# su -l www-data ./http-app.py
This account is currently not available.
# su -l www-data -c ./http-app.py
This account is currently not available.
# su -c ./http-app.py www-data 
This account is currently not available.
# su -lc ./http-app.py www-data 
This account is currently not available.
# getent passwd www-data 
# getent shadow www-data 
# lsb_release -a
No LSB modules are available.
Distributor ID: Debian
Description:    Debian GNU/Linux 8.6 (jessie)
Release:        8.6
Codename:       jessie

What's wrong with my su or www-data? It used to work...

Presumably this is because of the /usr/sbin/nologin, but how then I drop root for this one script, without compromising other services on the system (nologin has been chosen by Debian team for a good reason, I want to believe)?


5 Answers 5


You are using su which is used to "switch user". Of course it won't work because www-data is a user account which cannot be used to login. You have told it: /usr/sbin/nologin.

Maybe what you want is sudo which is used to "execute a command as another user".

sudo -u www-data ./http-app.py
  • 3
    I always used su for this purpose and it always used to work. sudo is an extra package to install, but you are right, I can use it to achieve what I want.
    – NarūnasK
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 22:38

Without debating su vs. sudo you can try adding -s /bin/sh to your command line. (I could not verify this option is available for jessie since the Debian manpages webserver isn't working: https://manpages.debian.org/)

  • 9
    Thanks, it works in Debian 9 su www-data -s /bin/sh to get back to root just type su.
    – Jay Brunet
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 3:42
  • 7
    @PJBrunet - "to get back to root" (assuming you su'd from root) you would type "exit". To start a new root shell you would type su.
    – ChronoFish
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 14:19
  • 3
    I had to do sudo su www-data -s /bin/sh (or /bin/bash)
    – Alcalyn
    Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 15:09

If you want not only execute one command, but switch to www-data in order to test some stuff for that user, this worked for me:

sudo -u www-data sh

It's a little bit shorter. Exit the session with [ctrl]+[d] or exit

  • 1
    Tested working too with sudo -u www-data bash. Thanks you. Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 13:37

With this kind of problem I have used the option -p :

su -pc ./http-app.py www-data

-p : the environment is preserved. In peculiar it does not try to login with the new account, so you dont get the message: This account is currently not available. .


There is another possibility (works for me with Debian 10):

As root you can edit /etc/passwd. Change the shell for www-data from /usr/sbin/nologin to /bin/bash or whatever you prefer:


Don't forget to give www-data a password with

passwd www-data

After that you can login with www-data as a normal user.

  • 2
    This is possible, but not secure. I do not recommend doing this on a production environment.
    – Daantje
    Commented Nov 21, 2021 at 15:39

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