chown - macOS


chown (change owner) is a command line utility in macOS that allows users to change the owner and/or group ownership of files and directories. This command is essential for managing permissions and ensuring the security of file access on the system. It is most effectively used in system administration, particularly when handing off files between users, setting up systems, or configuring file-sharing environments.


The basic syntax for the chown command is:

chown [OPTION]... [OWNER][:[GROUP]] FILE...
  • OWNER: New owner’s username or user ID (UID).
  • GROUP: New group’s name or group ID (GID).
  • FILE: The file or directory for which to change ownership.


  • -R, --recursive: Recursively change ownership of directories and their contents.
  • -f, --silent, --quiet: Suppress most error messages.
  • -v, --verbose: Display a message for every file processed.
  • --no-preserve-root: Do not treat ‘/’ (the root directory) in any special way.
  • --preserve-root: Fail to operate recursively on ‘/’.
  • --from=CURRENT_OWNER:CURRENT_GROUP: Change the owner and/or group of each file only if its current owner and/or group match those specified.


  1. Change the owner of a file:

    chown username filename.txt
  2. Change the owner and group of a file:

    chown username:groupname filename.txt
  3. Recursively change the owner of a directory and its contents:

    chown -R username /path/to/directory
  4. Change the owner of a file, providing operation details:

    chown -v username filename.txt
  5. Change owner only if the current owner is a specific user:

    chown --from=currentuser newuser filename.txt

Common Issues

  • Permission Denied: Users may encounter this if they do not have appropriate permissions to alter file ownership. Using sudo can resolve this.
  • Invalid User/Group: Errors occur if the specified user or group does not exist. Ensure that user and group names are spelled correctly and exist on the system.
  • Using -R unintentionally: Applying chown recursively without intent can lead to significant and potentially harmful changes. Always confirm paths and options before executing the command.


chown can be combined with other commands such as find for more complex file management tasks:

  • Changing ownership of specific file types in a directory:
    find /path/to/directory -type f -name "*.txt" -exec chown username {} +
  • chmod: Change file modes or Access Control Lists.
  • chgrp: Change group ownership.
  • ls: List directory contents, useful for verifying changes in ownership.

For further reading and more detailed information, consult the man pages by executing man chown on the terminal.