In order to deploy files the the apache server running on OS X host I want to ssh/scp to it using the _www user.

I do not want to use root because I want to be sure that I always put the files with correct permissions.

The problem is that I am not able to login with _www. I did change the password for the account but ssh login still fails after asking me the password two times.

2 Answers 2


The _www user is designed to never have a shell and many of the user attributes needed for ssh to run are missing. Once you log in as any other admin user, you can easily sudo over to user _www to get file permissions correct.

mac:~ me$ dscl . -read /Users/_www
AppleMetaNodeLocation: /Local/Default
NFSHomeDirectory: /Library/WebServer
Password: *
PrimaryGroupID: 70
 World Wide Web Server
RecordName: _www www
RecordType: dsRecTypeStandard:Users
UniqueID: 70
UserShell: /usr/bin/false

mac:~ me$ sudo -u _www -s
bash-3.2$ id
uid=70(_www) gid=70(_www) groups=70(_www),61(localaccounts),12(everyone)

You can compare with a real user to see the missing attributes. If you want to hack, you could try making the NFSHomeDirectory writable and editing the shell - but that would leave all sorts of user files in /Library/Webserver - and your custom mods might get wiped out each update or cause unintended effects down the road.

Any reasons why you don't just create a apache admin user with a UID less than 500 so that it won't show in the log in screen as a normal user?

(or simply use a normal user to ssh in before using sudo to become _www)?

It's a lot less work and more secure. _www is intentionally placed in a sandboxbox to reduce the chance that web browsing does bad things to a running mac.

  • Thanks for the extensive answer. The problem is that I use some other tools for the deployment and these tools are not able to chown. Do you know any workaround that will not risk me to break the web server due to file permissions?
    – sorin
    Jun 10, 2011 at 15:22
  • You should be able to make the user you use be in a group appropriate for the existing files - what directories do you deploy to? _www has no problems reading files owned by root (or any other user) it's more a umask/chmod issue than ownership.
    – bmike
    Jun 10, 2011 at 15:30
  • Deployment software, that is unable to chown? Really? I think you need to find some better software, personally. Jun 10, 2011 at 23:13

As mentioned, you couldn't ssh directly as _www because the password may not be set, and the shell may be set to /usr/bin/false.

Alternatively, you can ssh in as a regular user, and if your user has admin privileges you could do this:

(me@local)$ ssh me@myserver
(me@myserver)$ sudo -u _www -s
Password: (type it in)
(_www@myserver)$ whoami

I've just done this on both Mac OS X Snow Leopard and Lion. It's great for checking that permissions are setup correctly.

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