shell=SHELL
run SHELL if /etc/shells allows it

The primary advantage of this is that it only requires access to another account, not another privileged one.

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For security reasons, logins whether textual or graphical and utilities like su and sudo that allow you to run commands as a different user all run those command through the target user's shell. If the target user's shell is non-functional, well, you've seen the results :-(

Unless you happen to have a still-functional root shell running somewhere or something like a setuid-root binary or something that allows you to bypass this, rebooting and correcting the problem using a rescue system or live image is probably your best bet.

Boot the rescue system, mount your real system's root filesystem somewhere, say, /mnt/foo, and edit /mnt/foo/etc/passwd to fix the shell. Save, unmount, and you're done.

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curious, what happens if you do this and the /etc/passwd file is in a hash instead of plain text? – jgr208 Mar 28 at 13:18
/etc/passwd is not plaintext? I haven't seen that in at least, like, a decade. Is that still a thing on some systems? Anyway, I guess chroot /mnt/foo chsh -s /bin/bash might do the trick in that case? – Celada Mar 28 at 13:21
I have never had the problem described, however I work with locked down systems that need to have /etc/passwd not in plain text as to avoid hackers and the such compromising the system even more if they gain access. Hmm that might work, lets just say I hope i never have to try and see if it works actually. – jgr208 Mar 28 at 13:24
I was able to edit /etc/passwd with sudo from a user account, I wasn't aware that the shell was defined in this file, thanks – ChiseledAbs Mar 28 at 13:34
@ChiseledAbs oh, you were? Good for you, glad you solved your problem. I didn't think it would let you. – Celada Mar 28 at 13:36

Add init=/bin/bash to your kernel command line ( if booting with grub, press e to edit the boot entry ), and you will have a bash shell running as root without even having to supply a password. Your root filesystem likely will still be mounted read only though, so you will need to remount it first, then you can change the shell back with chsh.

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sudo usermod -s /bin/bash jdoe

will change the shell of jdoe to bash. You can then sudo egrep jdoe /etc/passwd to verify.

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