I am reinstalling the older Ubuntu machines with the latest RHEL 6.0 in servers.

I have /etc/passwd and /etc/group and /etc/shadow file backed up for the list of user accounts that I need to create after reinstallation of OS.

I have installed RHEL 6.0 in couple of machines and I need to grant access to the users immediately.

I want to use the /etc/passwd and other files into this machine so that the users can start using the server with their user accounts. But, I do not wish to create a /home/user directory for the users for couple of reasons.

  • The users will be accessing only the partition /mounts which apparently has the project data.
  • I am eventually planning to configure NFS and openldap at a later stage. So, if I have to provide home directory for the users, I need to backup the home directory for the users in all the machines where I gave the local user account for users and put it in the NFS server which is a redundant step.

Is it possible to give users access without home folder? I have seen machines without /home directory using / as the home directory. But I am not sure if this is a safe step and I want the users to be unaware that their home directories do not exist.


I see the users can be added without creating the home directory for them using the below command.

adduser --system --no-create-home USERNAME

But my challenge lies in how can I use the same user account as in /etc/passwd and other files without creating a home directory? I want the users be able to use their same passwords as in /etc/passwd now without a home directory.

  • As far as I know, each user who needs to access a Desktop environment must have a home directory writable by their account.
    – Joseph R.
    Jun 11, 2014 at 21:18
  • @JosephR., the users do not need a desktop environment. They just need to be able to login to the server with their username/password and be able to access the machine.
    – Ramesh
    Jun 11, 2014 at 21:19
  • In this case, you can just make / their home directory (and optionally make /home/user a link to /, but be very careful when removing it later!!).
    – Joseph R.
    Jun 11, 2014 at 21:22
  • Note that -s /bin/false will not allow users to log in!
    – Joseph R.
    Jun 11, 2014 at 21:22
  • @JosephR., I changed the useradd command. But that is not my main concern. My concern lies in using the same usernames/passwords as in /etc/passwd file.
    – Ramesh
    Jun 11, 2014 at 21:25

1 Answer 1


When you're using /etc/passwd and /etc/shadow for user accounts (as set in /etc/nsswitch.conf and PAM), then entry in those two files are fully sufficient to create the account. (/etc/group may be needed too, for their groups).

All useradd does is edit those files. If you edit them yourself with vipw & vigr and add the user, you've created the account.

useradd wil also (optionally) create a home directory as well, basically doing:

cp -p /etc/skel /home/newuser
chown -R newuser:newgroup /home/newuser

That said, without a home directory, your users will face a lot of challenges, as many files are stored there—

  • Editor configuration files
  • Authorized keys for ssh
  • Shell startup scripts
  • Random program configuration files

You could set all their home directories to a single root-owned, mode 0755 (not writable by the users) directory with sane defaults for them.

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