Using 'Run As' in Windows

Standard users can run privileged programs with this trick

Man at home using laptop
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Running a program as an administrator is a common task in Windows. You need to have admin rights when you install programs, edit certain files, etc. You can easily do this with the "run as" feature.

To run a task as an administrator is, clearly, only useful if you're not already an admin user. If you're logged in to Windows as a regular, standard user, you can choose to open something as a different user that does have administrative rights so that you can avoid having to log out and then log back in as the administrator only to perform one or two tasks.

How to Use 'Run As'

The "run as" option in Windows doesn't work the exact same way in every version of Windows. Newer Windows versions—Windows 10, Windows 8, and Windows 7—require different steps than previous versions.

If you're using Windows 10, 8, or 7, follow these steps:

  1. Hold down the Shift key and then right-click the file.
  2. Choose Run as different user from the context menu.
  3. Enter the User name and Password for the user whose credentials should be used to run the program. If the user is on a domain, the correct syntax is to type the domain first and then the username, like this: domain\username.

Windows Vista is a bit different than the other versions of Windows. You have to either use the program mentioned in the tip below or edit some settings in the Group Policy Editor in order to open programs as another user.

  1. Search for gpedit.msc in the Start menu and then open gpedit (Local Group Policy Editor) when you see it in the list.
  2. Navigate to Local Computer Policy > Windows Settings > Security Settings > Local Policies > Security Options.
  3. Double-click User Account Control: Behavior of the elevation prompt for administrators in Admin Approval Mode.
  4. Change the drop-down option to be Prompt for credentials.
  5. Click OK to save and exit that window. You can also close down the Local Group Policy Editor window.

Now, when you double-click an executable file, you'll be asked to choose a user account from the list to access the file as the other user.

Windows XP users just need to right-click the file to see the "run as" option.

  1. Right-click the file and choose Run as... from the menu.
  2. Choose the radio button next to The following user.
  3. Type the user you want to access the file as or choose it from the drop-down menu.
  4. Enter the user's password in the Password: field.
  5. Press OK to open the file.

Tip: To use the "run as" option in any version of Windows without using the right-click option, download the ShellRunas program from Microsoft. Drag-and-drop executable files directly onto the ShellRunas program file. When you do this, you'll immediately be prompted to provide alternate credentials.

You can also use "run as" from the command line via Command Prompt. This is how the command needs to be set up, where all you need to change is the bold text:

runas /user:username "path\to\file"

For example, you'd execute this command to run a downloaded file (PAssist_Std.exe) as another user (jfisher):

runas /user:jfisher "C:\Users\Jon\Downloads\PAssist_Std.exe"

You'll be asked for the user's password right there in the Command Prompt window and then the program will open normally but with that user's credentials.

Note: You do not need to do anything to "turn off" this kind of access. Only the program you execute using "run as" will run using the account you choose. Once the program is closed down, the user-specific access is terminated.

Why Would You Do This?

Security administrators and experts often preach that users should use the least-privileged user account they can, without adversely impacting their productivity, for day-to-day tasks and activities. All-powerful accounts such as the Administrator account in Microsoft Windows should be reserved for only when they are needed.

Part of the reason is so that you don't accidentally access or modify files or system configurations that you shouldn't be dealing with. The other is that virusesTrojans, and other malware often execute using the access rights and privileges of the account being used. If you're logged in as administrator, a virus or other malware infection will be able to execute virtually anything with super-level rights on the computer. Logging in as a normal, more restricted user can help secure and protect your system.

However, it can be frustrating to have to log out and log back in as administrator to install a program or modify a system configuration, and then log out again and log back in as a regular user. Thankfully, Microsoft includes the "run as" feature which allows you to run programs using a different username and password than the ones used by the currently logged in user.