How to Monitor Linux Users Activity with psacct or acct Tools

psacct or acct both are open source utilities for monitoring users’ activities on the Linux system. These utilities run in the background and keep track of each user’s activity on your system as well as what resources are being consumed.

I personally used these tools in our company, we have a development team where our developers continuously work on servers. So, these are the best utilities to keep an eye on them.

These programs provide an excellent way to monitor what users are doing, what commands are they executing, how many resources are being consumed by them, and how long users are active on the system. Another useful feature is, that it gives total resources consumed by services like Apache, MySQL, FTP, SSH, etc.

[ You might also like: How to Monitor Linux Commands Executed by System Users in Real-time ]

I think this is one of the great and most needed utilities for every Linux/Unix System Administrator, who wanted to keep a track of user activities on their servers/systems.

The psacct or acct package provides several features for monitoring process activities.

  • ac command prints the statistics of user logins/logouts (connect time) in hours.
  • lastcomm command prints the information of previously executed commands of the user.
  • accton commands is used to turn on/off process for accounting.
  • sa command summarizes information of previously executed commands.
  • last and lastb commands show a listing of last logged-in users.

Installing psacct or acct Packages in Linux

psacct and acct both are similar packages and there is not much difference between them, but the psacct package is only available for rpm-based distributions such as RHEL, CentOS, and Fedora, whereas the acct package is available for distributions like Ubuntu, Debian, and Linux Mint.

To install the psacct package under rpm-based distributions issue the following yum command.

# yum install psacct

To install the acct package using the apt command under Ubuntu / Debian / Linux Mint.

$ sudo apt install acct

On other Linux distributions, you can install it as shown.

$ sudo apk add psacct          [On Alpine Linux]
$ sudo pacman -S acct          [On Arch Linux]
$ sudo zypper install acct     [On OpenSUSE]    
Starting psacct or acct service

By default, the psacct service is in disabled mode and you need to start it manually under RHEL-based distributions. Use the following command to check the status of the service.

$ sudo systemctl status psacct

You see the status showing as disabled, so let’s start it manually using the following commands, which will create a /var/account/pacct file.

$ sudo systemctl start psacct
$ sudo systemctl enable psacct
$ sudo systemctl status psacct
Start psacct Service
Start psacct Service

Under Ubuntu, Debian, and Mint service is started automatically, you don’t need to start it again.

Display Statistics of Users Connect Time

ac command without specifying any argument will display total statistics of connect time in hours based on the user logins/logouts from the current wtmp file.

# ac

total     11299.15
Print Total Connect Time of Linux User
Print Total Connect Time of Linux User

Display Statistics of Linux Users Day-wise

Using the command “ac -d” will print out the total login time in hours by day-wise.

# ac -d

Jun 25	total        0.19
Oct 13	total       14.45
Oct 27	total      672.00
Oct 28	total       15.82
Nov  3	total        4.29
Nov  5	total       10.13
Dec  7	total       14.04
Dec 10	total       23.60
Dec 27	total      808.93
Jan  3	total       12.31
Mar  3	total     1438.67
Jul 22	total     6767.81
Today	total     1517.09
Print Linux User Total Login Time
Print Linux User Total Login Time

Display Total Login Time of All Linux Users

Using the command “ac -p” will print the total login time of each Linux user in hours.

# ac -p

	rockylinux                         425.61
	tecmint                            702.29
	root                             10171.54
	total    11299.44
Print Total Login Time of Users
Print Total Login Time of Users

Display Linux User Login Time

To get the total login statistics time of user “tecmint” in hours, use the command as.

# ac tecmint
 total      702.29

Display Day-Wise Login Time of User

The following command will print the day-wise total login time of user “tecmint” in hours.

# ac -d tecmint
Oct 11  total        8.01
Oct 12  total       24.00
Oct 15  total       70.50
Oct 16  total       23.57
Oct 17  total       24.00
Oct 18  total       18.70
Nov 20  total        0.18

Print All Linux Commands Executed by Users

The “sa” command is used to print the summary of commands that were executed by users.

