8

Currently, for all my commands that require root access, I have to type them out on a command line.

I would like for the GUI to prompt me to key in my password, when sudo is required, instead of having to type out the commands from command line.

Is there any way to enable this? Previously one version of Ubuntu desktop had this feature out of the box.

This version of Ubuntu (that I am now running) I upgraded from a server installation.

I will add, my user account is already added to sudo group. Thus I can run commands such as sudo gedit or sudo apt-get but I'm not able to install software in the Ubuntu Software Center.

9

TL;DR: Try installing the policykit-1 and policykit-1-gnome packages.

You probably need polkit (a.k.a. PolicyKit).

Most graphical system administration utilities in Ubuntu, including the Software Center, can usually be run without sudo or anything quite like it. You just run them the same way you'd run any program.

When it comes time to perform a task requiring root privileges, they use polkit to perform the required actions. polkit is a separate mechanism from sudo, for allowing administrators to perform actions as root. It's installed on desktop Ubuntu systems but by default is not part of Ubuntu Server installations.

Thus the normal behavior of the Software Center is that you can invoke it simply as software-center, it will not prompt you to authenticate at that time, but then when you tell it to install or remove software, it will prompt you (graphically) to authenticate.

It sounds from your description like your system started as an Ubuntu Server system with no GUI, and then you installed a GUI. Probably the policykit-1 Install policykit-1 and policykit-1-gnome Install policykit-1-gnome packages have not been installed. If you install the, polkit will most likely start working for Software Center and other such utilities.

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install policykit-1 policykit-1-gnome

Then you should be able to just run:

software-center

(Or select the Software Center graphically as provided for by whatever desktop environment you installed.)

If you want a fully functional Ubuntu desktop system, I recommend installing the metapackage for whatever "flavor" of Ubuntu you want to turn your system into. Basically, if you want a regular Ubuntu desktop system, install ubuntu-desktop Install ubuntu-desktop.

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install ubuntu-desktop

This should fill in the various gaps, like not having polkit, that come with installing a more minimal GUI on your server system. On the other hand, if you prefer a more minimal GUI, you can just install those polkit packages.

For more information, see How do you run Ubuntu Server with a GUI?

sudo with graphical authentication.

If you really do need run commands as root but get a graphical authentication dialog, what you're looking for is gksudo (or gksu). This is provided by the gksu Install gksu package. It is a graphical frontend for sudo.

Typically gksudo is used to run graphical applications as root (or some other user besides the user launching them). But you can also use it to run non-graphical commands--provided the commands can be run with sudo.

You can run gksudo from a terminal but you don't have to. You can run it from the Alt+F2 (run command) dialog or put it in the Exec= line of a .desktop file (or any of the other ways you run graphical programs).

Note that you should consider using gksudo to run graphical applications as root even when you are running them from a terminal, because commands like sudo ... where ... is a graphical application can actually break the per-application configurations of the non-root users running them. (Fortunately this is fixable.) sudo gedit is particularly notorious.

For more information on the problem with sudo for graphical applications and what to do instead, see:

There's also polkit-based graphical way ...for non-graphical commands.

gksudo works fine for running both graphical and non-graphical programs. You should probably use that.

But an alternative, using polkit instead of sudo and only working for non-graphical programs, is pkexec.

For example, if you run pkexec touch /root/foo.txt, you'll be prompted with a graphical authentication dialog, and if the authentication succeeds, touch /root/foo.txt is run, creating (or freshening) foo.txt in the /root folder.

