I accidentally made a mistake in the sudoers file, and now I can't fix it because if I try to change the file it give a permission denied message. If I use sudo to open the file, then it says syntax error and no valid sudoers sources found and won't execute the command. I'm on raspbian, a flavor of debian.

Does anyone know how to get out of this catch-22?

  • 3
    USE visudo that's what it's for. NEVER edit sudoers directly.
    – coteyr
    Sep 29 '16 at 22:17
  1. If you know the root password (and it is set) you can use su to became root and edit /etc/sudoers.
  2. If your root filesystem is on SD-card, you can push it out and edit /etc/sudoers on PC or any other device, provided it have card reader.
  3. You can enter U-Boot (bootloader) command line (usually by pressing a button on keyboard or via the UART) and add 1 to Linux kernel command line to enter single user mode. In this mode you will be root and could edit /etc/sudoers. See also this.
  • I haven't set a root password yet, but I will try the other options.
    – jath03
    Sep 29 '16 at 18:36
  • It seems cmdline.txt is what you need. Add literal 1 at the end and you will go to single user mode. Do not forget to delete it after. Sep 29 '16 at 19:14
  • Yes it worked!1
    – jath03
    Sep 29 '16 at 20:09

You're going to have to boot into single user mode.


As the root user, you'll be able to edit the sudoers file to fix it. I highly recommend using the visudo command to edit your sudoers file in the future, to prevent having to go through this again, as visudo does a syntax check on the file before saving it.

  • Thanks for the visudo advice, but I don't know how to boot into single user mode. The only pre-boot option I have takes me to a graphical window where I can only edit config.txt and cmdline.txt
    – jath03
    Sep 29 '16 at 18:35

If you are on a cloud instance you are in a bit more trouble.

There are techniques depending on distro, but if you have Docker already installed and running, then you can generally go through a Docker container to fix the problem. That is because, usually, the Docker service is running as root and anything done to a mounted volume inside the container is affected as root on the host.

On host:

docker run --rm -ti -v /etc:/usr/local/etc busybox sh

The "busybox" is just a nice small distro that won't take long to download. If you already have a Docker image that has a shell available in it, just use that.

On Docker Container:

cd /usr/local/etc
vi sudoers

You may have added a bad file to the /etc/sudoers.d/ directory. In which case, probably just remove that file.

When you exit the container, you can sudo again.



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