How to manage users in Ubuntu

How to manage users in Ubuntu

Having your own space on a home computer can be a real mind saver. Always knowing your favorite apps are where you expect them to be, bookmarks don’t disappear and documents are stored safely away from prying eyes, can be a lifesaver. In this tutorial, we show you how to add and manage users in Ubuntu, adjust their privileges, and set up a “Family” folder to allow all users to have space for collaboration or file sharing.

Note: this tutorial is based on Ubuntu 20.04 and Gnome 3.36, but the methods should be broadly similar in the distributions.

Create users

To get started, go to your Settings app and, from the left edge, choose Users. To make changes here, you need to authenticate. Click on “Unlock…” at the top right and enter your password. You will now have access to various tools, such as the ability to change your username or password, set an automatic login, or view account activity. Later, as an administrator, you will be able to access this information for other accounts as well.

Screenshot showing Gnome account management settings.

Select “Add User…” at the top of the window.

Configure your users

On this screen, you set whether the new user has administrator privileges or not – meaning they can make system level changes, install software, etc. – then provide a full name and a username. The latter is used to create the “/ home” folder for the account and cannot be modified. Then you set the passwords. In a family situation, you can choose the first option to have your users create a password when they log in, but in our case, we assign a password from here.

Add a multi-user accountAdd a multi-user account

Password security is always important, so Gnome sets a criteria and won’t allow you to continue unless your choice includes letters, numbers, and punctuation marks. It should be easy to remember but hard to guess.

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Once you have selected “Add”, you will be asked to authenticate once more, and the account will be created.

Change passwords

Congratulations, you are now a system administrator with the power to grant (and deny) access to files. It also means that you will be the first port of call if your users forget their password, because you can access their accounts and create a new password or reset the system so that they can create a new password. the next time they log in. To do this, simply select their name from the list of users at the top, select the Password field and set the appropriate action.

Changing the multi-user passwordChanging the multi-user password

The next time you start, you will be presented with a list of users. Each user can configure their desktop, taskbar and themes accordingly. They will also have a directory on the system which is their home, which is generally inaccessible to other users.

Sharing files

There are times when you want to share documents between multiple accounts. We can do this by setting permissions on particular folders. In our case, we will create a shared folder called “Family”, then instead of defining individual access to the folder, we will add other users to the group, called “andy”, which owns this folder. Then we can set permissions for the whole group.

Multi-user sharing 1Multi-user sharing 1

Start by opening Gnome’s file manager, go to the main administrator’s home folder, create a new folder (right click -> New folder) and give it a name. The easiest way to share this folder is to right click and select “Local Area Sharing”. Selecting the next option “Share this folder” will require the installation of the Linux Samba system, so Windows users can also access the folder. We’re not particularly interested in that right now, so we’ll be setting things up manually.

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Instead of the network share option, choose “Properties” from the context menu and select the Permissions tab.

Multi-user permissionsMulti-user permissions

Here you will see three classes of users. The owner can “create and delete files”, the group (named after the owner) can “access files” and others can “access files” as well. (Read this article from chmod 777 for more details on file permission.) We want to elevate the group permissions so that all members of the “andy” group can fully access the folder. Change the setting to “Create and delete files”. Note that if you do this in an established folder with many subfolders, you can select “Change permissions for included files” to have the changes reflected in the folder.

Add users to a group

More recent versions of Gnome have removed the ability to add users to a group using a GUI, so we’re going to have to do a few things on the terminal. Fortunately, it is not too difficult.

Open the terminal – Ubuntu salt under Utilities from its application menu – and type:

Screenshot of the Linux terminal showing the command to add a user to a particular group.Screenshot of the Linux terminal showing the command to add a user to a particular group.

“Group” is the name of the group and “user” is the name of the user. You will need to authenticate with your administrator password to make the change.

Your user, in their own account, can now access “Computer -> Home -> username -> folder name” to access or add files to the shared folder.

The Linux sharing system is flexible enough to allow you to access your files even if you start Windows and duplicate Linux. Just make sure you haven’t turned off your home computer’s lock screen.

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Andy Channelle

Andy Channelle is a writer and web developer who has written for Linux Format, Mac Format, 3D World, and others, and has also published bestselling books on Ubuntu Linux and OpenOffice.org. He recently worked on web projects and campaigns for the International Red Cross and the UN. It produces – but hardly ever publishes – electronics under the name Collision Detector. Andy lives in Wales, UK.

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