If we don't know the root password and don't have root access to the machine, how can we change the root password?
Here are a few ways I can think of, from the least intrusive to the most intrusive.
With sudo: if you have
sudo permissions to run
passwd, you can do:
sudo passwd root
Enter your password, then enter a new password for root twice. Done.
Editing files: this works in the unlikely case you don't have full
sudo access, but you do have access to edit
/etc/shadow, either with
sudoedit /etc/shadow, or with
sudo $EDITOR /etc/shadow. Replace root's password field (all the random characters between the second and third colons
:) with your own user's password field. Save. The local has the same password as you. Log in and change the password to something else.
These are the easy ones.
Single User mode: This was just explained by Renan. It works if you can get to GRUB (or your boot loader) and you can edit the Linux command line. It doesn't work if you use Debian, Ubuntu, and some others. Some boot loader configurations require a password to do so, and you must know that to proceed. Without further ado:
- Enter boot-time password, if any.
- Enter your boot loader's menu.
- If single user mode is available, select that (Debian calls it ‘Recovery mode’).
- If not, and you run GRUB:
- Highlight your normal boot option.
- Press e to enter edit mode. You may be asked for a GRUB password there.
- Highlight the line starting with
- Press e.
- Add the word ‘single’ at the end. (don't forget to prepend a space!)
- Press Enter and boot the edited stanza. Some GRUBs use Ctrl-X, some use b. It says which one it is at the bottom of the screen.
Your system will boot up in single user mode. Some distributions won't ask you for a root password at this point (Debian and Debian-based ones do). You're root now. Change your password:
mount / -o remount,rw
passwd # Enter your new password twice at the prompts
mount / -o remount,ro
sync # some people sync multiple times. Do what pleases you.
reboot, or, if you know your normal runlevel, say
telinit 2 (or whatever it is).
init: superficially similar to the single user mode trick, with largely the same instructions, but requires much more prowess with the command line. You boot your kernel as above, but instead of
single, you add
init=/bin/sh. This will run
/bin/sh in place of
init, and will give you a very early shell with almost no amenities. At this point your aim is to:
- Mount the root volume.
- Change your password with the
Depending on your particular setup, these may be trivial (identical to the instructions for single user mode), or highly non-trivial: loading modules, initialising software RAID, opening encrypted volumes, starting LVM, et cetera. Without
init, you aren't running dæmons or any other processes but
/bin/sh and its children, so you're pretty literally on your own. You also don't have job control, so be careful what you type. One misplaced
cat and you may have to reboot if you can't get out of it.
Rescue Disk: this one's easy. Boot a rescue disk of your choice. Mount your root filesystem. The process depends on how your volumes are layered, but eventually boils down to:
# do some stuff to make your root volume available.
# The rescue disk may, or may not do it automatically.
mount /dev/$SOME_ROOT_DEV /tmp/my-root
# Follow the `/etc/shadow` editing instructions near the top
$SOME_ROOT_DEV is whatever block device name is assigned to your root filesystem by the rescue disk and
$EDITOR is your favourite editor (which may have to be
vi on the rescue system). After the
reboot, allow the machine to boot normally; root's password will be that of your own user. Log in as root and change it immediately.
Obviously, there are countless variations to the above. They all boil down to two steps:
- Get root access to the computer (catch-22 — and the real trick)
- Change root's password somehow.
This should work on just about any distro, I think.
If you can access the root partition from another system, e.g. a live CD, you can as root from there edit
/etc/shadow; first you have to
chmod u+w shadow. Find the entry for
root, it's probably the first one and looks something like this:
Erase everything between the first two colons so you end up with:
chmod u-w shadow. You can now reboot the system and root will have no password. You can just type
root at the login prompt and it won't ask for one. You can then use
passwd to set one.
To be extra careful:
- Create a backup copy of
- Don't log in as anyone but root until you've set a new password. This is not critical, but guards against the theoretical possibility of unprivileged malware making some kind of hail mary pass ("Hey, maybe there's no root password..."). Kinda far-fetched IMO.
Judging from the tags I take that you're using RHEL, but this solution should work equally well for all distros.
If the root password is forgotten, you can boot in single-user mode and use this to change the password. This approach is described in the Red Hat step-by-step guide:
- Enter the GRUB menu and press e .
- Choose the line that begin with
kernel, press e again.
- On the end of this line, put
single. Then press ENTER and boot from it.
You will eventually get to a prompt where you can type
passwd root and change the password. Then type
reboot to reboot the system.