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I've tried this in the past with zero success. How do I change the /home/USER directory for a user, when I change their username, and how do I update their username without causing massive breakage?

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Your question is not clear - "retaining Data structure" would imply to not rename anything, but in the text you state it differently - please clarify. – guntbert Apr 19 '13 at 20:45

If you change only the username (presumably by editing /etc/passwd, /etc/shadow, and /etc/group), then simply doing mv /home/USER /home/NEWUSER as root should be enough, assuming you also changed the directory in /etc/passwd which is used as the home for that user.

If the UID (and or GID) was also changed, you'll need to run chmod -R NEWUSER.NEWGROUP /home/NEWUSER as well.

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I've never gotten username changes to work properly... so basically what you're saying is i edit /etc/passwd, /etc/shadow, and /etc/group to do the username changes... and then move the home directory as root? Wouldn't i have to usermod so that the home directory is recognized in the new path? – Thomas Ward Apr 19 '13 at 18:15
How were you doing the username change? You can use usermod to change the home directory path, instead, but if you're already editing /etc/passwd to change the username, it's faster to just edit it there. – dobey Apr 19 '13 at 18:27
dobey, the point of this question in a nutshell was to figure out the correct method of changing the user while retaining data structure. I might've missed a step or two when I tried a while ago, but I'll take another stab with a test user (so as to make sure I don't break my ACTUAL user) – Thomas Ward Apr 19 '13 at 18:29

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