Some time ago when I installed Ubuntu I chose a rather stupid username for my account that I do not want to use anymore.

How do I change this (including the name of my home directory, and the name in the terminal) without loosing settings for applications?
How do I keep permissions and my keys for various authentification (e.g. email, SSH, GPG and more)?
What settings could possibly get lost if I changed my username?

up vote 266 down vote accepted

Unix-like operating systems decouple the user name from the user identity, so you may safely change the name without affecting the ID. All permissions, files, etc are tied to your identity (uid), not your username.

To manage every aspect of the user database, you use the usermod tool.

To change username (it is probably best to do this without being logged in):

sudo usermod -l newUsername oldUsername

This however, doesn't rename the home folder.

To change home-folder, use

sudo usermod -d /home/newHomeDir -m newUsername

after you changed the username.

For instance, you could logout, drop to a console (Ctrl+Alt+F1), and sudo su - to become true root (as opposed to sudo -s, where $HOME is still /home/yourname.) Maybe you also have to kill some still running processes from this user first. To do so, enter ps -u username, look for the matching PID and kill them by kill PID-number.

Update: as arrange mentioned, some files may reference your old home directory. You can either keep a symlink for backward compatibility, e g ln -s /home/newname /home/oldname or you can change the file contents with sed -i.bak 's/*oldname*/*newname*/g' *list of files* It creates a backup for each file with a .bak extension.

Some additional information for not so experienced users like me:
As I only have ONE user account (administrator), it would not let me change the username ("you are already logged in" was the response in TTY1 (Ctrl+Alt+F1). To get around this:

  1. Login with your old credentials and add a new user, e.g. "temporary" in TTY1:

    sudo adduser temporary
    

    set the password.

  2. Allow the temporary user to run sudo by adding the user to sudo group:

    sudo adduser temporary sudo
    
  3. Log out with the command exit.
  4. Return to tty1: Login with the 'temporary' user account and password. Change your username and folder as mentioned above. exit (until you get the login prompt)
  5. Go back to TTY7 (Ctrl+Alt+F7) to login on the GUI/normal desktop screen and see if this works.
  6. Delete temporary user and folder:

    sudo deluser temporary
    sudo rm -r /home/temporary
    
  • 9
    This is unfortunately not true for different configuration files under $HOME, try running something like grep -IRFl /home/username ~ and you will see how many references to your home directory are stored there. – arrange Apr 8 '11 at 9:17
  • 1
    Was a simple fix -- Just had to use the User Accounts editor in unity, followed by restart. – Steve Koch Feb 24 '14 at 17:29
  • 5
    For those with an encrypted home folder, you'll have to edit /home/.ecryptfs/oldusername/.ecryptfs/Private.mnt to point to your new home folder, else you won't be able to login via Unity. – raphael Jan 22 '16 at 21:57
  • 2
    sudo usermod -d /home/edge -m edge yields: usermod: Directory /home/empedokles could not be renamed in /home/edge i.e. step 4 won't work. – empedokles Oct 13 '16 at 10:50
  • 2
    @JTC never edit sudoers with plain nano. Always use visudo. – styrofoam fly Jan 4 at 11:09

To put it all together:

  1. At the start screen press Ctrl+Alt+F1.
  2. Log in using your username and password.
  3. Set a password for the "root" account.

    sudo passwd root
    
  4. Log out.

    exit
    
  5. Log in using the "root" account and the password you have previously set.

  6. Change the username and the home folder to the new name that you want.

    usermod -l <newname> -d /home/<newname> -m <oldname>
    
  7. Change the group name to the new name that you want.

    groupmod -n <newgroup> <oldgroup>
    
  8. Lock the "root" account.

    passwd -l root
    
  9. If you were using ecryptfs (encrypted home directory). Mount your encrypted directory using ecryptfs-recover-private and edit <mountpoint>/.ecryptfs/Private.mnt to reflect your new home directory.

  10. Log out.

    exit
    
  11. Press Ctrl+Alt+F7.

And now you can log in using your new username.

