Root Explained

The admin user of a Linux system

As a beginner learning about Linux servers and virtual machines (VMs), one of the most crucial concepts to grasp is the idea of the root user. In the Linux world, the root user holds the highest level of privileges and has complete control over the system. In this guide, we'll explore what it means to be the root user, why it is important, typical challenges one may face, and the essential commands related to root access.

What is the Root User?

The root user, also known as superuser or administrator, is a special user account in Linux that possesses unrestricted access to all system resources. While regular users have limited permissions to maintain security and prevent unintended system modifications, the root user can modify any file, execute any command, and change system configurations. Think of the root user as the supreme authority who can make critical decisions and perform actions that impact the entire system.

The Power and Importance of Root Access

Root access is vital for several reasons. It allows system administrators to install software, modify system settings, manage services, create user accounts, and perform other administrative tasks. With root access, you have the ability to control every aspect of your server, enabling you to customize it to suit your needs. Without root privileges, you would be limited in your ability to make important changes and manage your server effectively.

The Responsibility and Risks of Root Access

While root access grants tremendous power, it also comes with great responsibility. As the root user, you have the ability to alter critical system files, which means that one mistake could have severe consequences. It's crucial to exercise caution and double-check commands before executing them as root. A small error can lead to system instability, loss of data, or even complete system failure. It's essential to weigh the benefits against the potential risks and ensure you have a thorough understanding of the commands and actions you are performing.

Becoming the Root User

To become the root user, you typically need to authenticate yourself with the system. The most common method is by using the su (substitute user) command. Open a terminal and type:

su -

You will be prompted to enter the root user's password. Once authenticated, you will assume the identity of the root user until you exit the root shell.

Alternatively, you can use the sudo (superuser do) command to execute a single command with root privileges without switching to the root user entirely. For example, to install a package as root using apt, you can run:

sudo apt install package-name

Essential Commands for Root Users

As the root user, you have access to a wide range of powerful commands to manage your system. Here are some essential commands frequently used by root users:

  • ls: List files and directories.
  • top: Monitor system processes and resource usage.
  • pwd: Print the current working directory.
  • rm: Remove files and directories.
  • chown: Change ownership of files and directories.
  • chmod: Change permissions of files and directories.

It's important to exercise caution when using these commands as root since they can have a significant impact on the system. Make sure you fully understand the implications of each command and use them wisely.


Understanding the root user and having root access is a critical aspect of managing Linux servers and virtual machines. Root privileges provide you with extensive control over the system, enabling you to customize and configure your server according to your requirements.

However, with great power comes great responsibility, and it's essential to exercise caution and be mindful of the potential risks. By familiarizing yourself with the essential commands and using root access wisely, you can efficiently administer your Linux server and make informed decisions to keep your system secure and stable.