Linux chown Command Examples

Filed Under: UNIX/Linux

Once in a while, you will be faced with the prospect of changing permissions of files and folders. Linux chown command enables you to modify file and directory permissions as you deem fit. This comes in handy, especially when configuring features and services. Let’s see how the command can be used.

Linux chown Command Syntax

The syntax for chown command usage is as shown:

chown [option] [owner]:[group] file

Let’s take a look at a couple of options that come with the command.

Changing file ownership

How do you change ownership of a file? The syntax is quite simple as shown below.

chown [owner] file

Let’s look at a file 'newfile.txt' created by user ‘james’. By default, this file belongs to user “james” and group “james” as shown in the output below.

ls -l

as shown below.

Sample output

List File Permissions

As illustrated, the first attribute after the file permissions denotes the user who owns the file and the second attribute denotes the group the file belongs to.

To change file ownership to a different user, for instance, root user, execute:

chown root newfile.txt

To verify the change in ownership, once again use the ls -l command.

Sample output

Change File Ownership To Root

Sometimes, you may face permission issues while running the chown command. For example, changing file ownership that belongs to another user. In that case, run the command with sudo and make sure the user has the sudo privileges.

Changing the group a file belongs to

From the previous example, we managed to change the ownership of a file from one user to another. However, if you were keen enough, you must have observed that the group did not change. Changing the group a file belongs to is very similar to changing the user. The syntax differs a little as shown

chown :[group-name] [file-name]

For instance, to change group ownership to root user run

chown :root newfile.txt

Sample output

Change Group using chown command

This time around, we’ve managed to change the file’s group.

Changing both the user and group the file belongs to in one command

If you want to make your work easy and change both the user and the group to which the file belongs, then use the syntax

chown user:group newfile.txt

For instance to change both the user and the group to ‘james‘ execute:

chown james:james newfile.txt

Sample output

Change User And Group Ownership Of A File using chown command

Changing directory ownership

Let’s now talk about changing ownership of directories. The syntax remains fairly similar,

chown user:group ./directory-name/

I have a directory called linux created by root user and it contains 3 text files:


To change user and group to ‘james’ run

chown james:james ./linux/

Sample output

Change Ownership Of A Directory

As you have keenly noted, despite changing the user and group to which the directory belongs, the directory contents remain unaltered. To cascade file ownerships down to the folder contents, we are going to recursively change permissions as you will learn in the next sub-topic.

Recursively change file permissions of a directory

To recusively effect file permissions, use the -R option

chown -R root:root linux

Sample output

Recursively change file permissions

From the output, we can clearly see that the file permissions have been effected on the files contained in the ‘linux’ directory.

Change UID and GID of a file

Instead of specifying the user or group in chown command, one may opt to specify the GID or UID to which the file will belong. To accomplish this, use the syntax

chown uid:gid [filename]

For example, to change the newfile.txt to uid 1000 and gid 1000 execute:

chown 1000:1000 newfile.txt

Sample output

Change UId And GID of  a file

Display verbose output

You can choose to display the operation that’s taking place on the terminal as permissions are being changed. To do this, use the -v options

chown root:root newfile.txt -v

Display Verbose Output in chown command

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