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This seems like it should be simple, but if it is, I must be missing something. I have a Linux NIS master from which I would like to be able to change users' passwords (in cases of forgotten passwords and similar things), but I can't.

Some details: I'm running Scientific Linux 6.4, with ypserv-2.19-26, ypbind-1.20.4-30, and yp-tools-2.9-12. NIS is configured to use /etc/yp/passwd for its passwd map (i.e. not the system passwd file). The system is a client of itself and ypwhich returns "localhost".

Because unprivileged users should not be logging in to the NIS master, we have the following set in /etc/nsswitch.conf:

passwd:     files compat

and this at the end of /etc/passwd:


In addition, /etc/pam.d/passwd contains the standard RHEL directives:

password   substack system-auth

/etc/pam.d/system-auth is a symlink to /etc/pam.d/system-auth-ac, which contains:

password    requisite try_first_pass retry=3 type=
password    sufficient md5 shadow nis nullok try_first_pass use_authtok
password    required

(As a side note, we're using md5 instead of sha512 because we have some Solaris clients that don't support sha512.)

If I run passwd as root, it prompts me for the new passwd, but then fails to change it:

$ sudo passwd phil
Changing password for user phil.
New password: 
Retype new password: 
NIS password could not be changed.
passwd: Authentication token manipulation error

The log file (/var/log/secure) is unhelpful:

passwd: pam_unix(passwd:chauthtok): password not changed for phil on ypmaster.domain.tld

If, instead, I run yppasswd, I can change the password:

$ sudo yppasswd phil
Changing NIS account information for phil on ypmaster.domain.tld.
Please enter root password:
Changing NIS password for phil on ypmaster.domain.tld.
Please enter new password:
Please retype new password:

The NIS password has been changed on ypmaster.domain.tld.

But that requires any sysadmin who needs to reset a password to know (or look up from our locked password safe) the system's root password, which is a scenario I'd like to avoid.

So how do I need to configure the master to allow us to change user passwords without having to type the system's root password every time?

share|improve this question
up vote 4 down vote accepted

As you've discovered, you cannot use passwd as root on a NIS Client to change users' passwords on the NIS server. This is really common sense security.

Similarly you've discovered that yppasswd requires the root password (on the NIS server) before it will let you change a user's password. This is an additional bit of security predicated on the fact that you should be the NIS admin (root on the NIS server) to go about changing other people's passwords.
Unfortunately that bit of security isn't what you want, so yppasswd is getting in the way here.

I think this is actually a relatively new thing, or an OS-specific variant -- back in my Sun Admin days when I dealt with NIS regularly yppasswd just trusted you if you were root on the NIS server...

Because of your requirement (letting authorized admins make changes to NIS passwords) What I would suggest doing is writing a shell script (or language of your liking) that edits the NIS maps directly and rebuilds/pushes them.
You can do this with a little creative sed work, and then grant your admins the ability to run that script using sudo.

Ultimately though you probably want to consider moving away from NIS (LDAP is the new hotness for replacing NIS, pretty much a drop-in replacement, and WAY easier to manage).

share|improve this answer
+1 for LDAP recommendation. So much simpler than NIS. – EEAA Aug 21 '13 at 21:08
Yeah, we just transitioned from a Solaris 10 master to the Scientific Linux master and this behavior was something of a surprise. I wrote a simple script that's handling everything for us, and LDAP's been on our horizon for a while but other projects have been taking priority. – asciiphil Aug 24 '13 at 20:44

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