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How to Switch Users on Ubuntu

Switch Users on Ubuntu

In the realm of Linux operating systems, Ubuntu stands as one of the most popular and user-friendly distributions. It’s versatile, robust, and highly customizable. Within its diverse set of features, user management plays a pivotal role, especially when it comes to maintaining security and privacy. In this extensive guide, we’ll delve into the intricacies of switching users on Ubuntu. By the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll be well-equipped to manage user sessions like a pro. So, let’s dive in.

Understanding User Accounts in Ubuntu

Explanation of User Accounts

Ubuntu, like many Linux distributions, operates within a multi-user environment. This means that each individual who interacts with the system has their own user account. User accounts serve as gateways, allowing or restricting access to different parts of the system. There are two primary types of users:

  • Root User: The superuser or administrator, with unparalleled authority to modify the system at will.
  • Regular User: Standard users with limitations, protecting the system from unauthorized changes.

User Roles and Permissions

User accounts are associated with specific roles, each granting different levels of access. Permissions dictate what actions a user can perform. For example:

  • Read: Allows viewing and reading of files.
  • Write: Permits the creation, modification, and deletion of files.
  • Execute: Grants the ability to run programs and scripts.

As you might imagine, understanding these roles and permissions is essential when managing users on Ubuntu.

Methods for Switching Users

Switching users is a crucial aspect of multi-user environments. Whether you want to switch to a more privileged user or merely another user for a different task, Ubuntu offers multiple methods to achieve this.

Using the Graphical User Interface (GUI)

1. Switching Users from the Login Screen

The GUI provides a user-friendly approach to switching between accounts:

  1. On your system, log out of your current user account.
  2. You will be directed to the login screen where you can see a list of user accounts. Choose the one you wish to switch to.
  3. Enter the password for the selected user.
  4. You’ll be seamlessly switched to the chosen user’s session.

2. Fast User Switching

Fast user switching enables you to switch between users without logging out:

  1. Click on your user profile picture in the upper-right corner of the desktop.
  2. A menu will appear, displaying the available user accounts. Select the desired user.
  3. You’ll be instantly switched to the selected user’s session without logging out of your current one.

Switching Users via Command Line

1. The “su” Command

The ‘su‘ command stands for “switch user” and is used to change to another user’s environment. This is typically used in a terminal:

su - username

Replace ‘username‘ with the name of the user you want to switch to, and you’ll be prompted for the user’s password. If successful, you’ll transition to the chosen user’s session.

2. The “sudo -i” Command

The ‘sudo -i‘ command is used to open a root shell:

This command allows you to execute commands as the root user, which can be handy when you need elevated privileges.

Using the “gnome-screensaver-command” for User Switching

This command can be used to lock the current user’s session or switch to another user’s session:

  • To lock your session:
gnome-screensaver-command -l
  • To switch to another user’s session:
gnome-screensaver-command -a

Switching Users in a Terminal

A. Explanation of Terminal Sessions

Before delving into the practical aspects of switching users in a terminal, let’s clarify what a terminal session is. A terminal, often referred to as a shell, is a text-based interface for interacting with the operating system. Each terminal session is associated with a user account and runs its own shell environment.

B. Practical Demonstration of Switching Users in a Terminal

Now, let’s illustrate how to switch users in a terminal:

  1. Open a terminal window if you’re not already in one.
  2. Use the ‘su‘ command to switch to another user’s environment:
su - username

Replace ‘username‘ with the target user’s name.

  1. You’ll be prompted for the target user’s password. Enter it correctly, and you’ll switch to their environment.

C. Best Practices for Secure User Switching

Switching users in a terminal grants you a powerful capability, but it should be used with caution. Here are some best practices to follow:

  • Always switch to another user with a specific purpose in mind, and switch back when done.
  • Ensure you have the target user’s permission to access their session.
  • Do not leave terminal sessions unattended, especially when logged in as the root user.
  • Use ‘exit’ to return to your original session or ‘logout’ to end a session when done.

Remote User Switching

A. Introduction to SSH (Secure Shell)

SSH is a secure protocol that allows you to access remote systems and execute commands as if you were physically present on the machine. It’s an essential tool for remote user switching.

B. Switching Users Remotely Using SSH

  1. Open a terminal on your local machine.
  2. Use the ‘ssh‘ command to connect to the remote server:
ssh username@remote-server

Replace ‘username‘ with the target user’s name and ‘remote-server‘ with the server’s address.

  1. Enter the password for the target user when prompted.
  2. You will now be in the remote user’s environment, allowing you to perform tasks as that user.

C. Security Considerations for Remote User Switching

Remote user switching can be incredibly useful but demands rigorous security measures. Here are some tips:

  • Always use SSH keys for authentication, which are more secure than password-based authentication.
  • Limit SSH access to trusted IP addresses only.
  • Regularly update and patch your SSH server to protect against vulnerabilities.

Managing Multiple User Sessions

A. Overview of Managing Multiple User Sessions

In a multi-user environment, you may have several user sessions running concurrently. It’s vital to manage these effectively to maintain system stability.

B. How to Monitor User Sessions

You can use the ‘who’ and ‘w’ commands to check the current users and their sessions on the system:

  • who: Displays information about users currently logged in.
  • w: Provides a more detailed view of users’ activity, including what they are currently doing.

C. Terminating User Sessions

If you need to end a user session, you can use the ‘pkill‘ or ‘kill‘ command. Here’s how:

  • To terminate a specific user’s session:
pkill -u username

Replace ‘username‘ with the target user’s name.

  • To forcefully terminate a user’s session:
kill -9 <process_id>

Troubleshooting User Switching Issues

A. Common Problems and Error Messages

While switching users, you may encounter issues. Here are some common problems and their solutions:

  • Incorrect Password: Double-check the password and caps lock. Password issues are a common cause of login failures.
  • User Permissions: Ensure you have the appropriate permissions to switch to the target user.
  • Resource Conflicts: If multiple users are using the same resource, it may lead to conflicts. Coordinate with other users or close unnecessary sessions.

B. Troubleshooting Steps for User Switching Issues

  1. Review the error message for specific information about the problem.
  2. Check the user’s permissions and validate the password.
  3. Review system logs for any relevant error messages.
  4. Consult online Ubuntu forums or community support for assistance.


User switching in Ubuntu is a fundamental skill that enhances both security and productivity in multi-user environments. By understanding the diverse methods and best practices outlined in this guide, you are well on your way to becoming a proficient Ubuntu user manager. Remember, knowledge and security go hand in hand, and responsible user switching is a cornerstone of both.


r00t is a seasoned Linux system administrator with a wealth of experience in the field. Known for his contributions to idroot.us, r00t has authored numerous tutorials and guides, helping users navigate the complexities of Linux systems. His expertise spans across various Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, CentOS, and Debian. r00t's work is characterized by his ability to simplify complex concepts, making Linux more accessible to users of all skill levels. His dedication to the Linux community and his commitment to sharing knowledge makes him a respected figure in the field.
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