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Advanced users may need to add a user account to the sudoers file, which will allow that user to run certain commands with root privileges. To greatly simplify what that means, these newly privileged user accounts will then be able to execute commands without getting denied errors or having to prefix a terminal command with sudo. This may be useful (or necessary) for some complex situations, but it poses a security risk to others, so this is not something that should be changed casually. In general, most users are better off using an administrator account, using sudo per command, or enabling the root user. Nevertheless, customizing sudoers directly has plenty of use cases for advanced users with deep command line knowledge, and it is for those more complex situations that we’ll focus on customizing the sudoers file as described here.
The sudoers file is located on / etc / sudoers, but unlike / etc / hosts and many other system configuration files, you don’t want to point a generic text editor to the file to change it. Instead, you’ll want to use a specific command called ‘visudo’, which will confirm the correct syntax before saving the document.
Important: Customizing sudoers is not intended for most OS X users. Only advanced users who have compelling reason to do this should ever modify the sudoers file. If you do not know what you are doing and why you are doing it, do not edit the sudoers file or add users to the sudoers file. It can pose a security risk, or you can break something.
Add a user to Sudoers in Mac OS X
Adding users to the sudoers requires the use of vi which can be quite confusing if you are not used to it. For the unknown, we outline the exact sequence of key commands to edit, insert and save the file in vi, follow the instructions carefully.
- Launch Terminal and type the following command:
- Use the arrow keys to navigate down to the “#User privilege specification” section, it should look like this:
- Place the cursor on the next blank line below the% admin entry, then press the “A” key to insert text, then type the following on a new line, replacing “username” with the short username of the account you want to grant privilege to (click on the tab between username and ALL):
- Now press the “ESC” (escape) key to stop editing the file
- Press the: key (colon) then type “wq” followed by the Return key to save the changes and exit vi
# User rights specification root ALL = (ALL) ALL% admin ALL = (ALL) ALL
username ALL = (ALL) ALL
This is roughly what it should look like, the preview screen shows the username ‘compsmag’ added:
You should be good to go, you can cater the sudoers file to make sure the file has been modified:
cat / etc / sudoers
Use cat with grep to quickly find the username if you don’t want to scan through the whole file:
cat / etc / sudoers | grep username
Now that that ‘username’ has been added to the sudoers file, you should be good to go.
Fix an “/ etc / sudoers busy, please try again later” error
If you try to modify sudoers and get a ‘visudo: / etc / sudoers busy, try again later’ error, it usually means that the file has already been opened, either by another user, either by accident, or incorrectly by visudo to close. If you are on a computer with multiple users, check with other users before proceeding, but generally this does not happen often on a computer with a single user. It is important to distinguish the two because when you screw up sudoers file, you can find yourself in a world of frustration, trouble and eventual operating system (or sudoers file) recovery from backups, the resolution of which is beyond the scope of this article.
On single-user Macs, that “sudoers busy” error can occur after exiting the Terminal app without exiting vi, or if the Terminal or OS X has crashed, or if the file is currently open in another session. The solution to the last described single use machine cases is quite simple and you can fix the error by deleting the temporary sudoers file that serves as the lock:
sudo rm /etc/sudoers.tmp
You only want to do that if you are sure that another user (or yourself) is not actively modifying the file, locally or remotely. Since customizing sudoers is generally quite advanced we assume you know what you’re doing here, but if you can’t figure out what or why sudoers is open, you can try using dtrace or opennoop to check file usage .
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