How does the ubuntu user on the AWS images for Ubuntu Server 12.04 have passwordless sudo for all commands when there is no configuration for it in /etc/sudoers?

I'm using Ubuntu server 12.04 on Amazon. I want to add a new user that has the same behavior as the default Ubuntu user. Specifically I want passwordless sudo for this new user.

So I've added a new user and went to edit /etc/sudoers (using visudo of course). From reading that file it seemed like the default ubuntu user was getting it's passwordless sudo from being a member of the admin group. So I added my new user to that. Which didn't work. Then I tried adding the NOPASSWD directive to sudoers. Which also didn't work.

Anyway, now I'm just curious. How does the ubuntu user get passwordless privileges if they aren't defined in /etc/sudoers. What is the mechanism that allows this?


7 Answers 7


Okay, I have discovered the answer so may as well put it here for completeness. At the end of /etc/sudoers there is what I thought was just a comment:

#includedir /etc/sudoers.d

However this actually includes the contents of that directory. Inside of which is the file /etc/sudoers.d/90-cloudimg-ubuntu. Which has the expected contents

# ubuntu user is default user in cloud-images.
# It needs passwordless sudo functionality.

So that is where the sudo configuration for the default ubuntu user lives.

You should edit this file using visudo. The following command will let you edit the correct file with visudo.

sudo visudo -f /etc/sudoers.d/90-cloudimg-ubuntu

And add a line like:


At the end.

  • 6
    I'm pretty sure I had to do a full reboot.
    – aychedee
    Feb 14, 2013 at 20:40
  • 2
    new sudo rules will be used for every new logged user - so you need re login at least
    – bluszcz
    Feb 27, 2013 at 10:17
  • 40
    'sudo service sudo restart' works :)
    – Laice
    Jun 11, 2013 at 2:23
  • 7
    In later versions (14.04 for example) the included file is /etc/sudoers.d/90-cloud-init-users (so to edit.. sudo visudo -f /etc/sudoers.d/90-cloud-init-users). Although it'd be cleaner to create additional files than editing the generated one. Note that files containing a . or ending in ~ will not be included.
    – Molomby
    Aug 27, 2015 at 5:29
  • 3
    @Phil_1984_ Most likely, it was added as a comment to allow compatibility with other (standard?) versions of sudo, which don't allow includes, but wouldn't be tripped up by a weird comment. (Standards are hard! ;-)
    – jpaugh
    Nov 23, 2016 at 14:39

I found that the most straight forward thing to do, in order to easily replicate this behavior across multiple servers, was the following:

sudo visudo

Change this line:

# Members of the admin group may gain root privileges
%admin  ALL=(ALL) ALL

to this line:

# Members of the admin group may gain root privileges

And move it under this line:

# Allow members of group sudo to execute any command
%sudo   ALL=(ALL:ALL) ALL

you should now have this:

# This file MUST be edited with the 'visudo' command as root.
# Please consider adding local content in /etc/sudoers.d/ instead of
# directly modifying this file.
# See the man page for details on how to write a sudoers file.

Defaults        env_reset
Defaults        mail_badpass
Defaults        secure_path="/usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin"

# Host alias specification

# User alias specification

# Cmnd alias specification

# User privilege specification
root    ALL=(ALL:ALL) ALL

# Allow members of group sudo to execute any command
%sudo   ALL=(ALL:ALL) ALL

# Members of the admin group may gain root privileges

# See sudoers(5) for more information on "#include" directives:

#includedir /etc/sudoers.d

then for every user that needs sudo access WITH a password:

sudo adduser <user> sudo

and for every user that needs sudo access WITH NO password:

sudo adduser <user> admin

(on older versions of ubuntu, you may need to):

sudo service sudo restart

And that's it!

Edit: You may have to add the admin group as I don't think it exists by default.

sudo groupadd admin

You can also add the default AWS ubuntu user to the admin group via this command:

sudo usermod ubuntu -g admin

Note: As @hata mentioned, you may need to use adm as your admin group name, depending on which version of Ubuntu is being used.

