Ask Different is a question and answer site for power users of Apple hardware and software. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I'm used to "classic" unixoid user right system with a machine running a normal user, as main account, and a super user (or root account), just for maintenance or configuration purposes.

Then I was really wondered about Mac OS X (I'm currently running Leopard). What purpose has the admin user account? If I'm installing something via console (as a normal user, not admin) I have apparently to log in as admin and then log in as root user (via sudo -s because su strangely doesn't work).

Does anyone know what the main reason for this is or how to fix it?

share|improve this question
up vote 3 down vote accepted

This is by design. A non-admin user is defined by not being able to use sudo (and the graphical equivalent in the mac windowmanager). You can still enter the admin user and password using sudo -u or the graphical equivalent but short of compromising/modifying the built in controls, that's how the system is designed to work.

The su command doesn't work as you expect since the root user in Mac OS X is disabled by default for security reasons. Sudo has enhanced logging and sudo -s gets you the same shell as su - would when a root user is enabled.

So if you don't want to change to using sudo you can enable root on your mac.

share|improve this answer
This is just this kind of manual I searched for! – beyeran May 11 '11 at 5:55
Thanks to @KeithB for pointing out errors that are now corrected in this answer. – bmike May 11 '11 at 13:35

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.