The second field in the Linux /etc/shadow file represents a password. However, what we have seen is that:

  1. Some of the password fields may have a single exclamation

  2. Some of the password fields may have a double exclamation

  3. Some of the password fields may have an asterisk sign


By some research on internet and through this thread, I can understand that * means password never established, ! means locked.

Can someone explain what does double exclamation (!!) mean? and how is it different from (!)?

  • Which distribution are you using?
    – muru
    Dec 28, 2015 at 23:08
  • Hi Muru, am new to Unix and trying to create a script which will run on RHEL 6.6 and HP-UX B.11.23
    – JavaTec
    Dec 28, 2015 at 23:35
  • 3
    "By convention, accounts that are not intended to be logged in to (e.g. bin, daemon, sshd) only contain a single asterisk in the password field. Note that there is nothing special about ‘*’, it is just one of many characters that cannot occur in a valid encrypted password (see crypt(3))." --OpenBSD man page for passwd(5). I would expect ! or !! to be no different, technically, regarding whether it is a valid passwd file, or regarding logins. However, some tools might have special support.
    – TOOGAM
    Dec 29, 2015 at 1:45
  • 2
    Don't use the BSDs' doco as references for this. Their accounts database handles things differently and does not even have an /etc/shadow file. Don't put answers into comments, either. ☺
    – JdeBP
    Dec 29, 2015 at 8:17

2 Answers 2


Both "!" and "!!" being present in the password field mean an account is locked.

As it can be read in the following document, "!!" in an account entry in shadow means the account of an user has been created, but not yet given a password. Until being given an initial password by a sysadmin, it is locked by default.


  • 4
    This maybe true on Red Hat systems, but not necessarily elsewhere - on Ubuntu or Arch Linux, a newly-created account with no password still has only !, not !!.
    – muru
    Dec 28, 2015 at 23:06
  • 2
    True indeed that I have never seen a "!!" in a Debian system. I would guess the OP is using some RH-based system, or SuSE. Dec 28, 2015 at 23:09
  • 4
    @JavaTec Not necessarily: I think all unices that have a /etc/shadow have the same field but how the password field stores non-password information varies. Check the HP-UX documentation, starting with the shadow man page. Dec 28, 2015 at 23:57
  • 2
    HP-UX did not even have /etc/shadow until relatively recently: before HP-UX 11.11, the options were either classic shadowless /etc/passwd or "Trusted Computing Base", that stored each user's password hashes and other account information in individual files named /tcb/files/auth/<initial>/<username>, readable only by root. In HP-UX 11.11, /etc/shadow was introduced as an optional extra, in 11.23 it was an option in the base OS, and in 11.31 the TCB was finally deprecated.
    – telcoM
    Jan 21, 2019 at 21:32
  • 3
    It is worth noting that an account is not actually locked in this way, it only means the user cannot use a password to authenticate and probably cannot set a password. I have tested this on both Debian and EL based distributions: login with ssh key still works with either "!" or "!!" in the password field.
    – Roy
    Oct 4, 2019 at 19:40

It may also be worth noting <account>::..... meaning that there is no password required (empty password).

If you are creating an ssh key-only user you could use <account>::0:0:99999:7::: to require that the user set their password (i.e. that they use for sudo) on their first login.

Note: key-only authentication means that a password is NOT an authentication factor.

  • 12
    Beware of this. An empty field means there is no password, and you just have to press ENTER to login, at least in the console. May 4, 2017 at 12:28
  • 1
    From man shadow regarding encrypted password field: "This field may be empty, in which case no passwords are required to authenticate as the specified login name." <-- Leaving this field emtpy results in open account and this should indeed be avoided!
    – Laas
    Oct 15, 2019 at 12:48
  • Note that many SSH implementations block login on null passworded accounts by default: sudo /usr/sbin/sshd -T| grep empty would return: "permitemptypasswords no" Nov 4, 2019 at 15:58
  • Changed the answer to clarify that I meant key-only login.
    – coolaj86
    Apr 13, 2020 at 1:26
  • Another note, why one should never use empty passwords. Think about what happens if you install any software that uses "linux-authentication"? E.g. phpMyAdmin would than allow logins without a password. This can be very dangerous. And key only users should have "!"
    – K. Frank
    Nov 3, 2020 at 6:12

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