I've read the comunity "RootSudo" documentation and am interested in this line:

You should never use normal sudo to start graphical applications as Root.

Why? What is the difference? Please provide a simple explanation, as I'm just a normal desktop user.

up vote 105 down vote accepted

Graphical applications often store settings and other user-specific data in configuration files written inside the user's home folder. The main mechanism applications use to determine what they should use as the user's home folder is the HOME environment variable. (You can inspect it yourself with echo $HOME).

Suppose you're running gedit (a graphical text editor) as root. If you run sudo gedit, HOME will continue to point toward your home directory, even though the program is running as root. Consequently, gedit will write configuration files as root into your home directory. This will sometimes result in the configuration files being owned by root and thus inaccessible to you (when you later run the program as yourself and not as root). This mainly happens when the application has to create a new configuration file. Newly created files, by default, are owned by the user who creates them (who in this case is root, not you).

That's the primary reason why you should run graphical applications with a graphical sudo frontend rather than with straight sudo. In Ubuntu and most of its derivatives (including Xubuntu and Lubuntu), the standard graphical frontend is gksu/gksudo. In Kubuntu it is kdesudo. (It depends on the desktop environment being used.)

If you want to use sudo directly to run a graphical application like gedit, you can run:

sudo -H gedit

The -H flag makes sudo set HOME to point to root's home folder (which is /root).

That still won't automatically handle the ownership of .Xauthority by copying it to a temp folder (this is the other thing that graphical sudo frontends take care of for you). But in the infrequent event that .Xauthority is inaccessible, you'll get an error saying it is, and then you can fix the problem by deleting it (sudo rm ~/.Xauthority), as it's automatically regenerated. Thus, protecting .Xauthority's ownership and permissions is less important than protecting the ownership and permissions of configuration files.

In contrast to a root-owned .Xauthority, when configuration files become owned as root, it's not always as obvious what the problem is (because graphical programs will often run, but not work very well, and output any useful errors to the console). And it's sometimes a bigger hassle to fix, especially if you're in a situation where you want one or more files in your home directory to be owned by someone other than you (because then you cannot fix it simply by recursively chowning all your files back to yourself).

Therefore, sudo (at least without -H) should not be used to run a graphical application unless you are highly familiar with the app's inner workings and know for sure that it does not ever attempt to write any configuration files.

  • Can I become the owner of all configuration files (or any files) on my Home directory again, if these file has been owned by root? – Nur Mar 20 '13 at 4:46
  • @Nur Assuming there are no files in your home directory that you want to be owned by any other user or that you want to have any other group membership (for sharing), you can run: sudo chmod -R $USER:$USER ~ Unfortunately, those criteria don't always apply. If you have any files where you need to preserve the group owner, you can run sudo chmod -R $USER ~. This is usually sufficient. (If you have files need to be owned by another user in your home directory, even that will be a problem.) – Eliah Kagan Mar 20 '13 at 5:46
  • I just want these files belong to me, thanks. – Nur Mar 20 '13 at 5:53
  • 1
    @EliahKagan Does chmod actually do it? I always thought it was chown that did it. chmod never did it for me. – Wyatt8740 Sep 10 '15 at 20:06
  • 2
    @Wyatt8740 I should definitely have written chown instead of chmod in my comments above. Sorry about that -- and thanks for pointing this out! – Eliah Kagan Dec 31 '16 at 23:10

Simply put:

This prevents files in your home directory becoming owned by root.

Read it here. Also, possibly a duplicate of What is the difference between "gksudo nautilus" and "sudo nautilus"?

An alternative to gksu nautilus and gksu gedit is to use nautilus-admin add-on. It allows you to browse files and directories with Nautilus and then open them as root (Administrator).

Installation is straight forward:

sudo apt install nautilus-admin

Now when you are in nautilus you'll have an extra option to Edit as administrator:

nautilus admin.gif

gedit as root doesn't allow preferences

When you run gedit as root you can't use the preferences you've setup as a regular user for tab stops, convert tabs to spaces, font name, font size, line wrap, etc.

To solve this I've written the script sgedit to inherit user preferences and apply them to root: How can I sync my root gedit with my user gedit's preferences?

  • Call using sgedit filename1 filename2 ...
  • Gets user's gedit settings for tab stops, fonts, line-wrap, etc.
  • Elevates to sudo -H to preserve file ownership whilst getting root powers.
  • Requests password if last sudo has timed out.
  • Gets sudo's gedit settings
  • Compares differences between user and sudo gedit settings
  • Runs gsettings set on the differences only (reduces 174 set commands to a dozen or less. Next time it's run perhaps only one or two changes but often times no changes.
  • Calls gedit as a background task such that terminal prompt reappears immediately.

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