Single-user mode

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Single-user mode is a mode in which a multiuser computer operating system boots into a single superuser. It is mainly used for maintenance of multi-user environments such as network servers. Some tasks may require exclusive access to shared resources, for example running fsck on a network share. This mode can also be used for security purposes – network services are not run, eliminating the possibility of outside interference. On some systems a lost superuser password can be changed by switching to single-user mode, but not asking for the password in such circumstances is viewed as a security vulnerability.

Unix family[edit]

Unix-like operating systems provide single-user mode functionality either through the System V-style runlevels, BSD-style boot-loader options, or other boot-time options.

The run-level is usually changed using the init command, runlevel 1 or S will boot into single-user mode.

Boot-loader options can be changed during startup before the execution of the kernel. In FreeBSD and DragonFly BSD it can be changed before rebooting the system with the command nextboot -o "-s" -k kernel, and its bootloader offers the option on bootup to start in single-user mode. In Solaris the command reboot -- -s will cause a reboot into single-user mode.

macOS users can accomplish this by holding down ⌘ S after powering the system. The user may be required to enter a password set in the firmware. In OS X El Capitan and later releases of macOS, the mode can be reversed to single-user mode with the command sudo launchctl reboot userspace -s in Terminal, and the system can be fully rebooted in single-user mode with the command sudo launchctl reboot system -s. Single-user mode is different from a safe mode boot in that the system goes directly to the console instead of starting up the core elements of macOS (items in /System/Library/, ignoring /Library/, ~/Library/, et al.). From there users are encouraged by a prompt to run fsck or other command line utilities as needed (or installed).

Microsoft Windows[edit]

Microsoft Windows provides Recovery Console, Last Known Good Configuration, Safe Mode and recently Windows Recovery Environment as standard recovery means. Also, bootable BartPE-based third-party recovery discs are available.

Recovery Console and recovery discs are different from single-user modes in other operating systems because they are independent of the maintained operating system. This works more like chrooting into other environment with other kernel in Linux.


  • "What is a runlevel?". Retrieved November 17, 2010.
  • UNIX Research System Programmer's Manual