In shell-mode, a command like sudo CMD opens up a prompt in the echo area saying:

[sudo] password for root: 

How does it know to do this? AFAIK, this behaviour cannot rise out of simply running sudo as usual, because the read builtin does not create such a prompt.

1 Answer 1


This is done via a process filter.

By default comint-output-filter-functions includes comint-watch-for-password-prompt, which is the filter function that handles this.

If it sees text matching comint-password-prompt-regexp then it calls send-invisible to prompt the user for a password.

For more information about how process filters work, refer to C-hig (elisp)Filter Functions

Edit: As a follow-up, note also that you can M-x toggle-debug-on-quit and then at the sudo prompt type C-g to get a backtrace which would show what's going on. e.g.:

Debugger entered--Lisp error: (quit)
  read-string("[sudo] password for <username>: " nil t nil)
  read-passwd("[sudo] password for <username>: ")
  send-invisible("[sudo] password for <username>: ")
  comint-watch-for-password-prompt("[sudo] password for <username>: ")
  run-hook-with-args(comint-watch-for-password-prompt "[sudo] password for <username>: ")
  comint-output-filter(#<process shell> "[sudo] password for <username>: ")

The output is minimal on account of byte-compiled code being evaluated, so the detail of comint-output-filter-functions is lost, but you can still immediately see the general situation. You could also M-x load-library RET comint.el RET to load the uncompiled code and then repeat the whole process to get a more detailed backtrace.

  • Great debugging tip!
    – clemera
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 9:54

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