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Changing Identities in Linux: Why, What, and How

In Linux and other Unix-based operating systems, the ability to change identities or switch user roles is crucial for administering a system and managing multiple tasks with varying levels of privilege. Understanding how and why one should change identities can significantly enhance system security and efficiency. This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of changing identities in Linux, discussing its necessity, the different identities available, and how to navigate them.

The Need to Change Identities

System Administration

Root access is often needed for performing administrative tasks like system updates, process control, and file management at a system level. However, operating as a root user all the time poses significant security risks. The ability to switch between identities allows administrators to limit root access and its associated risks.

Software Development

Developers often need to switch identities to test software under different user roles, ensuring that access controls and permissions are working as intended.

Multi-User Systems

On a system with multiple users, the ability to switch identities helps in shared resource utilization. For instance, an administrator may need to perform actions on behalf of another user.

Task Automation

Automated tasks might require varying privilege levels at different stages. By changing identities, these tasks can be appropriately managed without leaving the system vulnerable.

Available Identities

Root User

  • Highest privilege level
  • Can perform any task on the system
  • Identity can be switched to using su, sudo, and other utilities

Regular User

  • Limited access to critical system files and directories
  • Suited for everyday tasks
  • Identity can be switched to using the login command or at the login screen

Service Users

  • Created for specific applications or services
  • Minimal privileges, only for what the service requires
  • Usually can't be switched to interactively, but can be assumed for testing purposes

Guest User

  • Extremely limited privileges
  • Usually can't modify system settings or access other users' files
  • Can be useful for temporary or anonymous sessions


Changing identities in Linux is an important aspect of system management and security. It enables better control over who has access to what resources, ensures that tasks run with the minimum required privileges, and allows administrators and developers to segregate responsibilities more effectively. Whether you're a system admin, a developer, or an end-user, understanding the importance and mechanics of identity switching is key to effective Linux use.

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