chown - Linux


The chown command in Linux stands for change owner. It is used to change the owner and/or group of one or more files, directories, or links. By changing file ownership, administrators can control which users and groups have access to files, enhancing security and organizational practices in file management systems.


The basic syntax for the chown command is as follows:

  • USER is the new owner’s username.
  • GROUP is the optional group name. If a group is not specified, the file’s group ownership is not changed.
  • FILE specifies one or more files to which the ownership changes will apply.


chown [OPTIONS] --reference=RFILE FILE...
  • :GROUP changes only the group of the files.
  • --reference=RFILE uses the owner and group of RFILE as the reference for changing other files.


  • -c, --changes: Report only when a change is made.
  • -f, --silent, --quiet: Suppress most error messages.
  • -v, --verbose: Output a diagnostic for every file processed.
  • --no-preserve-root: Do not treat ‘/’ specially (the default).
  • --preserve-root: Fail to operate recursively on ‘/’.
  • -R, --recursive: Operate on files and directories recursively.
  • --from=CURRENT_OWNER[:CURRENT_GROUP]: Change the owner and/or group only if the current owner and/or group match those specified.
  • --dereference: Affect the referents of symbolic links instead of the symbolic link itself.
  • --no-dereference: Operate on symbolic links themselves instead of what they point to.


  1. Change owner of a file:
    chown username filename.txt
  2. Change owner and group of a file:
    chown username:groupname filename.txt
  3. Change owner recursively in a directory:
    chown -R username /path/to/directory
  4. Change only the group of files:
    chown :groupname filename.txt
  5. Verbosely change ownership and show what is being changed:
    chown -v username:groupname filename.txt

Common Issues

  • Permission Denied: Users must have the necessary permissions to change the ownership of files, typically requiring root privileges.
  • Invalid User/Group: Specifying a user or group that doesn’t exist results in an error. Ensure that both are valid on the system.
  • Symlink Issues: When using chown on symbolic links without -h, the target of the link is changed rather than the link itself.


Combine chown with other commands for more complex tasks. For example, find specific files and change their ownership with one command:

find /path/to/files -type f -name "*.txt" -exec chown username:groupname {} +
  • chmod: Change file mode bits.
  • chgrp: Change group ownership.
  • id: Report user and group IDs.

For more detailed information, you can refer to the online manual pages using the man chown command or visit online resources such as the GNU Coreutils page.