  • 3
    Note to self: It's a convention to move less restrictive permissions lower in the stack. But not doing it won't affect functionality.
    – poweratom
    Sep 5, 2014 at 9:47
  • 3
    As jiminikiz explained, I had to place the %admin after the %sudo on my Ubuntu GNOME 16.04 LTS. Plus, the administrators group id is exactly not admin but adm on my Ubuntu. No reboot was required.
    – hata
    Oct 26, 2017 at 10:52
  • 1
    by the way use sudo apt purge nano if you want to default to vi on your system.
    – chovy
    May 27, 2022 at 23:42

I would create my own file under /etc/sudoers.d/ directory - the file created by Amazon Cloud might be overwritten in case of any update. After creating your file in /etc/sudoers.d, add this entry,

<your user name> ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD:ALL

Reboot the system and this will work.


Short answer without using any editor (tested on bash, very risky to execute on remote hosts).

Configure sudo to work without a password for the current user:

echo "$USER ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD:ALL" | sudo tee -a /etc/sudoers

Check the edit with:

sudo visudo -c

Verify if you can use sudo without a password:

sudo cat /etc/sudoers | grep "$USER"

...or simply try it with:

sudo <anything>
  • 21
    This is pretty dangerous advice... copy and paste this wrong and you'll lock yourself out of your own server. Hence the advice to use visudo. It checks that the syntax is correct before saving to disk. So, for anyone that wants to use this. Don't do it on a remote server that you care about. You might want to include a warning about that in your answer.
    – aychedee
    Aug 14, 2014 at 9:25
  • 11
    Not using visudo is a horrible idea. Trust me, I know. Sep 9, 2015 at 17:22
  • 1
    IMHO, a copy-paste is safer than a manual edit. A minor simplification: echo "$USER ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD:ALL" | sudo tee -a /etc/sudoers Apr 5, 2016 at 23:56
  • 4
    @theartofrain - Normally, I'd agree, but visudo is particularly nice about not allowing you to break the sudoers file, thus not locking you out of your machine (or at least sudo).
    – Jon V
    Mar 15, 2017 at 2:43
  • 3
    @JonV You can lose admin rights via visudo too, but usually not by accident, because visudo only saves changes that are well-formed according to the grammar for sudoers files. Most mistakes are syntactically wrong, so they cause no harm with visudo. If /etc/sudoers or a file in /etc/sudoers.d is ill-formed, sudo refuses to elevate privileges for anyone as a security measure, which is why not using visudo is dangerous. (Though sometimes pkexec can fix it without a reboot.) Sep 28, 2017 at 12:29

As I was researching this, I realized that there's a line in the /etc/sudoers file that is not a comment, but a directive that makes any file or folder under the directory /etc/sudoers/* override the contents of /etc/sudoers.

This is a sneaky little directive, as it appears to be a commented line upon first glance. It looks like this:

#includedir /etc/sudoers.d

This is how I've implemented the non-root, passwordless user in an ephemeral Docker Image for use in a CICD pipeline with the base image of ubuntu:18.04:

  useradd -U foo -m -s /bin/bash -p foo -G sudo && passwd -d foo && passwd -d root && \
  sed -i /etc/sudoers -re 's/^%sudo.*/%sudo ALL=(ALL:ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL/g' && \
  sed -i /etc/sudoers -re 's/^root.*/root ALL=(ALL:ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL/g' && \
  sed -i /etc/sudoers -re 's/^#includedir.*/## Removed the #include directive! ##"/g' && \
  echo "Customized the sudoers file for passwordless access!" && \
  echo "foo ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL" >> /etc/sudoers && \
  echo "root ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL" >> /etc/sudoers && \
  echo "foo user:";  su foo -c 'whoami && id' && \
  echo "root user:"; su root -c 'whoami && id'

What happens with the above code:

  • The user and group foo is created.
  • The user foo is added to the both the foo and sudo group.
  • The home directory is set to /home/foo.
  • The shell is set to /bin/bash.
  • The passwords for both foo and root are deleted.
  • The sed command does inline updates to the /etc/sudoers file to allow foo and root users passwordless access to the sudo command.
  • The sed command disables the #includedir directive that would allow any files in subdirectories to override these inline updates.

In case you want to remove password

sudo passwd -d user

check more info about passwd command with passwd -h on ubuntu

edit: passwd command varies from system to system. for eg the -d flag is on ubuntu systems but not on macbooks

  • 1
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    – Community Bot
    May 1, 2023 at 6:09

For some reason every answer here seems way longer than it should be or is unnecessarily complex.

Here's the fool-proof way to do it:



Copy the output of that.

Then run:

$ sudo visudo

Paste the line you copied in the previous step, at the bottom of this file.

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