Saturday, June 18, 2011

Guest sessions and user management

Has a friend ever asked "Can I borrow your laptop to check my email?" Maybe you're uncomfortable handing over your account to them. There's a simple answer for that: the guest account.

Guest accounts are available in Fedora 15, but are disabled by default. You can activate this feature by installing the xguest package, which is easy enough to do by going to Activities - Applications - Add/Remove Software.

The Guest account doesn't have a password. Also, any files created there (including saved passwords from the browser) are deleted automatically after they logout, so it's great for short-term use like checking email or quickly updating their Facebook.

There's more about guest sessions and user management on Fedora 15, at LinuxBSDos. The article has a lot of information about account management in general. It's pretty straightforward, but screenshots are always good.

7 comments:

  1. Do you by any chance know if this is also available/works the same way on Ubuntu? Also, are the same applications available for both the guest and main users? If so, how does it handle saved passwords for applications like Pidgin, Skype, et cetera? I'd be curious to know, because this might come in handy (and actually would have come in handy many months ago, but that's a totally different story).
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    a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

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  2. I don't know first-hand if the xguest package (web site) is available for Ubuntu, but I don't see any reason that it wouldn't be.

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  3. This guest account does have the ability to run any program installed on the system - Firefox, Pino, Pidgin, Terminal, whatever. They can write to disk, anywhere that the guest user has access to - typically their home directory, and the /tmp directory. The home directory is set up on a tmpfs filesystem.

    When the guest user logs out, all their files are wiped everywhere. This actually got in the way when I was trying to test the guest account, since all the files I'd written in /tmp were gone when I logged out as the guest, and logged in as my regular account.

    So yes, the guest user can save passwords in whatever application they are using. But as soon as they logout, that saved data is gone.

    This is a very secure method to do a guest account, also referred to in the docs as a "kiosk" account (where you might set up a general purpose computer for people to use in an airport, etc to check email.)

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  4. That wasn't quite what I was asking. What I meant to say was, suppose I've saved my username and password in Skype in the regular account. When I log into the guest account and start Skype, will it prompt a login from the user or will it automatically log into my saved profile?
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    a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

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  5. Hi PV,

    To answer your question: Your regular account is a different account from the Guest user, so Guest has its own home directory and its own profiles. If you login as Guest, you won't have access to the Skype profile that was saved in your regular account.

    And even if you saved a Skype profile when logged in as Guest, all files owned by Guest get wiped when Guest logs out. Including a Skype profile.

    As Guest, you'll always be prompted to login to Skype - or any other service.

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  6. PV, you can create a user account (on any standard Linux machine) that will "remember" stuff between sessions, like your skype login, by just creating a new user.

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  7. I wish I had known about this when I previewed Fedora 15, I would have mentioned it.
    I just checked my repositories (I use Mint, which uses Ubuntu repositories mostly) and do not see anything at all that seems like this "xguest" package. Whether you could use "alien" to install it in a debian-based distribution...I don't know enough to say.

    (I was much more impressed with Fedora than I had expected, by the way - and with GNOME 3. It isn't bad at all.)

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