Chmod Recursive: Changing Linux File Permissions Recursively

When managing files and directories in Linux, one often encounters situations where file permissions need to be adjusted. Whether you’re ensuring security, facilitating collaboration, or organizing your system, understanding how to change file permissions is crucial. This blog will guide you through the process of recursively changing file permissions in Linux, covering essential commands, options, with examples.

Understanding File Permissions in Linux

Before diving into recursive permissions, it’s essential to understand the basics of Linux file permissions. Linux uses a permission model that defines who can read, write, and execute a file. Each file and directory has three types of permissions:

  • Read (r): Permission to read the file or list the directory’s contents.
  • Write (w): Permission to modify the file or directory.
  • Execute (x): Permission to execute the file or traverse the directory.

These permissions are assigned to three categories of users:

  1. Owner: The user who owns the file.
  2. Group: A set of users who share access rights.
  3. Others: All other users.

Permissions are represented in a symbolic (rwx) or octal (numeric) format.

Recursively Changing File Permissions with chmod

The chmod (change mode) command is used to change the file permissions in Linux. To change permissions recursively, you can use the -R (recursive) option. The basic syntax is:

chmod -R [permissions] [directory]

Symbolic Mode

In symbolic mode, you specify the permissions you want to add (+), remove (-), or set (=) for the owner (u), group (g), or others (o). For example, to grant read, write, and execute permissions to the owner and read and execute permissions to the group and others, use:

chmod -R u=rwx,g=rx,o=rx /path/to/directory

Octal Mode

In octal mode, permissions are represented by a three-digit number. Each digit corresponds to the permissions for the owner, group, and others. For example, 755 means:

  • Owner: Read, write, and execute (7)
  • Group: Read and execute (5)
  • Others: Read and execute (5)

To set these permissions recursively, use:

chmod -R 755 /path/to/directory

Granting Full Access to Owner and Read-Only to Others

Suppose you have a directory /var/www/html and you want to grant full access to the owner and read-only access to others:

chmod -R u=rwx,go=r /var/www/html

Alternatively, using octal notation:

chmod -R 744 /var/www/html

Removing Write Permission from Group and Others

To enhance security, you might want to remove write permissions from group and others for /home/user/documents:

chmod -R go-w /home/user/documents

This ensures that only the owner can modify the files within the directory.

Using find Command to Manage Directories and Files Separately

In some cases, you may want to apply different permissions to directories and files within a directory tree. This can be achieved using the find command in combination with chmod.

Setting Execute Permission Only on Directories

Suppose you want to ensure that all directories within /var/logs are traversable but don’t want to change file permissions:

find /var/logs -type d -exec chmod u+x {} \;

Here, -type d ensures that only directories are affected.

Setting Read and Write Permissions on Files Only

To set read and write permissions on files within /var/logs without affecting directories:

find /var/logs -type f -exec chmod u+rw {} \;

This ensures that only files receive the specified permissions.

Automating Permission Changes

For repetitive tasks, you can automate permission changes using shell scripts. Here’s a simple example script to set desired permissions:


# Directory to change permissions

# Set directory permissions
find $TARGET_DIR -type d -exec chmod 755 {} \;

# Set file permissions
find $TARGET_DIR -type f -exec chmod 644 {} \;

echo "Permissions have been updated."

Save the script to a file, for example, and make it executable:

chmod +x

Run the script as needed:



Recursively changing file permissions in Linux is a powerful tool for managing your system’s security and accessibility. By mastering the chmod command and understanding symbolic and octal notation, you can efficiently set permissions for files and directories. Combining chmod with the find command and automating tasks with shell scripts further enhances your ability to manage permissions effectively.

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