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Changing the Username on a Mac

July 15, 2011

© 2011 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine

Ever wanted to change the username on a Mac?  We need to do it fairly often, and though it’s not as simple as one would think, it is easy if you know the steps.

Why Change a Username?
Many Mac users set up their church or ministry owned Macs with usernames that are completely different than the usernames they use on their network.  This is especially exasperated when the Mac is transferred to a different user who wants to continue having access to the previous user’s home folder (similar to the My Documents folder on a Windows computer).

To make life easier on the user, we recommend setting Macs up with the same username and password on their Mac as is used on the network.

Following are the steps in Mac OSX 10.5 or later.  Caution: be careful to follow these steps exactly to ensure your data is still good.

Step 1: Enable the Root User
The ‘root’ user is the highest-level authority user on a Mac in OSX.  Logging in as root is disabled by default to help protect the system.  Before renaming the user’s account that you want to rename— or creating a new user you want to access an already existing home folder, enable the ability to login as the root user.  Here are the steps:

  1. Click on the Apple symbol on the Apple menu and click on System Preferences, then click on Accounts.
  2. Click on Login Options, and then click on Edit or Join the Network Account Server option.
  3. Click the Open Directory Utility option.
  4. With the Directory Utility open, click the Edit option up on the Apple menu bar.  (If the lock is closed, or locked, in the lower left corner of the Directory Utility, click on it to unlock it and supply the existing user’s password to do so.)
  5. Select Enable Root User.  If this is the first time you’re doing this, it will ask you to enter and verify a password for the root user.  Make sure it’s a strong password and one you’ll remember!
  6. Restart the Mac and login as root with the password you entered in the previous step.

Step 2: Change the Username
Open Finder and go to the ‘Users’ folder at the root of the hard drive.

  1. Select the home folder of the username you want to change, and rename it like you would any other file or folder name.  Note: the new name must be all lowercase alpha characters with no spaces.
  2. Open the Accounts section of System Preferences again and create a new account whose Account Name matches the home folder’s name you changed in the previous step.  When you enter the Full Name, it must be different than any other account’s Full Name on the Mac.
  3. The Mac will let you know that a folder already exists in the Users folder that matches the Account Name.  It will ask you if you want to use that folder with this new account; click OK.  This makes sure the rights for all the contents of that folder are corrected to match the new username.
  4. Close the windows, and restart the system.
  5. Login as the new username and make sure you can access all of your files and folders.  It may ask you to enter the old password to update the Keychain.

Step 3: Disable the Root User— Don’t Skip This One!
This step is very important to protect the Mac from being easily hacked by those who might see it on a public WiFi network, etc.  You can disable the root user by repeating the first four items in Step 1, and then selecting Disable Root User.

Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it?  And now the user will be able to login with the same username and password on the Mac and the network.

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