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Don Burleson Blog 







Lost Root Password.
Now What?

Oracle Tips by Burleson Consulting
January 6, 2004
Don Burleson

Special Thanks To Adam Haeder for this tip.

There are a number of different ways to do root password recovery on a Linux system. Different distributions make it easier than others. RedHat makes it very easy.

You must be physically in front of the system. Reboot the computer (usually ctrl-alt-delete will do it safely) and after POST, the system will come to a boot loader screen. Newer versions of RedHat (including the AS versions) use grub as the boot loader, so you should see a graphical menu in which to select what kernel you want to boot.

Select the kernel to boot and then hit 'e'. This will take you into a mini-editor where you can change the line that's used to boot the system. What we want to do is to pass an additional argument to the kernel, telling it what runlevel we want to boot into. This will override the default runlevel setting in /etc/inittab.

So after hitting 'e', we cursor down to the line that starts with 'kernel' and cursor all the way to the end of the line. Put a space after any existing kernel arguments and type the number '1' (without the single quotes). Hit enter here to accept the change and you're back at the grub boot screen. Then hit 'b' to boot to this line. The system will boot into
runlevel 1 (single user mode) and you will be dropped to a root prompt without being prompted for the password. From here you can type 'passwd' to change the root password. When you're done, type 'exit' and the system
will boot to the default runlevel.

This works on all distributions; however some distros by default will require that you know the root password before letting you boot into runlevel 1 (Mandrake and SuSe come to mind). You can also password-protect grub itself so you have to know a special password in order to change the boot options.

On distros like this, the easiest way to change the root pw is to boot off of a linux bootable cd-rom. There are many freely available 'rescue'-type distros out there, some even small enough to fit on a floppy. My personal favorite is Tom's Boot/Root disk ( The steps to do password recovery with a boot/root disk are:

- Boot to the boot/root disk
- Mount your existing root partition under a temp directory
- edit the /etc/shadow file on your root partition
- Remove the encrypted password from root's entry in the shadow file (the
second field in this colon delimited file)
- Reboot and boot to your normal partition. Root's password is now blank.

On a system with the root partition on /dev/sda1 (The first partition on the first scsi disk drive) it would look like this:

Boot to Tom's Boot/Root disk
Log in as root

# mkdir /tmp/harddisk
# mount /dev/sda1 /tmp/harddisk
# vi /tmp/harddisk/etc/shadow
< Remove root's encrypted password and save >
# cd /
# umount /tmp/harddisk
# shutdown -r now



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