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pretty much every network OS out there prohibits what you were trying to get at (get user passwords and anonymously log in). It's one of the cornerstones of security. Similar restrictions exist in various file systems to protect the same principal. How valuable would an OS be if the admin could easily log in as the ceo, or accounting manager, or HR manager... basically have the keys to the kingdom? With the current security model you could change the password then log in, but never do so without alerting the user (thier current password wouldnt work, and since you dont know what is WAS, you cant set it to what it used to be). That is the safeguard.
You can copy the shadow file somwhere, reset the password, do whatever sneaky thing you obviously have in mind, move the copy of shadow back and password should be back to original. Might require a reboot.
"Are you locked out and want/need to get into the system? Reboot into single user mode and reset root password, reboot. As for users, I don't know how you can discover the password, but you can always reset it."
that is, how do i reboot and begin in single user mode.