How to Enable the Root User in macOS

Want to enable the root account on your Mac? You can, but the functionality is a little buried in System Preferences. Here’s how to find it.

If you’re the primary user of your Mac, odds are you use an administrator account. This grants a level of permission required to do things like install software and change system settings, but it doesn’t give you permission to access everything. You can’t make changes to other users’ files, for example, or even see most of them. A root account can access everything.

And there’s another reason to enable the root account: security. Last year researchers discovered a bug that let anyone become the root user, and while that’s patched now, creating a root account yourself prevents anything similar from happening in the future.

Only enable root if you have a specific reason to, however. The root user can access almost everything—at least, everything not protected by System Integrity Protection—which is a lot of power. Don’t create that power if you’ve no particular need to wield it, and under no circumstances should you use the root account for day-to-day computing.

Enable The Root Account

Open System Preferences, and then open the “Users & Groups” item.

In the “Users & Groups” window, click the lock at bottom left, enter your password, and then click the “Login Options” link just above the lock.

Next, click the “Join” button next to the “Network Account Server” entry.

In the popup window, click the “Open Directory Utility” button and yet another window will open.

In the “Directory Utility” window, click the lock at the bottom left again, and then enter your password (or use Touch ID).

In the menu bar, open the “Edit” menu, and then click the “Enable Root User” command.

You will be asked to create a new root password; make sure you create a strong one that you can remember.

Log In As root

You’ve now created a root account, but how do you use it? By logging in as root. The login window, which you can access by logging out of your account or by using the fast user switching icon on your menu bar, will show a new “Other…” option. Go ahead and click that.

Type “root” as your username, and use the new password you created for root.

You will log into what appears to be a standard Mac user account, but do not use this as your main account: it has too much system access to be used securely.

Disable The Root Account, Or Change the Root Password

Done using the root account? You can disable it from the Directory Utility, which you can access as outlined above using System Preferences > Users & Groups > Login Options. From Directory Utility, click “Edit” in the menu bar and you’ll find the “Disable Root User” and “Change Root Password” commands.

And, though we’ve mentioned it a couple of times already, it bears repeating. While it may be tempting, don’t use root like a normal account. Login when you need heightened access, and then log back out afterward.

Justin Pot is a staff writer for How-To Geek, and a technology enthusiast who lives in Hillsboro, Oregon. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, if you want. You don't have to.