How to switch users and run commands.

Switching users and running commands are fundamental tasks in the realm of computer systems and operating systems. Whether you are a system administrator, developer, or an everyday user, understanding how to switch between users and execute commands is crucial. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the concepts of switching users and running commands, providing detailed explanations and numerous examples.

Part 1: Switching Users

1.1 Understanding User Accounts

Before we dive into switching users, it’s essential to grasp the concept of user accounts. In most operating systems, each user has a unique account with specific privileges and settings. Users can switch between accounts for various reasons, such as accessing different environments or performing tasks with different permissions.

1.2 The ‘su’ Command

The su (switch user) command is a common method to switch between users in Unix-like operating systems. Here’s a basic syntax:

su [username]
  • If no username is specified, it defaults to the superuser (root).

  • To switch to a specific user, replace [username] with the desired username.


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su john_doe

This command prompts for the password of the target user and switches to that user’s environment.

1.3 Switching to the Superuser (Root)

To switch to the superuser (root), use the su command without specifying a username:

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This is particularly useful when administrative privileges are required to perform system-level tasks.

1.4 The ‘sudo’ Command

An alternative to su is the sudo command, which allows a permitted user to execute a command as the superuser or another user, as specified by the security policy.

sudo [command]


sudo ls /root

This command executes ls /root with superuser privileges.

Part 2: Running Commands

2.1 Basic Command Execution

Running commands is the core of interacting with a computer system. The syntax for executing a command is generally straightforward:

command [options] [arguments]


ls -l /home

This command lists the contents of the /home directory in a detailed format.

2.2 Running Commands as Another User

You can use su or sudo to run commands as another user. For sudo, the syntax is:

sudo -u [username] [command]


sudo -u john_doe ls /home/john_doe

This executes the ls /home/john_doe command as the user john_doe.

2.3 Running Commands in the Background

To run a command in the background, append an ampersand (&) at the end of the command:

command &


sleep 10 &

This runs the sleep 10 command in the background.

2.4 Running Commands with Output Redirection

Redirecting command output is useful for saving or processing results. Use the following symbols:

  • >: Redirects output to a file, overwriting its contents.

  • >>: Redirects output to a file, appending to its contents.

  • 2>: Redirects error output to a file.


ls -l /home > home_contents.txt

This saves the directory listing to a file named home_contents.txt.


Mastering the art of switching users and running commands is a key skill for effective system administration and general computer use. This guide has provided an in-depth understanding of these concepts, along with numerous examples to enhance your practical knowledge. Whether you are navigating a Unix-like terminal or working in a Windows command prompt, these skills are transferable and essential in various computing environments.

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