Guest sessions in 18.04 LTS - are they needed?

Ubuntu for many years has had the concept of a guest session. This is an account you can log into from the greeter that only exists for the duration of that session. The session always starts with default settings and is locked down using AppArmor so it can be considered a safe way of letting someone use your computer.

When we switched to GNOME we lost this feature as GDM does not support it. We also lost the feature in Ubuntu when it was disabled from 16.10 onwards due to the AppArmor confinement being broken on our transition to systemd.

The intention was to reimplement this feature by 18.04 LTS if we continued with GDM in Ubuntu (our default position). However, it is worth considering if this feature is still required.

If you currently use guest sessions or used them before the feature was removed can you please describe that so we have some data points on demand for this feature.

Some points against supporting this feature:

  • After it was disabled in Ubuntu there doesn’t appear to have been much negative feedback about this.
  • The feature came from a different time and the value of it has been somewhat superseded by private browsing in web browsers (for sharing with friends) and virtual machines (for developers).
  • It’s a reasonably complex feature that seemed to take up a decent amount of time maintaining it in LightDM.

I expect there will not be much feedback here from people who don’t need the guest sessions, as they are probably ambivalent as to whether it exists. So it’s important we can justify that a significant portion of our users make use of this feature.

The follow up to this thread can be seen at https://community.ubuntu.com/t/brain-dump-on-guest-session-progress/3717

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I think a guest session is not so much use. because if my friend want to borrow it, he just copying some document. it can be done if i was using it and just copy it myself. (sorry for bad explanation)

I certainly have used them in the past. Mostly to debug system issues which affected my main user. I have also used it at conferences to allow another person to present from my laptop when theirs didn’t work on the projector. At a recent event I was unable to do this because the feature was removed. As a result the presenter was logged in to a session in which they could do untold damage - admittedly live on stage, so no getting away from it. When working on the new theme for Ubuntu 17.10 it would have been nice to be able to switch to another ‘clean’ session without having to create a new user.

In summary, yes, there’s occasions where I’d use it if it still existed, but I can work around it.

What do other platforms do? Android has a guest mode (for handing your phone to someone else if they need it in an emergency) and macOS has it - which my kids use on a relatives machine so they don’t trash her work.

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I used it on rare occasions to debug the system with a fresh and clean session. I never used it to share my system. For this case I either log the person into a generic account I created for this purpose on my machine or create a new account for the user.

Like @popey, I’ve used the guest session a few times in the past when someone needed a laptop to present, or when someone wants to check their e-mail from my computer. Private browsing in browsers protects the guest from leaking their private browsing data to the lender, but it doesn’t protect the lender’s session (the guest might break something/delete files by accident).

The proper workaround for the lack of a guest session in such a situation would be to create a new locked-down user on the system. In practice though, I have at least in one occasion let someone check their e-mail in my session because time was pressing and I didn’t feel like creating a new user at that moment.

In summary: I can live without it, but it’s still a mildly annoying regression.

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I’ve used it in two scenarios:

  1. as an easy way to set up a “clean” user account for testing DE changes (both different DEs and reconfiguring the DE); and,
  2. as a safe(ish) way to allow someone access to my laptop - to check email, run presentations, etc.

I’ve also thought about using it in programming workshops to a clean start & automatic cleanup - but not actually done that (yet).

Setting up and clearing down an account is enough extra work that I avoid it.

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Have used it in 2 different scenarios.

  1. As @oSoMoN mentioned, lending the laptop to someone without worrying said person having access to your private files.
  2. When the laptop keyboard stopped working suddenly and I could not type in my password as a result, I logged into the guest session and connected a bluetooth keyboard I had lying around, as an emergency workaround.
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Nope NO use of GUEST SESSION in ubuntu…

I made a spin of Xubuntu 14.04 at the college I work at for the PCs in the libraries. I had them boot into a guest session and any customized config files were copied from a template user account (rather than modifying /etc/skel for every change). Every time the student used the machine it would be clean.

I’m not working that department any more but my successor is Linux savvy and would probably appreciate the feature being in a future LTS.

I always deleted the standard Guest account and made a no-password Visitor account. Main objection to this Guest account is the default behaviour of “laptop lid close”, that will terminate all my open network connections.

For me, I do not need this Guest

Taking out guest sessions hasn’t really affected me in any significant way most probably because no one ever uses my device besides me. I do think it might come in handy sometime in the future as @popey explained.
I am also very particular about who I give access to my device as I get scared that they might tamper with my documents. A guest session would be the proper workaround that.

I use it like once every two months to let somebody use my computer. Creating a guest user without sudo privileges works for me too, so I will just do that now.

I never used the Guest session, but it does have its merit especially if an account gets corrupt or otherwise isn’t working.

But personally, I usually shut it off because I am the only one (or 2-3 of us) who log into the system.

Absolutely YES for the Guest session in 18.04! We’ve been using ubuntu in school since 2014 and all this time Guest session has been saving us teachers time and effort. Students do some work, and after lesson their files need to be removed from the system for the next class to come in, and apps must all have a default (pre-configured by teacher) look. So we create a user account, set everything we need - wallpaper, app launcher, apps settings etc. and copy it so that guest account looks exactly like this user account. Guest session is really a must have for us!

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Yes for the guest session. It is very helpful when someone else wants to use the computer or to do presentations to have a clean, notification free desktop.

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Yes in regards to having Guest Session available. I have had a number of people over the years which needed use of my computer and I did not want them seeing all my private notifications or files. Guest Session has been and is a great idea and is good to have.

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i never used it. please delete this feature

I used it in the past. It was a great feature not to have people search your PC. I think the best thing is to offer this function but to let users enable / disable it as needed in the Users menu

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I’ve used it in the past, for letting others use my computer. Please keep it, thanks!

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We use it all the time for interns and other visitors to the office. It was removed? It still appears in 16.04 LTS. I’d be leery of saying “No one complained when we removed it” if it’s in reference to non-LTS releases. I’d imagine (ours does) that many corporate deployments of ubuntu stick to LTS releases.

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