Navigating User Accounts: A Guide to Switching Users in Linux

Linux provides a powerful set of tools for managing user accounts, and one such tool is the su command. This command allows users to switch to another account seamlessly, whether it's the root user or any other existing user on the system. This article delves into the usage of the su command, providing insights into how to switch users and execute commands under different user contexts.

Basic Usage of su:

The su command, which stands for "switch user" or "substitute user," allows you to change your user identity and work in a different environment. The basic syntax is as follows:

su username

This command switches to the specified user account, prompting for the password associated with that account.

Switching to the Root User:

By default, if you run the su command without specifying a username, it will switch to the root user:


You will be prompted to enter the root password, and upon successful authentication, you'll find yourself in a shell session with root privileges.

Executing Commands as Another User:

You can also use the su command to execute a specific command as another user without entering an interactive shell. The syntax is as follows:

su -c 'command' username

Replace "command" with the desired command and "username" with the target user.

For example, to list the contents of the home directory of user "john" as root:

su -c 'ls /home/john' root

Tips and Tricks:

  1. Preserving Environment Variables:
    When switching users, you can use the - option to preserve the environment, including the current working directory:

    su -


    su - username
  2. Running a Login Shell:
    You can start a login shell with the -l or --login option. This simulates a fresh login, loading the user's environment settings:

    su -l username


The su command is a versatile tool for navigating between user accounts in a Linux environment. Whether switching to the root user for administrative tasks or assuming the identity of another user for specific commands, su provides flexibility and control over user interactions. Incorporating the various options and techniques discussed in this guide will empower users to efficiently manage user accounts and execute tasks in a secure and organized manner.