Read this chapter of A Practical Guide To Ubuntu Linux and bring yourself up to speed on the open source operating system's desktop and its root privileges, and learn how to work with the command line and control windows.
Curbing Your Power: root Privileges/sudo
When you enter your password to run a program (not when you log in on the system), or when you use sudo from the command line, you are working with root privileges and have extraordinary systemwide powers. A person working with root privileges is sometimes referred to as Superuser or administrator. When working with root privileges, you can read from or write to any file on the system, execute programs that ordinary users cannot, and more. On a multiuser system you may not be permitted to run certain programs, but someone—the system administrator—can and that person maintains the system. When you are running Linux on your own computer, the first user you set up, usually when you install Ubuntu, is able to use sudo and its graphical counterpart, gksudo, to run programs with root privileges.
Who is allowed to run sudo? The first user you set up when you install Ubuntu can administer the system: This user can use sudo to execute any command. When you add user accounts, you can specify whether they are allowed to administer the system. See page 658 and Figure 172 on page 659 for more information.
In this chapter and in Chapter 8, when this book says you have to enter your password, it assumes you have permission to administer the system. If not, you must get an administrator to perform the task.
There are two primary ways to gain root privileges. First, when you start a program that requires root privileges, a dialog box pops up asking you to Enter your password to perform administrative tasks. After you enter your password, the program runs with root privileges. Second, if you use the sudo utility (for textual applications; page 490) or gksudo utility (for graphical applications; page 491) from the command line (such as from a terminal emulator; page 114) and provide your password, the command you enter runs with root privileges. In both cases you cease working with root privileges when the command finishes or when you exit from the program you started with root privileges. For more information refer to "Running Commands with root Privileges" on page 487.
Do not experiment while you are working with root privileges Feel free to experiment when you are not working with root privileges. When you are working with root privileges, do only what you have to do and make sure you know exactly what you are doing. After you have completed the task at hand, revert to working as yourself. When working with root privileges, you can damage the system to such an extent that you will need to reinstall Ubuntu Linux to get it working again.
If you bought your system with Ubuntu installed at the factory When a manufacturer installs Ubuntu, it cannot set up an account for you (it does not know your name). Typically, these systems come with the root account unlocked. Ubuntu suggests you not unlock the root account. To set the system up the way Ubuntu suggests, use users-admin as explained on page 658 to add a user who will be the system administrator. Make sure to put a tick in the check box labeled Administer the system in the User Privileges tab (page 658). Then relock the root account (page 499).