How to modify a Linux username

How many times have you been asked to make username change? With the right tools this is an easy fix.

It happens. For numerous reasons, someone in your company might legally change their name. That can become an administrative nightmare if you don't know what to do. Fortunately, if you're a Linux administrator you do.

What if you're new to the game of Linux and need to change a username? It's not that challenging. I'm going to walk you through the process of making such a change. I'll demonstrate on Ubuntu Server, but the process should be the same across most Linux distributions.

The only assumption this will make is that you have access to a user with sudo privileges (and a username that must be changed). With that said, let's make some magic.

SEE: Securing Linux policy (Tech Pro Research)

Creating a test user

For the purpose of learning, we're going to create a test user account. Open a terminal (or log into your Linux server) and issue the command:

sudo adduser testaccount

The above command will create the new user, a group, a home directory, copy the necessary files from /etc/skel, prompt you to type a password for the user, and answer a few optional questions (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A

Creating a new user account.

Altering the user account

Let's change the testaccount username to haversham. To do this, issue the command:

sudo usermod -l haversham testaccount

At this point, the username has changed. However, the home directory associated with the username is still testaccount. To change that, we issue the command:

sudo usermod -d /home/haversham -m haversham

If you issue the command ls /home/ you should see the home directory now reflects the new username (Figure B).

Figure B

Figure B

The new home directory name is in place.

Finally, the users' group name must be changed from testaccount to haversham. To do this, issue the command:

sudo groupmod -n haversham testaccount

Testing the account

Before you log out, you should test the account by SSHing into the server with the new username. Upon successful login, you should find yourself in /home/haversham. You can further test this by creating a test file (to ensure the user has write privileges in their home directory). Issue the command touch test. If you receive no error (Figure C), all is well, and you can hand over the renamed account to the user.

Figure C

FIgure C

Our renamed user account is working as expected.

Removing the test account

There's no reason to leave that test account in place. To remove it you need to delete both the user and the associated group. This can be done with the following two commands:

sudo deluser -r haversham
sudo delgroup haversham

Good to go

Your user account was successfully changed. Now, when a user requests that their username be altered, you have the tools to make it happen.

Also see

Image: Jack Wallen

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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