Mitch posted a good link in comment: Why is it bad to login as root? and the Debian site has the main benefits listed in their wiki:
sudo is better (safer) than opening a session as root for a
number of reasons, including:
Nobody needs to know the root password (
sudo prompts for the current user's password). Extra privileges can be granted to
individual users temporarily, and then taken away without the need for
a password change.
It's easy to run only the commands that require special privileges via
sudo; the rest of the time, you work as an unprivileged user,
which reduces the damage that mistakes can cause.
Auditing/logging: when a
sudo command is executed, the original username and the command are logged.
For the reasons above, switching to root using
sudo -i (or
is usually deprecated because it cancels the above features.
Regarding Ubuntu The benefits and disadvantages are listed on our wiki:
Benefits of using sudo
There are a number of benefits to Ubuntu leaving root logins disabled
by default, including:
The installer has fewer questions to ask.
Users don't have to remember an extra password for occasional use (i.e. the root password). If they did, they'd be likely to forget it
(or record it unsafely, allowing anyone to easily crack into their
It avoids the "I can do anything" interactive login by default. You will be prompted for a password before major changes can happen,
which should make you think about the consequences of what you are
sudo adds a log entry of the command(s) run (in
/var/log/auth.log). If you mess up, you can go back and see what
commands were run.
On a server, every cracker trying to brute-force their way in will know it has an account named root and will try that first. What they
don't know is what the usernames of your other users are. Since the
root account password is locked, this attack becomes essentially
meaningless, since there is no password to crack or guess in the first
- Allows easy transfer for admin rights by adding and removing users from groups. When you use a single root password, the only way
to de-authorize users is to change the root password.
sudo can be setup with a much more fine-grained security policy.
The root account password does not need to be shared with everybody who needs to perform some type of administrative task(s) on
the system (see the previous bullet).
The authentication automatically expires after a short time (which can be set to as little as desired or 0); so if you walk away from the
terminal after running commands as root using sudo, you will not be
leaving a root terminal open indefinitely.
Downsides of using sudo
Although for desktops the benefits of using sudo are great, there are
possible issues which need to be noted:
Redirecting the output of commands run with sudo requires a different approach. For instance consider
sudo ls > /root/somefile
will not work since it is the shell that tries to write to that file.
You can use
ls | sudo tee -a /root/somefile to append, or
ls | sudo
tee /root/somefile to overwrite contents. You could also pass the
whole command to a shell process run under sudo to have the file
written to with root permissions, such as
sudo sh -c "ls >
In a lot of office environments the ONLY local user on a system is root. All other users are imported using NSS techniques such as
nss-ldap. To setup a workstation, or fix it, in the case of a network
failure where nss-ldap is broken, root is required. This tends to
leave the system unusable unless cracked. An extra local user, or an
enabled root password is needed here. The local user account should
have its $HOME on a local disk, not on NFS (or any other networked
filesystem), and a .profile/.bashrc that doesn't reference any files
on NFS mounts. This is usually the case for root, but if adding a
non-root rescue account, you will have to take these precautions
manually. However the advantage of using a local user with sudo is
that commands can be easily tracked, as mentioned in the benefits
And we always have had it (from the very 1st release).
Oldest reference I found speaks about 4.10 that has "sudo"
SHUTTLEWORTH LAUNCHES DEBIAN-BASED UBUNTU LINUX
... The Debian-based Ubuntu Linux includes Gnome 2.8, kernel 22.214.171.124, OpenOffice.org 1.1.2 and comes with a text-based, but easy, installation procedure. Ubuntu has disabled the root user preferring to use sudo much like Mac OSX does ...