What's a good way of running a shell script as a different user. I'm using Debian etch, and I know which user I want to impersonate.

If I was doing it manually, I would do:

su postgres
./backup_db.sh /tmp/test

Since I want to automate the process, I need a way to run backup_db.sh as postgres (inheriting the environment, etc)


8 Answers 8


To run your script as another user as one command, run:

/bin/su -c "/path/to/backup_db.sh /tmp/test" - postgres

Breaking it down:
 /bin/su : switch user
 -c "/path/to..." : command to run
 - : option to su, make it a login session (source profile for the user)
 postgres : user to become

I recommend always using full paths in scripts like this - you can't always guarantee that you'll be in the right directory when you su (maybe someone changed the homedir on you, who knows). I also always use the full path to su (/bin/su) because I'm paranoid. It's possible someone can edit your path and cause you to use a compromised version of su.

  • It will always require me type in password ? How can get round it ?
    – zjffdu
    Mar 29, 2012 at 7:15
  • 3
    It will always require you to type in a password if you are running the command as a non-root user. If you want to avoid the password, you can configure sudo to allow that. HOWEVER - configuring sudo to allow a user to run su allows them to become any user. I would suggest creating a script for your command, setting the script permissions to 700 and owned by root, then configuring sudo to allow a user to run that single script.
    – baumgart
    May 22, 2012 at 15:39
  • I believe - while this answer might work for the OP - it is not entirely correct. To my knowledge, using both - (or --login) together with --command, -c doesn't actually start a login session, because -c always forces a non-login shell.
    – JeanMertz
    May 1, 2013 at 13:46
  • 1
    Note: for portability, the - postgress should appear at the end of the command. From the man page: When - is used, it must be specified before any username. For portability it is recommended to use it as last option, before any username. The other forms (-l and --login) do not have this restriction.
    – jonny
    May 2, 2017 at 14:45
  • will this work on www-data user ?
    – Chang Zhao
    Aug 30, 2021 at 21:56

If the target user to run has nologin shelll defined, then you can use the -s option to specify the shell:

/bin/su -s /bin/bash -c '/path/to/your/script' testuser

See the following question: run script as user who has nologin shell


To automate this on a schedule you could put it in the user's crontab. Cron jobs won't get the full environment though, but it it might be better to put all the env variables you need in the script itself anyways.

To edit the user's crontab:

sudo crontab -u postgres -e
  • Could you please explain more? May 26, 2016 at 15:23

This should be an informative read -- setuid on shell scripts

If you run su with a "- username" argument sequence, it will make a login shell for the user to give the same environment as the user. Usually, used to quickly execute your script with your home environment from a different login.

  • This can be useful, if you need to perform a series of actions. But bear in mind that most system service accounts shouldn't have valid home paths and shells.
    – Dan Carley
    Jul 23, 2009 at 10:59

Try the su manpage:

su -c script_run_as_postgres.sh - postgres

Alernately, you could use sudo to allow you to run just that comman as postgres without a password. It takes some setup in your /etc/sudoers, though.


The "su -c ... " method posted by others is a good one. For automation, you could add the script to the crontab of the user you need it to execute as.


You can also use:

sudo -u postgres script_run_as_postgres.sh

  • If you need a login shell, you can run this command with -i
    – nobody
    Jan 22, 2021 at 8:17

If the user already has an entry to sudo and you don't know superuser's password then you can try following: This one restarts the postgres initialized at /data/my-db/pgsql/9.6/data

sudo su - postgres -c "/usr/pgsql-9.6/bin/pg_ctl -D /data/my-db/pgsql/9.6/data -l /var/log/pgsql.log restart"

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