2.2 Configuring sudo

sudo is a very flexible tool with extensive configuration.

NOTE: Locked yourself out of sudo

If you accidentally locked yourself out of sudo, use su - and the root password to get a root shell. To fix the error, run visudo.

2.2.1 Editing the Configuration Files

The main policy configuration file for sudo is /etc/sudoers. As it is possible to lock yourself out of the system due to errors in this file, it is strongly recommended to use visudo for editing. It will prevent simultaneous changes to the opened file and check for syntax errors before saving the modifications.

Despite its name, you can also use editors other than vi by setting the EDITOR environment variable, for example:

sudo EDITOR=/usr/bin/nano visudo

However, the /etc/sudoers file itself is supplied by the system packages and modifications may break on updates. Therefore, it is recommended to put custom configuration into files in the /etc/sudoers.d/ directory. Any file in there is automatically included. To create or edit a file in that subdirectory, run:

sudo visudo -f /etc/sudoers.d/NAME

Alternatively with a different editor (for example nano):

sudo EDITOR=/usr/bin/nano visudo -f /etc/sudoers.d/NAME

NOTE: Ignored Files in /etc/sudoers.d

The #includedir command in /etc/sudoers, used for /etc/sudoers.d, ignores files that end in ~ (tilde) or contain a . (dot).

For more information on the visudo command, run man 8 visudo.

2.2.2 Basic sudoers Configuration Syntax

In the sudoers configuration files, there are two types of options: strings and flags. While strings can contain any value, flags can be turned either ON or OFF. The most important syntax constructs for sudoers configuration files are:

# Everything on a line after a # gets ignored 
Defaults !insults # Disable the insults flag 
Defaults env_keep += "DISPLAY HOME" # Add DISPLAY and HOME to env_keep
tux ALL = NOPASSWD: /usr/bin/frobnicate, PASSWD: /usr/bin/journalctl 

There are two exceptions: #include and #includedir are normal commands. Followed by digits, it specifies a UID.

Remove the ! to set the specified flag to ON.

See Section 2.2.3, Rules in sudoers.

Table 2-1 Useful Flags and Options

Option name




This flag controls whether the invoking user is required to enter the password of the target user (ON) (for example root) or the invoking user (OFF).

Defaults targetpw # Turn targetpw flag ON


If set, sudo will prompt for the root password instead of the target user's or the password of the user that invoked the command. The default is OFF.

Defaults !rootpw # Turn rootpw flag OFF


If set, sudo constructs a minimal environment with only TERM, PATH, HOME, MAIL, SHELL, LOGNAME, USER, USERNAME, and SUDO_* set. Additionally, variables listed in env_keep get imported from the calling environment. The default is ON.

Defaults env_reset # Turn env_reset flag ON


List of environment variables to keep when the env_reset flag is ON.

# Set env_keep to contain EDITOR and PROMPT
Defaults env_keep = "EDITOR PROMPT"
Defaults env_keep += "JRE_HOME" # Add JRE_HOME
Defaults env_keep -= "JRE_HOME" # Remove JRE_HOME


List of environment variables to remove when the env_reset flag is OFF.

# Set env_delete to contain EDITOR and PROMPT
Defaults env_delete = "EDITOR PROMPT"
Defaults env_delete += "JRE_HOME" # Add JRE_HOME
Defaults env_delete -= "JRE_HOME" # Remove JRE_HOME

The Defaults token can also be used to create aliases for a collection of users, hosts, and commands. Furthermore, it is possible to apply an option only to a specific set of users.

For detailed information about the /etc/sudoers configuration file, consult man 5 sudoers.

2.2.3 Rules in sudoers

Rules in the sudoers configuration can be very complex, so this section will only cover the basics. Each rule follows the basic scheme ([] marks optional parts):

#Who      Where         As whom      Tag                What
User_List Host_List = [(User_List)] [NOPASSWD:|PASSWD:] Cmnd_List
Syntax for sudoers Rules

One or more (separated by ,) identifiers: Either a user name, a group in the format %GROUPNAME or a user ID in the format #UID. Negation can be performed with a ! prefix.


One or more (separated by ,) identifiers: Either a (fully qualified) host name or an IP address. Negation can be performed with a ! prefix. ALL is the usual choice for Host_List.


The user will not be prompted for a password when running commands matching CMDSPEC after NOPASSWD:.

PASSWD is the default, it only needs to be specified when both are on the same line:

tux ALL = PASSWD: /usr/bin/foo, NOPASSWD: /usr/bin/bar

One or more (separated by ,) specifiers: A path to an executable, followed by allowed arguments or nothing.

/usr/bin/foo     # Anything allowed
/usr/bin/foo bar # Only "/usr/bin/foo bar" allowed
/usr/bin/foo ""  # No arguments allowed

ALL can be used as User_List, Host_List, and Cmnd_List.

A rule that allows tux to run all commands as root without entering a password:


A rule that allows tux to run systemctl restart apache2:

tux ALL = /usr/bin/systemctl restart apache2

A rule that allows tux to run wall as admin with no arguments:

tux ALL = (admin) /usr/bin/wall ""

WARNING: Dangerous constructs

Constructs of the kind


must not be used without Defaults targetpw, otherwise anyone can run commands as root.