Linux: Log Everyone Out Of The System

Posted on in Categories , , last updated July 29, 2013

I can login as root user on Debian or Ubuntu/RHEL/CentOS Linux based system. I need to log everyone off (all ssh users) to install new kernel and/or hardware. How do I do this on Linux? What is the best way to logout ALL USERS remotely over the ssh based session in Linux like operating systems?

You need to use the following commands:

a] who or w command – Show who is logged on and what they are doing.

b] pkill command – Kill user session and forcefully logout of the system.

c] shutdown command – Arranges for the system to be brought down in a safe way.


Use the who command to see list of logged in users as follows:
# w
# who
Sample outputs:

root     pts/0        Jul 29 13:53 (
nixcraft pts/1        Jul 29 12:30 (
sailee   pts/2        Jul 29 12:33 (

To force and logout nixcraft and sailee user, enter:
# pkill -KILL -u nixcraft
# pkill -KILL -u sailee

Alternatively, just try bash and friends kung-fu and save time:

 ### warning must be run as root or via sudo ###
who | awk '!/root/{ cmd="/sbin/pkill -KILL -u " $1; system(cmd)}'


 ### warning must be run as root or via sudo ###
### Safe version :) ###
who | awk '$1 !~ /root/{ cmd="/sbin/pkill -KILL -u " $1; system(cmd)}'

Finally, you can shutdown the system as follows:
# shutdown -h now

Instead of killing all users one by one you can type the following shutdown command with the warning message:
# shutdown -h +10 "Server is going down for maintenance in 10 minute. Please save ALL your work ASAP and logout of the system."

Please note that this method will not work with ftp/smtp/pop3 and all other user accounts on the server. I recommend that you set maintenance windows for your server when network traffic is at a minimum or when users/client computers were not engaged in other activities on the server. For example, week-end or the period between midnight and 3:00 a.m. can be set as maintenance windows for your system.

Recommended readings
  • See man pages – who(1),w(1),pkill(1),shutdown(8)

Posted by: Vivek Gite

The author is the creator of nixCraft and a seasoned sysadmin and a trainer for the Linux operating system/Unix shell scripting. He has worked with global clients and in various industries, including IT, education, defense and space research, and the nonprofit sector. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+.

6 comment

  1. I have done maintenance of UNIX systems for a long time and I have always done it after 6 PM during the week or on weekends; however, I always send a wall message which is advertised to every user letting them know about the system maintenance and to save everything they want and log out, say…30 minutes before the schedule shutdown. I also coordinate with the other departments; so they take proper action. Then, when the time comes to take action I use init 0 which does an orderly shutdown immediately.

    All you need is a wall message an init 0.

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