  • pkexec will use a non-graphical dialog, requiring a terminal, in the event that it cannot create a graphical dialog. But this is unlikely to happen if you're running it through a facility provided by your graphical shell or desktop environment.
  • Why does pkexec work only for non-graphical programs? Actually it also runs graphical programs, but only if polkit has been specially configured to allow it--which is not usually done. See man pkexec (and the upstream version, with screenshots), this answer and that answer for some details, if you're interested.

sudo vs. polkit (some technical details, only if you're interested)

A new gksu/gksudo will use polkit instead of sudo to do its work, though this version has not been widely adopted. I mainly bring it up to recommend the README file in its source code (written by Gustavo Noronha Silva), which explains the important differences between sudo and polkit. To quote from it briefly:

PolicyKit solves the problem of an application needing higher privileges by providing facilities to let users authenticate themselves and for applications to verify authentication and authorization information. The application has to be structured in a way that all privileged operation is done by a (preferably) small D-Bus service, which is commanded by the unprivileged code. All "actions" that are performed need proper authorization, which is handled through Policykit.

4. Why maintain gksu?

So, this essentially makes gksu unnecessary, since applications no longer need to run as a privileged user, and user authentication is done by PolicyKit's Auth Agent. But applications need to be refactored to adopt this new structure, and there are some cases in which what you want is indeed something that runs programs as root.

These issues underlie the situation I believe you're in:

  • Software Center is designed to use polkit for privilege elevation, so that only specific actions need to be performed as root. For this, it needs polkit, which was missing (or broken) on your system.
  • Because it is designed to use polkit, there's no pre-made launcher to start the Software Center as root. polkit obviates the need to run graphical administration tools as root, most of the time.
  • But sometimes you really do need to run a graphical program as root. In that case, you can use gksu/gksudo.
    (...Which may eventually use polkit behind the scenes--but the gksudo currently in Ubuntu is the traditional one that uses sudo).
  • Hi Eliah, yes, it was a server without GUI and i was just trying out ubuntu GUI, I ran the command sudo apt-get install ubuntu-desktop im not sure if the policy kit is installed. Will try to install it anyway. Currently upgrading from 12.04 to 14.04. – Sean Aug 28 '14 at 7:13
  • I've encountered a situation where I have a GUI application that I want to run as normally (non-root), but it just needs to read from a serial port which is owned by root. The inability to just grant this program a single privilege is really annoying (in other words, I want a full object capability system). – CMCDragonkai Aug 24 '16 at 10:08
  • 3
    Please not that gksu was deprecated and dropped from Ubuntu 18.04 – Nathan F. Apr 28 '18 at 17:04
4

A convenient way is to create a dedicated .desktop file, or add your commands to an existing one, asking your password via GUI (gksu). In the example below, I add the command to run Gedit and Software Center with sudo privileges to the Gedit launcher. You will need to have gksu installed to use this setup: sudo apt-get install gksu

  1. Copy the Gedit .desktop file in/usr/share/applications/to~/.local/share/applications`:

    cp /usr/share/applications/gedit.desktop ~/.local/share/applications/gedit.desktop
    

    and open it for editing (drag it onto an open gedit window)

  2. Look for the line: Actions=Window;Document;

  3. Add the names of your commands to the line (these are not the names you will see in your interface, only used for internal reference in the file)

    Actions=Window;Document;gedit;Ubuntu Software Center;
    
  4. Add the corresponding sections at the bottom of the file:

    [Desktop Action gedit]
    Name=Gedit  (with gksu)
    Exec=gksudo gedit
    OnlyShowIn=Unity;
    
    [Desktop Action Ubuntu Software Center]
    Name=Ubuntu Software Center (with gksu)
    Exec=gksudo /usr/bin/software-center
    OnlyShowIn=Unity;
    
  5. Close the file and drag it onto the launcher

Now you can run gedit and Software Center with sudo privileges:

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  • Indeed. I have no objection. The reason I commented about USC is that a major part of the question is about how the OP can make their system that was created from a server installation work like a normal Ubuntu desktop system with respect to authenticating graphically for administrative tasks. My answer focuses on that and explaining the generalities of running programs as root graphically. In doing so, it skimps on the mechanics of gksu/gksudo. So your answer is both good and necessary! I just hope the OP also installs/fixes polkit, as I think that'll make the OS work the way they want. – Eliah Kagan Aug 24 '14 at 7:43

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