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Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, Panther Edition by David Pogue

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The Root Account

An administrator’s account isn’t exactly a skeleton key that gives unfettered access to every corner of the Mac. Even an administrator isn’t allowed to remove files from the System folder or other files whose removal could hobble the machine.

It turns out that Standard and Administrator aren’t the only kinds of accounts. There’s one account that wields ultimate power, one person who can do anything to any file anywhere. This person is called the superuser.

Unix fans speak of the superuser account—also called the root account—in hushed tones, because it offers absolutely unrestricted power. The root account holder can move, delete, rename, or otherwise mangle any file on the machine, no matter what folder it’s in. One wrong move—or one Internet hacker who manages to seize the root account—and you’ve got yourself a $2,500 doorstop. That’s why Mac OS X’s root account is completely hidden and, in fact, deactivated.

There’s another reason this account comes turned off: You can enjoy most root-like powers without actually turning on the root account. Here, for example, are some of the things the root account holder can do—and the ways you can do them without ducking into a phone booth to become the superuser:

  • See the thousands of crucial system files that Mac OS X ordinarily renders invisible. Of course, you can also see them extremely easily just by using the shareware program TinkerTool (see Section 17.1). You can also use the Terminal program as described in Chapter 15 ...

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