I can change the bash command prompt for the Terminal for an ordinary user without issue. (In my case, I modified the $PS1 variable in /etc/bashrc.) However, that change does not modify the command prompt when one elevates privileges to root using sudo -s.

Does anyone know where the command prompt preference is stored on a macOS Sierra (10.12.5) machine for an admin user who has elevated his privileges to root using sudo -s?

I have tried modifying the following files...

  • /var/root/.bash_profile
  • /var/root/.bash_rc
  • /var/root/bash_rc
  • /var/root/.profile
  • ~/.profile

I have also tried using the command export PS1="Some prompt here# ", which changes the root prompt temporarily, but it does not stick when the session is ended and a new one is started.

  • Is this for a machine that has the root account enabled?
    – fd0
    Jul 14, 2017 at 13:04
  • No, the root account is not enabled. I am trying to get the prompt to change when I do a "sudo -s" from an admin user. Jul 15, 2017 at 3:08

3 Answers 3


From the sudo manual:

-s, --shell    Run the shell specified by the SHELL environment variable if it is set or the shell
               specified by the invoking user's password database entry.  If a command is specified, it
               is passed to the shell for execution via the shell's -c option.  If no command is
               specified, an interactive shell is executed.

An interactive shell would read the invoking user's .bashrc. So, Tony Williams' solution would work if it is in your .bashrc. But da4's solution should also work if it is placed in your .bash_profile.

  • Thank you. Modifying ~/.bashrc changed the root prompt when using sudo -s. Jul 16, 2017 at 3:31

Add the SUDO_PS1 environment variable to your ~/.bash_profile and then export the variable, such as:

export SUDO_PS1="\[\h:\w\] \u\\$ "

Note however this will only change the root prompt as it appears after you have elevated your rights via sudo.

A good list of prompt variables can be found here.

  • The above works, but only temporarily. If I quit terminal and then relaunch it, the changes are not saved. Jul 15, 2017 at 3:11
  • If you simply enter that export into an existing shell, then yes, the changes will not persist. You must add it to your ~/.bash_profile. Tested & confirmed on 10.11.6.
    – da4
    Jul 15, 2017 at 17:29
  • I am curious that why root is so special.
    – Belter
    Sep 4, 2022 at 10:13
  • Remember that sudo is not the same thing as root - you are elevating privileges, but on modern macOS root no longer gets you complete and unfettered access to the entire system. A good Mac-specific overview starts here: scriptingosx.com/2018/04/demystifying-root-on-macos-part-1
    – da4
    Sep 4, 2022 at 17:46

I am assuming that you are not actually logging in to your Mac as root since enabling root login is a really bad thing.

So you are using the command sudo -s to open a root shell from your own login. Under those circumstances the profile being run is your own. The best way to make any changes, such as to the prompt is to use an if in your profile, for example

# color prompt and make root red
if [ `id -u` = 0 ]
    PS1="\[\033[31m\]\h:\W \u\$\[\033[0m\] "
    PS1="\[\033[34m\]\h:\w \u\$\[\033[0m\] "

In this example the top PS1 is for root and sets the prompt to red and the second PS1 is for any other user, e.g. you. You can make any other environment changes you want in the if as well.

  • Yes, you are correct. I am logging in as an admin user and elevating my privileges to root using "sudo -s". Your answer does not change the prompt when I have elevating my privileges to root. I did up-vote it though, as I really like the prompt color change. Jul 15, 2017 at 3:30

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