Linux Tactic

Understanding the Fields in the /etc/passwd File on Linux

Are you using Linux as your operating system? Then you must have heard about the /etc/passwd and /etc/shadow files, which are used for user authentication and account management.

In this article, we will take a closer look at these two authentication schemes used on Linux systems, along with the format of the /etc/passwd file. Standard Authentication Scheme Using /etc/passwd and /etc/shadow Files

The first and most common authentication scheme used on Linux systems is the standard authentication scheme using /etc/passwd and /etc/shadow files.

These files are located in the /etc directory and contain user data such as usernames, passwords (encrypted), user IDs (UID), group IDs (GID), and other information related to user accounts. The /etc/passwd file stores user account data, including usernames, user IDs, group IDs, home directories, and login shells.

Each line of the file contains the details of a single user account, separated by colons(_) in the following format:


However, passwords are not stored directly in the /etc/passwd file but are instead hashed and stored in the /etc/shadow file. This ensures that if an attacker gains access to the /etc/passwd file, they will not be able to retrieve the passwords.

Modifying /etc/passwd File

To modify the /etc/passwd file, you can use the usermod and useradd commands. These commands are used to add, modify, or remove user accounts from the system.

However, to use these commands, the user must have sudo privileges. Sudo is a command that allows users to execute commands with administrative privileges.

This ensures that only authorized users can modify the system settings. Understanding /etc/passwd File Format

Now, let us take a closer look at the format of the /etc/passwd file.

Overview of /etc/passwd File

The /etc/passwd file is a plain text file that stores user account information. It is used in conjunction with the /etc/shadow file for user authentication and account management.

Fields in /etc/passwd File

The /etc/passwd file contains seven fields, separated by colons, for each user account. These fields are as follows:


Username: This field contains the username of the user account. 2.

Password: This field stores the password of the user account, although it is not stored in plain text as described earlier. Instead, a hashed version is stored in the /etc/shadow file.

3. UID: The user ID (UID) is a unique numeric identifier assigned to each user account.

It ranges from 0 to 65535, with 0 being reserved for the root user. 4.

GID: The group ID (GID) is a numeric identifier assigned to a user’s primary group. It is usually the same as the user’s UID.

5. GECOS: It stands for General Electric Comprehensive Operating System.

It is not an acronym relevant to Linux. It is a field that contains additional user information, such as the full name, office phone number, and other details.

6. Home directory: It is the directory where the user account files are stored.

By default, the home directory is created with the same name as the username. 7.

Login shell: The login shell defines the user’s default shell program. It determines which command interpreter is used when the user logs in.


The /etc/passwd and /etc/shadow files play an essential role in user authentication and account management on Linux systems. By understanding their format and the standard authentication scheme used on Linux, you can adjust user accounts’ settings in your system.

You can use commands like useradd and usermod to manage user accounts. Always remember to use sudo to execute commands that need administrative privileges, and keep your system secure by regularly updating your passwords.

Are you installing or configuring a Linux system? Then, you must be familiar with the /etc/passwd file and its fields.

In this article, we will discuss the fields in the /etc/passwd file in detail to help you understand the role of each field.

Username Field

The username field is the first field in the /etc/passwd file. It contains a unique string that is used to identify a user account.

The username must be between one and 32 characters long and can only contain letters, numbers, underscores, and dashes. The username field plays a critical role in user identification.

It must be unique because it is used to track a user’s actions on the system. Any actions taken by a user on the system are logged by their username, which helps system administrators identify who performed those actions.

Password Field

The second field in the /etc/passwd file is the password field. However, this field does not store the plain text version of the user’s password.

Instead, it stores an encrypted version of the password. The encrypted password is generated using a one-way hashing function, which makes it impossible for anyone to reverse-engineer the password from the hash.

The purpose of storing the hashed password in the /etc/passwd file is to verify the user’s password when they attempt to log in. However, you should note that the encrypted password stored in the /etc/passwd file is not a secure method of storing passwords.

In modern Linux systems, the hashed password is stored in the /etc/shadow file, which is only readable by privileged users, such as the root user.

UID Field

The UID (user identifier) field is the third field in the /etc/passwd file. It is a numeric value assigned to each user account to identify them uniquely on the system.

The UID can range from 0 to 65535, and certain values are reserved for specific system users (e.g., UID 0 is the root user). A user’s UID is used by the system to determine their privileges and permissions.

For example, if a user attempts to access a file that is owned by another user, the system checks whether the accessing user has the required permissions to access the file based on their UID.

GID Field

The fourth field in the /etc/passwd file is the GID (group identifier) field. It is a numeric value that identifies the user’s primary group on the system.

The primary group is the group that the user is a member of by default. Groups allow administrators to assign a set of permissions and privileges to a set of users.

In Linux, users can belong to multiple groups. However, the GID field in the /etc/passwd file specifies the user’s primary group.


The fifth field in the /etc/passwd file is the GECOS field, also known as the comments field. It is used to store additional user information, such as the user’s full name, room number, work phone number, home phone number, and any other contact information.

The GECOS field does not have a strict format, and the information stored in it is entirely optional. However, systems administrators can use this field to track additional information about users that is useful for managing the system.

Home Directory Field

The sixth field in the /etc/passwd file is the home directory field. It specifies the absolute path to the user’s home directory, where the user’s files and configurations are stored.

The home directory field is critical because it determines where the user’s files are stored on the system. Each user should have their home directory, and users who share a home directory will be able to access each other’s files.

Login Shell Field

The final field in the /etc/passwd file is the login shell field, which specifies the absolute path of the user’s default shell program. The shell program is the command interpreter that is launched when the user logs in.

The login shell field is essential because it determines how the user interacts with the system when they log in. For example, users can use different shell programs to interact with the system, depending on their personal preferences.


The /etc/passwd file is a crucial file in Linux systems as it is essential for user tracking and system management. The fields in the /etc/passwd file play a key role in managing user accounts and determining their permissions and privileges.

By understanding the format and purpose of each field, you can better manage user accounts and configure your Linux system to suit your needs. Overall, this article delved into the importance of the /etc/passwd file and its fields in Linux systems.

We discussed the standard authentication scheme used on Linux systems that use /etc/passwd and /etc/shadow files for user authentication and account management. We also highlighted the need for sudo privileges when using commands like usermod or useradd to add, modify, or remove user accounts from the system.

We explored the format of the /etc/passwd file in detail, including its seven fields, which are username, password, UID, GID, GECOS, home directory, and login shell. Each field plays a crucial role in user identification, authentication, and system management.

Understanding the format and purpose of each field is essential for managing user accounts and securing your Linux system.

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