I am a root user, and suppose I want to run any application as another user. Is this possible, without switching to another user?

Something like

# google-chrome user=abc

I am actually executing a CLI program as a non-root user. I have set the sticky bit on and I am using setuid, so the program runs with root privileges. Now I am using system() within the program to invoke a GUI app. But I don't want to run it as root, so I want to temporarily drop root privileges only for that call.

  • 1
    Are you really running as root most of the time?
    – Keith
    Sep 29, 2012 at 13:38
  • 1
    @Keith nothing in the question implies most of the time.
    – kojiro
    Sep 29, 2012 at 14:07
  • Or not, that's why I ask for clarification.
    – Keith
    Sep 29, 2012 at 18:46
  • Yes that is how the first program for each user is run. The first process on the system is run as root. There are a lot of ways to drop privilege, including all the ways that can escalate privilege, plus some more. Sep 29, 2012 at 21:14

4 Answers 4


A portable solution would be:

su abc -c google-chrome

However, as google-chrome is requiring X11 access, this will likely fail unless you unsecured it, which would be a very bad idea, especially while running as root.

If X11 tunelling/forwarding is allowed, a better way would be

ssh -X abc@localhost google-chrome


ssh -Y abc@localhost google-chrome
  • Why would the ssh approach be any better? Wouldn't this still run using the root user's X session?
    – Steve
    May 13, 2018 at 21:04
  • 1
    @Steve Using su abc -c google-chrome will likely fail in the first place because abc cannot use root's session, .Xauthority being unreadable for abc.
    – jlliagre
    May 13, 2018 at 21:22
  • Oops sorry I misunderstood you, I thought you meant it would be better from a security perspective
    – Steve
    May 13, 2018 at 21:24

Short answer: "Yes, this is possible".

if you like to execute a non-X application then just use the following command:

sudo -u abc command

If you like to run some X application as another user but with your own desktop first you need to create a helper script, that will make your life simpler

  • create a bin folder under your home directory:

mkdir -p ~/bin

and using your favorite text editor create a file ~/bin/xsudo as follows:

# (C) serge 2012
# The script is licensed to all users of StackExchange family free of charge
# Fixes/Enhancements to the script are greatly appreciated. 
# SUDO_ASKPASS has to be set to the path of ssh-askpass
# fix the following two lines if your distribution does not match this autodetection
. /etc/profile.d/gnome-ssh-askpass.sh

xauth nlist "${DISPLAY}"|sudo -HA -u $SUDOUSERNAME env --unset=XAUTHORITY \
bash -c "xauth nmerge - ; $*"

then make it executable:

chmod +x ~/bin/xsudo

and use it the same way as sudo but without any switches:

xsudo user application


P.S. Starting xsession from the root account is strongly discouraged!

  • Did you try it ? I'm afraid this particular example can't work.
    – jlliagre
    Sep 29, 2012 at 10:56
  • Yes, because in order to start an X application from another user session you have to allow access to you display. But this is also possible. Unfortunately I do not remember how exactly this to be done.
    – Serge
    Sep 29, 2012 at 11:03
  • @jlliagre However, I remember how to start an X app on the same host in a tricky way: ssh -X abc@localhost google-chrome :)
    – Serge
    Sep 29, 2012 at 11:07
  • Hmm... I'm writing in comments what you already posted 22 mins ago...
    – Serge
    Sep 29, 2012 at 11:15
  • But you still have 6 up votes for a non working solution while I only got one for a correct one. StackExchange model is sometimes quite frustrating ...
    – jlliagre
    Sep 29, 2012 at 13:24

There is a way to run chromium when logged in to the root user. If you open it normally, it will give you an error like "chromium cannot be run as root."

To run it without the error, right click your desktop, create a new launcher with the command: chromium-browser --user-data-dir. You can name it what you want, save it, when you open it, it will give you the chromium browser. (Works in Ubuntu 10.04.4 LTS)

#! /bin/bash
#  (GPL3+) Alberto Salvia Novella (es20490446e)

execute () {
    error=$(eval "${command}" 2>&1 >"/dev/null")

    if [ ${?} -ne 0 ]; then
        echo "${function}: $error"
        exit 1

executeAsNonAdmin () {

    eval setPasswordAsker="SUDO_ASKPASS=/usr/libexec/openssh/ssh-askpass"
    run="runuser ${SUDO_USER} --session-command=\"${setPasswordAsker}\" --command=\"${command}\""
    execute "${function}" "${run}"

executeAsNonAdmin "" "${@}"

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