  • 4
    If after usermod -l you get a user <oldname> is currently used by process <processno>, you can find that process (probably a daemon, or tmux/screen) using ps aux | grep <processno>. You might want to gracefully stop that process, otherwise you can kill <processno>. – RedPixel Sep 30 '15 at 8:46
  • Thank you for putting this comment together. It was very useful. Two things that might be mentioned though. After step 4 I rebooted so I wouldn't get error messages at step 6. Also, after this process is complete, the /etc/passwd file will have and ID comment matching the old username. This will cause the login screen to display the old login name. I couldn't find a decent way to fix it from the command line, but I did fix it by logging into the user account, going to the account settings and changing the "Login Name" to the username. This updated the /etc/passwd file and fixed the problem. – Jibbers Mar 28 '16 at 17:17
  • 1
    This is the most easy and fool-proof way to do it. It's better reboot after step 4 as @Jibbers suggested. – Yerke Apr 8 '16 at 5:45
  • I'd mention that the "bookmarks in the File browser windows" are now pointing to the old folders, so I have to delete those bookmarks. – ollydbg23 Jun 4 '16 at 8:47
  • Won't work. If you press Ctrl+Alt+F1 at the beginning it's trying to log in into the newly created user which it won't allow. – empedokles Oct 13 '16 at 8:54

Restart in recovery mode and go to the root prompt shell ("Drop to root shell prompt")

First remount the root

mount -o remount,rw /

To change the username and home folder name,

usermod -l <newname> -d /home/<newname> -m <oldname>

For group name,

groupmod -n <newgroup> <oldgroup>
  • 1
    when I use usermod -l <newname> -d /home/<newname> -m <oldname> this gives me error usermod: user oldusername is currently used by process 3170 and if I kill the process still it gives me the same error. using ubuntu 13.10 – Waqas Nov 24 '13 at 13:48
  • 4
    DO NOT DO THIS IF YOUR HOME DIRECTORY IS ENCRYPTED!!!! I followed this procedure and it sent me for a wild 2 hour ride... The only way to recover is to perform this procedure again and put the original (disliked) name back in. The problem you will have is "Cannot chdir into mount point" – Mike Oct 28 '16 at 12:21

(Using Ubuntu 13.10, 14.04, 16.04)   Click on the "System Settings" icon.   Then click on "User Accounts".   Your administrator account should be displayed.   Click on the "Unlock" button.   Enter your user password as requested to allow changes to your account.   Once unlocked, you can click on your old User name that you wish to change and type in a new User name to replace it.   When you have typed in the new name, click on the "Lock" button to make the change permanent.   Restart Ubuntu.

  • 1
    This did not change the username for me, just the name. The old username still appears in the terminal, and as the home directory and group (even after rebooting). – DougC Mar 7 at 19:30

When receiving usermod: can't change /etc/password just run the following commands:

In the root recovery console run:

mount -o remount,rw /

Then rerun:

usermod -l <newname> -d /home/<newname> -m <oldname>

when you do usermod -l <newname> -d /home/<newname> -m <oldname> you will get useradd: can't change /etc/passwd error message to avoid this just add sudo -- to above command like

sudo -- usermod -l <newname> -d /home/<newname> -m <oldname>

and

sudo --  groupmod -n <newgroup> <oldgroup>

Since not all the PCs have the usermod app you can do it manually. As of root open /etc/passwd to edit:

sudo vim /etc/passwd

and change the user's name at the beginning of a line:

user:x:500:501:username:home/user:/bin/bash

to:

newuser:x:500:501:username:home/user:/bin/bash

then if you worked of root just login, and if you have been logged in to user, logoff, and relogin.

  • I tried this way (before I discovered the usermod command) and the user's password is no longer accepted. – Ben Voigt May 11 '16 at 17:51
  • @BenVoigt not all the pcs have the usermod – Малъ Скрылевъ May 11 '16 at 18:25
  • 2
    It's Ubuntu! If it doesn't have usermod your install is broken as it is part of the passwd package, which is required. – Auspex Mar 6 '17 at 14:10

protected by heemayl Nov 19 '15 at 10:38

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