runuser - run a command with substitute user and group ID


runuser [options] -u user [[--] command [argument...]]

runuser [options] [-] [user [argument...]]


runuser can be used to run commands with a substitute user and group ID. If the option -u is not given, runuser falls back to su-compatible semantics and a shell is executed. The difference between the commands runuser and su is that runuser does not ask for a password (because it may be executed by the root user only) and it uses a different PAM configuration. The command runuser does not have to be installed with set-user-ID permissions.

If the PAM session is not required, then the recommended solution is to use the setpriv(1) command.

When called without arguments, runuser defaults to running an interactive shell as root.

For backward compatibility, runuser defaults to not changing the current directory and to setting only the environment variables HOME and SHELL (plus USER and LOGNAME if the target user is not root). This version of runuser uses PAM for session management.

Note that runuser in all cases use PAM (pam_getenvlist()) to do the final environment modification. Command-line options such as --login and --preserve-environment affect the environment before it is modified by PAM.

Since version 2.38 runuser resets process resource limits RLIMIT_NICE, RLIMIT_RTPRIO, RLIMIT_FSIZE, RLIMIT_AS and RLIMIT_NOFILE.


-c, --command=command

Pass command to the shell with the -c option.

-f, --fast

Pass -f to the shell, which may or may not be useful, depending on the shell.

-g, --group=group

The primary group to be used. This option is allowed for the root user only.

-G, --supp-group=group

Specify a supplementary group. This option is available to the root user only. The first specified supplementary group is also used as a primary group if the option --group is not specified.

-, -l, --login

Start the shell as a login shell with an environment similar to a real login:


clears all the environment variables except for TERM and variables specified by --whitelist-environment


initializes the environment variables HOME, SHELL, USER, LOGNAME, and PATH


changes to the target user’s home directory


sets argv[0] of the shell to - in order to make the shell a login shell

-P, --pty

Create a pseudo-terminal for the session. The independent terminal provides better security as the user does not share a terminal with the original session. This can be used to avoid TIOCSTI ioctl terminal injection and other security attacks against terminal file descriptors. The entire session can also be moved to the background (e.g., runuser --pty -u username -- command &). If the pseudo-terminal is enabled, then runuser works as a proxy between the sessions (sync stdin and stdout).

This feature is mostly designed for interactive sessions. If the standard input is not a terminal, but for example a pipe (e.g., echo "date" | runuser --pty -u user), then the ECHO flag for the pseudo-terminal is disabled to avoid messy output.

-m, -p, --preserve-environment

Preserve the entire environment, i.e., do not set HOME, SHELL, USER or LOGNAME. The option is ignored if the option --login is specified.

-s, --shell=shell

Run the specified shell instead of the default. The shell to run is selected according to the following rules, in order:


the shell specified with --shell


the shell specified in the environment variable SHELL if the --preserve-environment option is used


the shell listed in the passwd entry of the target user



If the target user has a restricted shell (i.e., not listed in /etc/shells), then the --shell option and the SHELL environment variables are ignored unless the calling user is root.


Same as -c, but do not create a new session. (Discouraged.)

-w, --whitelist-environment=list

Don’t reset the environment variables specified in the comma-separated list when clearing the environment for --login. The whitelist is ignored for the environment variables HOME, SHELL, USER, LOGNAME, and PATH.

-h, --help

Display help text and exit.

-V, --version

Print version and exit.


runuser reads the /etc/default/runuser and /etc/login.defs configuration files. The following configuration items are relevant for runuser:

ENV_PATH (string)

Defines the PATH environment variable for a regular user. The default value is /usr/local/bin:/bin:/usr/bin.

ENV_ROOTPATH (string), ENV_SUPATH (string)

Defines the PATH environment variable for root. ENV_SUPATH takes precedence. The default value is /usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/sbin:/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin.


If set to yes and --login and --preserve-environment were not specified runuser initializes PATH.

The environment variable PATH may be different on systems where /bin and /sbin are merged into /usr; this variable is also affected by the --login command-line option and the PAM system setting (e.g., pam_env(8)).


runuser normally returns the exit status of the command it executed. If the command was killed by a signal, runuser returns the number of the signal plus 128.

Exit status generated by runuser itself:


Generic error before executing the requested command


The requested command could not be executed


The requested command was not found



default PAM configuration file


PAM configuration file if --login is specified


runuser specific logindef config file


global logindef config file


This runuser command was derived from coreutils su, which was based on an implementation by David MacKenzie, and the Fedora runuser command by Dan Walsh.


setpriv(1), su(1), login.defs(5), shells(5), pam(8)


For bug reports, use the issue tracker at <>.


The runuser command is part of the util-linux package which can be downloaded from Linux Kernel Archive <>.