I am migrating over a server to new hardware. A part of the system will be rebuild. What files and directories are needed to copy so that usernames, passwords, groups, file ownership and file permissions stay in intact?

Ubuntu 12.04 LTS.

3 Answers 3


Start with

/etc/passwd - user account information less the encrypted passwords 
/etc/shadow - contains encrypted passwords 
/etc/group - user group information 
/etc/gshadow - - group encrypted passwords

Be sure to ensure that the permissions on the files are correct too

  • 6
    +1 from me. I wondered about /home as well; generally, ssh keys live in the home directories, so ~/.ssh at least can be considered part of the authentication infrastructure.
    – MadHatter
    Mar 20, 2014 at 8:33
  • 2
    @MadHatter: In truth I kind of assumed that the OP would know that they needed to copy the user home directories but I guess you never know here on SF :)
    – user9517
    Mar 20, 2014 at 8:37
  • 2
    Don't worry, the author knows. Mar 20, 2014 at 8:53
  • 2
    Although the above will work, you should realy copy over gshadow too.
    – symcbean
    Mar 20, 2014 at 9:45
  • 7
    An important point: this assumes a server with file-based authentication only. To migrate a server that uses e.g. LDAP or NIS these files will not be enough, especially if the authentication server is on the same system. Other subsystems (e.g. Samba, SQL) may also have their own authentication databases.
    – thkala
    Mar 20, 2014 at 16:55

I did this with Gentoo Linux already and copied:

  • /etc/passwd
  • /etc/shadow
  • /etc/group
  • /etc/gshadow

that's it.

If the files on the other machine have different owner IDs, you might change them to the ones on /etc/group and /etc/passwd and then you have the effective permissions restored.


Be careful that you don't delete or renumber system accounts when copying over the files mentioned in the other answers. System services don't usually have fixed user ids, and if you've installed the packages in a different order to the original machine (which is very likely if it was long-lived), then they'll end up in a different order. I tend to copy those files to somewhere like /root/saved-from-old-system and hand-edit them in order to just copy the non-system accounts. (There's probably a tool for this, but I don't tend to copy systems like this often enough to warrant investigating one.)

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