I understand what su - does

  • logs you into root with the root environment
  • (as opposed to su which logs you into root with your environment)

And I understand what sudo does

  • you are root for one command

But I am unsure what this does: sudo su -

Anyone care to clarify

  • What do you mean by environment?
    – wizzfizz94
    Jun 4, 2020 at 3:03

3 Answers 3


In addition to what you said, su requires the root password and sudo requires your user password

Therefore sudo su - will put you into a root environment but it will ask you for your user password instead of the root password (once sudo has given you root privileges, su - can be executed with no password).

  • 1
    +1 good explanation. If I config my sudo can I make it not require a password? That would made su require 'no password'? Feb 8, 2010 at 14:46
  • 10
    note that sudo -i is a somewhat more direct way of doing the same thing
    – Sam Mason
    Jul 12, 2014 at 11:42

If you are allowed (configuration of sudo) to use the su command, it asks you for your password and then logs you in as root.


Short answer: you will get a root shell.

Long answer: it is different from doing 'su -' within a root shell. Once you exit (eg., Ctrl-D) from 'sudo su -', the execution of sudo will end.

Observed on Debian Wheezy with htop:

'sudo su -' has a child of 'su -', and 'su -' has a child of '-su'.

As mentioned above, root user can do 'su -' without entering password, so doing 'su -' inside of a root shell, you will have two different root shell processes. ending the inner one will let you return back to the outer one.

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