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On all Unix-like operating systems, sudo is often provided as the standard package for executing commands as superuser (or an alternative user). When sudo is invoked by the user for the first time, many systems print the following well-known "Sudo Warning":

We trust you have received the usual lecture from the local System Administrator. It usually boils down to these three things:

#1) Respect the privacy of others.

#2) Think before you type.

#3) With great power comes great responsibility.

Password:

When was this warning message introduced to sudo? Under what background? By whom?

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    Oh, I never saw this message. =-O Does a "standard" Linux distribution count as "Unix-like" system? – the busybee Oct 9 at 20:15
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    @thebusybee I'm pretty sure the same implementation is also used on BSDs nowadays, its maintainer Todd C. Miller is heavily involved in the development of OpenBSD as well. Although OpenBSD doesn't ship sudo by default anymore. – 比尔盖子 Oct 9 at 20:26
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    xkcd.com/838 – Chris Stratton Oct 10 at 5:04
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    @ChrisStratton It's funny that Gentoo has a USE flag "offensive" for "app-admin/sudo" package and it's switched off by default. The "this incident will be reported" line only shows up if the "offensive" flag is activated. Clearly many people thought the message was annoying... – 比尔盖子 Oct 10 at 5:18
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    @thebusybee I've seen it in Linux distributions. It only appears the first time you call sudo. – JoL Oct 11 at 15:24
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The message appears in sudo’s revision control (in its current guise) in June 1993, in the University of Colorado version of sudo, in a slightly shorter form:

We trust you have received the usual lecture from the local Systems
Administrator. It usually boils down to these two things:

        #1) Respect the privacy of others.
        #2) Think before you type.

This initial commit also introduced sudo’s other famous message, “This incident will be reported.”

The author of the commit is Todd C. Miller, the maintainer of CU sudo (now plain sudo, still maintained by Todd), but the source code predates the commit; and while the source mentions Jeff Nieusma, the messages predate his involvement too and their author is presumably either Bob Coggeshall or Evi Nemeth (see also “A Brief History of Sudo”). The source history doesn’t suggest any particular background to the change. The message is typical of warning messages which were displayed when logging in to academic systems at the time.

sudo was published in the UNIX System Administration Handbook, written by Evi Nemeth, Garth Snyder, and Scott Seebass; the version published in the first edition doesn’t include a warning in the program itself, but the authors mention that users who were granted sudo access were sent a (lengthy) email reminding them of the responsibilities associated with that privilege.

The third item was added in January 2004, with a more interesting commit message:

Add Stan Lee / Uncle Ben quote to the lecture from RedHat

Said quote (which, as Tommy points out, wasn’t coined by Stan Lee) was added to Red Hat’s sudo package as a patch on top of version 1.6.6, in June 2002.


Historical artifacts: these net.sources archives contain two versions of sudo, posted by Cliff Spencer and Don Gworek in December 1985 (also available in the UTZOO tapes); this unix-pc.sources archive contains a different implementation by Lenny Tropiano.

  • Interesting, so the Stan Lee quote comes from RedHat sysadmins. – 比尔盖子 Oct 9 at 20:59
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    Sorry, I'm too petty, I can't bite my tongue: the phrase "with great power comes great responsibility" was considered trite at least as early as the mid-19th century. Its appropriation by a cartoon strip is relatively recent. (EDIT: Wikipedia seems to cite it in French at least as early as 1793). This I write despite it being completely irrelevant to the answer given here, which is completely accurate in its quoting someone else. – Tommy Oct 9 at 21:01
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    @Tommy someone is wrong on the Internet!!! :) – RonJohn Oct 10 at 13:17
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    @Tommy And Leif Ericsson got to America before Columbus, but we don't have a holiday for him, because his voyages didn't lead to permanent settlements. The committer knew of that phrase from Uncle Ben, so Marvel gets the credit. – Monty Harder Oct 11 at 16:34
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    @MontyHarder Leif Erikson Day was two days ago, naturally I refused to come to work and will instead insist on working on Columbus Day. – Tommy Oct 11 at 17:32

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