# sa
       2       9.86re       0.00cp     2466k   sshd*
       8       1.05re       0.00cp     1064k   man
       2      10.08re       0.00cp     2562k   sshd
      12       0.00re       0.00cp     1298k   psacct
       2       0.00re       0.00cp     1575k   troff
      14       0.00re       0.00cp      503k   ac
      10       0.00re       0.00cp     1264k   psacct*
      10       0.00re       0.00cp      466k   consoletype
       9       0.00re       0.00cp      509k   sa
       8       0.02re       0.00cp      769k   udisks-helper-a
       6       0.00re       0.00cp     1057k   touch
       6       0.00re       0.00cp      592k   gzip
       6       0.00re       0.00cp      465k   accton
       4       1.05re       0.00cp     1264k   sh*
       4       0.00re       0.00cp     1264k   nroff*
       2       1.05re       0.00cp     1264k   sh
       2       1.05re       0.00cp     1120k   less
       2       0.00re       0.00cp     1346k   groff
       2       0.00re       0.00cp     1383k   grotty
       2       0.00re       0.00cp     1053k   mktemp
       2       0.00re       0.00cp     1030k   iconv
       2       0.00re       0.00cp     1023k   rm
       2       0.00re       0.00cp     1020k   cat
       2       0.00re       0.00cp     1018k   locale
       2       0.00re       0.00cp      802k   gtbl

Explanation of the above command output:

  • 9.86re is a “real-time” as per wall clock minutes
  • 0.01cp is a sum of system/user time in cpu minutes
  • 2466k is a cpu-time averaged core usage, i.e. 1k units
  • sshd command name

Print Linux User Information

To get the information of an individual user, use the options -u.

# sa -u
root       0.00 cpu      465k mem accton
root       0.00 cpu     1057k mem touch
root       0.00 cpu     1298k mem psacct
root       0.00 cpu      466k mem consoletype
root       0.00 cpu     1264k mem psacct           *
root       0.00 cpu     1298k mem psacct
root       0.00 cpu      466k mem consoletype
root       0.00 cpu     1264k mem psacct           *
root       0.00 cpu     1298k mem psacct
root       0.00 cpu      466k mem consoletype
root       0.00 cpu     1264k mem psacct           *
root       0.00 cpu      465k mem accton
root       0.00 cpu     1057k mem touch

Print Number of Linux Processes

This command prints the total number of processes and CPU minutes. If you see a continued increase in these numbers, then it’s time to look into the system about what is happening.

# sa -m
sshd                                    2       9.86re       0.00cp     2466k
root                                  127      14.29re       0.00cp      909k

Print and Sort Usage by Percentage

The command “sa -c” displays the highest percentage of users.

# sa -c
 132  100.00%      24.16re  100.00%       0.01cp  100.00%      923k
       2    1.52%       9.86re   40.83%       0.00cp   53.33%     2466k   sshd*
       8    6.06%       1.05re    4.34%       0.00cp   20.00%     1064k   man
       2    1.52%      10.08re   41.73%       0.00cp   13.33%     2562k   sshd
      12    9.09%       0.00re    0.01%       0.00cp    6.67%     1298k   psacct
       2    1.52%       0.00re    0.00%       0.00cp    6.67%     1575k   troff
      18   13.64%       0.00re    0.00%       0.00cp    0.00%      509k   sa
      14   10.61%       0.00re    0.00%       0.00cp    0.00%      503k   ac
      10    7.58%       0.00re    0.00%       0.00cp    0.00%     1264k   psacct*
      10    7.58%       0.00re    0.00%       0.00cp    0.00%      466k   consoletype
       8    6.06%       0.02re    0.07%       0.00cp    0.00%      769k   udisks-helper-a
       6    4.55%       0.00re    0.00%       0.00cp    0.00%     1057k   touch
       6    4.55%       0.00re    0.00%       0.00cp    0.00%      592k   gzip
       6    4.55%       0.00re    0.00%       0.00cp    0.00%      465k   accton
       4    3.03%       1.05re    4.34%       0.00cp    0.00%     1264k   sh*
       4    3.03%       0.00re    0.00%       0.00cp    0.00%     1264k   nroff*
       2    1.52%       1.05re    4.34%       0.00cp    0.00%     1264k   sh
       2    1.52%       1.05re    4.34%       0.00cp    0.00%     1120k   less
       2    1.52%       0.00re    0.00%       0.00cp    0.00%     1346k   groff
       2    1.52%       0.00re    0.00%       0.00cp    0.00%     1383k   grotty
       2    1.52%       0.00re    0.00%       0.00cp    0.00%     1053k   mktemp

List Last Executed Commands of User

The ‘latcomm‘ command is used to search and display previously executed user command information. You can also search commands of individual usernames. For example, we see commands of the user (tecmint).

