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I am trying to understand system administration on Ubuntu. So, as an example, I create a dummy user using

sudo useradd -d /home/linda linda

and passwd to create the password. I check that an entry has been made using cat /etc/passwd


However, when I su - linda, I get

No directory, logging in with HOME=/

and indeed, no home directory has been created. What am I missing?


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7 Answers 7

up vote 29 down vote accepted

If you only had read man useradd you would have seen:

useradd is a low level utility for adding users. On Debian,
administrators should usually use adduser(8) instead.

low level utility!!!

To add a user, use adduser instead.

Moreover, if you read carefully what the -d option does (still in man useradd):

   -d, --home HOME_DIR
       The new user will be created using HOME_DIR as the value for the
       user's login directory. The default is to append the LOGIN name to
       BASE_DIR and use that as the login directory name. The directory
       HOME_DIR does not have to exist but will not be created if it is

The directory will not be created if it is missing.

Definitely, keep away from useradd, use adduser instead.

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In the OP's defense, when I read "On Debian,", I thought it meant on Debian as opposed to Ubuntu distros. I am aware that Ubuntu is built on Debian but thought that a distinction was being made. –  Keith Bennett May 15 at 16:11
I used adduser but still the created home directory only contains a file examples.desktop and nothing else. How can I get Ubuntu to create the default folders Desktop, Downloads and so on? (I'm logged in via ssh) –  mcExchange Aug 13 at 11:35

you can fix this simply by creating the home dir.

mkdir /home/linda
chown linda:linda /home/linda

try logging in again and this should work.

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You can also modify /etc/pam.d/common-session to make it so that a user's home directory will be created on first log in. Add the following line to that file.

session required

This is particularly useful if your system is on a network where the users are managed externally to your machine, by LDAP for instance.

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Good advice, thanks. –  fg nu Nov 13 '13 at 22:17

According with man useradd, -d /home/linda option will not create the directory /home/linda, if this is missing. So, you have to create it manually. To do this, run the followings commands in terminal:

sudo -i                            #to get root privileges
mkdir /home/linda                  #to create the directory /home/linda
cp /etc/skel/* /home/linda         #to populate /home/linda with default files and folders
chown -R linda:linda /home/linda   #to change the owner of /home/linda to user linda

See also: How to make user home folder after account creation?

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+1 for mentioning /etc/skel –  Joe Nov 14 '13 at 2:11

Look at /etc/defaults/useradd if you want to change the defaults. Use:

useradd -m -d /home/joe -s /bin/bash.

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Add the below entry in /etc/login.defs and save:


Now, try to create user accounts. It will create the home directory.

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Use adduser.


 adduser  and  addgroup  add users and groups to the system according to
   command    line    options    and    configuration    information    in
   /etc/adduser.conf.   They  are  friendlier  front ends to the low level
   tools like useradd, groupadd and usermod programs, by default  choosing
   Debian  policy conformant UID and GID values, creating a home directory
   with skeletal configuration, running a custom script,  and  other  fea‐
   tures.  adduser and addgroup can be run in one of five modes:

useradd you have to add all options yourself. Including permissions and some other things.adduser does this based on sane defaults (and also adds home dir by itself).

If you need to use adduser you probably need the -b option together with the -d option!

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