This guide should cover everything needed for initial server setup with Ubuntu 20.04. When you first create a new Ubuntu 20.04 server, you should perform some important configuration steps as part of the basic setup. These steps will increase the security and usability of your server, and will give you a solid foundation for subsequent actions.
Step 1 — Logging in as root
To log into your server, you will need to know your server’s public IP address. You will also need the password or — if you installed an SSH key for authentication — the private key for the root user’s account.
If you are not already connected to your server, log in now as the root user using the following command (substitute [your_server_ip] your server’s public IP address):
Accept the warning about host authenticity if it appears. If you are using password authentication, provide your root password to log in. If you are using an SSH key that is passphrase protected, you may be prompted to enter the passphrase the first time you use the key each session. If this is your first time logging into the server with a password, you may also be prompted to change the root password.
The root user is the administrative user in a Linux environment that has very broad privileges. Because of the heightened privileges of the root account, you are discouraged from using it on a regular basis. This is because part of the power inherent with the root account is the ability to make very destructive changes, even by accident. So after initial server setup its use should be limited
The next step is setting up a new user account with reduced privileges for day-to-day use. Later, we’ll teach you how to gain increased privileges during only the times when you need them.
Step 2 — Creating a New User
Once you are logged in as root, we’re prepared to add the new user account. In the future, we’ll log in with this new account instead of root.
This example creates a new user called sammy, but you should replace that with a username that you like:
You will be asked a few questions, starting with the account password.
Enter a strong password and, optionally, fill in any of the additional information if you would like. This is not required and you can just hit [ENTER] in any field you wish to skip.
Step 3 — Granting Administrative Privileges
Now, we have a new user account with regular account privileges. However, we may sometimes need to do administrative tasks.
To avoid having to log out of our normal user and log back in as the root account, we can set up what is known as superuser or root privileges for our normal account. This will allow our normal user to run commands with administrative privileges by putting the word [sudo] before each command.
To add these privileges to our new user, we need to add the user to the sudo group. By default, on Ubuntu 20.04, users who are members of the sudo group are allowed to use the [sudo] command.
As root, run this command to add your new user to the sudo group (substitute the example [sammy] username with your new user):
usermod -aG sudo sammy
Now, when logged in as your regular user, you can type [sudo] before commands to perform actions with superuser privileges.
Step 4 — Setting Up a Basic Firewall
Ubuntu 20.04 servers can use the UFW firewall to make sure only connections to certain services are allowed. We can set up a basic firewall very easily using this application.
Applications can register their profiles with UFW upon installation. These profiles allow UFW to manage these applications by name. OpenSSH, the service allowing us to connect to our server now, has a profile registered with UFW.
You can see this by typing:
ufw app list
Output Available applications: OpenSSH
We need to make sure that the firewall allows SSH connections so that we can log back in next time. We can allow these connections by typing:
ufw allow OpenSSH
Afterwards, we can enable the firewall by typing:
Type [y] and press [ENTER] to proceed. You can see that SSH connections are still allowed by typing:
Output Status: active To Action From -- ------ ---- OpenSSH ALLOW Anywhere OpenSSH (v6) ALLOW Anywhere (v6)
As the firewall is currently blocking all connections except for SSH, if you install and configure additional services, you will need to adjust the firewall settings to allow traffic in. You can learn some common UFW operations in this guide from Digital Ocean.
Step 5 — Enabling External Access for Your Regular User
Now that we have a regular user for daily use, we need to make sure we can SSH into the account directly.
Note: Until verifying that you can log in and use [sudo] with your new user, we recommend staying logged in as root. This way, if you have problems, you can troubleshoot and make any necessary changes as root.
The process for configuring SSH access for your new user depends on whether your server’s root account uses a password or SSH keys for authentication.
If the root Account Uses Password Authentication
If you logged in to your root account using a password, then password authentication is enabled for SSH. You can SSH to your new user account by opening up a new terminal session and using SSH with your new username:
After entering your regular user’s password, you will be logged in. Remember, if you need to run a command with administrative privileges, type [sudo] before it like this:
You will be prompted for your regular user password when using
sudo for the first time each session (and periodically afterwards).
To enhance your server’s security, we strongly recommend setting up SSH keys instead of using password authentication.
If the Root Account Uses SSH Key Authentication
If you logged in to your root account using SSH keys, then password authentication is disabled for SSH. You will need to add a copy of your local public key to the new user’s [~/.ssh/authorized_keys] file to log in successfully.
Since your public key is already in the root account’s [~/.ssh/authorized_keys] file on the server, we can copy that file and directory structure to our new user account in our existing session.
The simplest way to copy the files with the correct ownership and permissions is with the [rsync] command. This will copy the root user’s [.ssh] directory, preserve the permissions, and modify the file owners, all in a single command. Make sure to change the example [sammy] portions of the command below to match your regular user’s name:
Note: The [rsync] command treats sources and destinations that end with a trailing slash differently than those without a trailing slash. When using [rsync] below, be sure that the source directory [~/.ssh] does not include a trailing slash (check to make sure you are not using [~/.ssh/]).
If you accidentally add a trailing slash to the command, [rsync] will copy the contents of the root account’s [~/.ssh] directory to the
sudo user’s home directory instead of copying the entire [~/.ssh] directory structure. The files will be in the wrong location and SSH will not be able to find and use them.
rsync --archive --chown=sammy:sammy ~/.ssh /home/sammy
Now, open up a new terminal session on you local machine, and use SSH with your new username:
You should be logged in to the new user account without using a password. Remember, if you need to run a command with administrative privileges, type [sudo] before it like this:
You will be prompted for your regular user password when using [sudo] for the first time each session (and periodically afterwards).
Completed initial server setup
Now that initial server setup has been finished, these articles might be useful:
- How To Install the Apache Web Server on Ubuntu 20.04 – In this guide, we’ll explain how to install an Apache web server on your Ubuntu 20.04 server.
- How To Secure Apache with Let’s Encrypt on Ubuntu 20.04 – In this tutorial, you will use the Let’s Encrypt client Certbot to obtain a free SSL certificate for Apache on Ubuntu 20.04 and set up your certificate to renew automatically.
Original Content by Brian Boucheron and edited by the author of this post according to the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.