# lastcomm tecmint
su                      tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56
ls                      tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56
ls                      tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56
ls                      tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56
bash               F    tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56
id                      tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56
grep                    tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56
grep                    tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56
bash               F    tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56
dircolors               tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56
bash               F    tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56
tput                    tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56
tty                     tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56
bash               F    tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56
id                      tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56
bash               F    tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56
id                      tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56

Search Logs for Commands

With the help of the lastcomm command, you will be able to view the individual use of each command.

# lastcomm ls
ls                      tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56
ls                      tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56
ls                      tecmint  pts/0      0.00 secs Wed Feb 13 15:56

For more information and usage, check out the manual pages of these tools.

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29 thoughts on “How to Monitor Linux Users Activity with psacct or acct Tools”

  1. Helo ravi,

    I installed ‘acct’ in my ubuntu 14.04 ssh server and i can run ‘ac’ command but for the ‘sa’ command gives me this error ” couldnt open file ‘/var/log/account/pacct’: permission denied” anytime i run it, how do i go about this please?

    Reply
  2. Hi Ravi,
    I intstalled acct in Ubuntu 14.04 LTS last May 19 2016, but when I used ‘ac -d myusername’ it only reflect yesterday and today time consume. Also when I use the ‘lastcomm myusername’ same result it reflect yesterday and today commands use.
    Is there something going here? or may I missing something.
    Your help is much appreciated.
    Thank you!

    Reply
    • @Jonathan,

      Could you check the ‘history’ and ‘lastlog’ file under /etc directory, you will came to know why it showing results of last day and today..

      Reply
  3. Hi Ravi Saive, it’s there anyway that the root gives privilege to users to create their own password or to set up their own password so that the root user does not know like in windows. Thanks again for your post. Very good and God bless you.

    Reply
    • @Martial,
      Yes, you a root can force users to change or set their own password after first login, this can be done by using following command.

      # chage -d0 user-name
      

      Where option “-d0” describes that the password was changed on 1st January 1970, which essentially expires the current password, and force users to change their passwords on the next login.

      Reply
  4. thanks for such useful and Excellent article! Keep going :)

    how can we know how many task’s(process) are hold by the swap when ram is full.

    Reply
  5. thanks, i am using this tools these days , but i found that the information accounted by psacct will reset several days once. do you know how to change it because i want to monitor my computer for a long time. thanks again.

    Reply
  6. It is possible to give users full sudo access without allowing sudo su… That way all commands will be logged.

    Cmnd_Alias SU = /bin/su root, /bin/su – root

    Cmnd_Alias FORBIDDEN = /bin/bash, /bin/ksh, /bin/ksh93, /bin/sh, /bin/csh, /bin/tcsh, /bin/zsh, /usr/sbin/pwconv, /usr/sbin/visudo, /usr/bin/crontab

    USERS ALL = (ALL) !FORBIDDEN, !SU, ALL

    Reply
  7. Its good article and very useful. But there are number of sysadmins handling lots of server.

    We have done as below:-

    1- Disabled first level root access.
    2- created individual login for users with sudo access.

    User has to login with his individual login ID and he can switch to root prompt through
    # sudo su –

    Now user becomes root and he has all privileges.

    How we can monitor this?

    While we can log all that command, which has been fired with sudo. But after the switching to root, not able to identify.

    A sudo user can not switch to root. Is this possible??

    Reply
    • That’s not possible, if a user knows the root password he will able to login and run commands. But if you would like to trace those commands with date and time of execution, you need to use history command.

      Reply

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