Learn to master chmod in Linux! This guide covers beginner to advanced usage, helping you manage file permissions for optimal security and functionality.byHasanul Haque Banna

The Ultimate Guide to Using chmod in Linux

Managing file permissions is crucial for maintaining security and functionality in a Linux environment. One of the most powerful commands for this purpose is chmod. In this blog, we'll dive deep into everything you need to know about chmod—from the basics to advanced usage, ensuring you're well-equipped to handle file permissions on your Linux system.

1. Introduction to chmod

The chmod command, short for "change mode", is used to modify the access permissions of files and directories. Permissions dictate who can read, write, or execute a file, making chmod an essential tool for system administrators and regular users alike.

Basic Syntax

chmod [options] mode file(s)
  • mode: Specifies the permissions to set.
  • file(s): The files or directories to modify.

2. Understanding File Permissions

In Linux, each file and directory has a set of associated permissions. These permissions are divided into three categories:

  • User (u): The owner of the file.
  • Group (g): Users who are members of the file's group.
  • Others (o): All other users.

Permissions are represented as:

  • r (read): View the file's contents.
  • w (write): Modify the file's contents.
  • x (execute): Run the file as a program.

Example of Permissions


The following command represents:

  • User: read, write, execute (rwx)
  • Group: read, execute (r-x)
  • Others: read (r--)

Let's demonstrate in practical:

Blog Post Image by Hasanul Haque Banna

we have a directory called 'test' where there are some files and in the next picture we will be demonstrating the permissions

Blog Post Image by Hasanul Haque Banna

i this picture we ran the command `ls -l devops.sh` for demonstrating the permissions and the output we got `-rw-r--r--` in here.

Let's break down and explain each part of this output to understand the permissions and other attributes of the file:


-rw-r--r--: This is the permission string that defines access rights for three user groups: owner (user who created the file), group, and others.

  • -: This represents a dash and indicates it's a regular file (not a directory or other special type).
  • The following three characters define permissions for the owner (user who created the file):
    • r: Read permission (owner can read the file content).
    • w: Write permission (owner can modify the file content).
    • -: Dash indicates no permission (owner cannot execute the file as a program).
  • The next three characters define permissions for the group that owns the file:
    • r: Read permission (group members can read the file content).
    • -: Dash indicates no permission (group members cannot modify or execute the file).
  • The last three characters define permissions for others (users who are not the owner or in the group):
    • r: Read permission (anyone can read the file content).
    • -: Dash indicates no permission (others cannot modify or execute the file).

3. Using chmod in Symbolic Mode

Symbolic mode uses letters and symbols to set permissions. The general format is:

chmod [who][operator][permission] file(s)
  • who: u (user), g (group), o (others), a (all)
  • operator: + (add), - (remove), = (set exactly)
  • permission: r (read), w (write), x (execute)

Examples of Symbolic Mode

  • Add execute permission for the owner:
chmod u+x script.sh
  • Remove write permission from others:
chmod o-w document.txt
  • Set read-only permission for everyone:
chmod a=r file.txt

4. Using chmod in Numeric (Octal) Mode

Numeric mode uses a three-digit octal number to represent permissions, where each digit is a sum of numbers:

  • 4 (read)
  • 2 (write)
  • 1 (execute)

The format is:

chmod [octal number] file(s)

Examples of Numeric Mode

  • Full permissions for the owner, read and execute for group and others:
chmod 755 file.txt
  • Read and write for the owner, read-only for group and others:
chmod 644 document.txt
  • Full permissions for the owner, no permissions for others:
chmod 700 private_file

5. Advanced chmod Usage

Beyond basic usage, chmod offers advanced options for more complex scenarios.

Recursive Permission Changes

To change permissions recursively for all files and directories within a directory, use the -R option:

chmod -R 755 /path/to/directory

Combining Symbolic and Numeric Modes

While typically used separately, you can combine symbolic and numeric modes for greater flexibility:

chmod u+x,go-w file.txt

This command adds execute permission for the owner and removes write permission for group and others.

6. Best Practices for Using chmod

  • Least Privilege Principle: Grant only the permissions necessary for the task.
  • Avoid 777: Giving full permissions to everyone (chmod 777) can be risky. Use it sparingly and only when necessary.
  • Use Recursive Changes Carefully: The -R option can affect many files. Double-check before applying it.
  • Combine with chown: Use chmod with chown (change ownership) to manage permissions and ownership together.

1. Use chown to change ownership:

First, specify the new owner and group (optional) for the file using chown:

chown new_owner:new_group filename


  • new_owner: Username of the new owner (e.g.,john).
  • new_group: Name of the new group (optional, leave empty to keep the current group).
  • filename: Path to the file you want to modify.

2. Use chmod to set permissions:

After changing ownership, use chmod to set the desired permissions:

chmod permission_string filename


  • permission_string: This defines access rights for owner, group, and others. You can use either:
    • Symbolic notation: (e.g.,u+x,g-r,o-w) for adding/removing specific permissions for each user group.
    • Octal notation: (e.g.,755,640) for setting a specific combination of permissions (more advanced).
  • filename: Same filename used in the chown command.


Let's say you want to give ownership of devops.sh to the user user1 and set permissions so user1 can read, write, and execute the file, while the group and others can only read. Here are the commands:

chown user1: devops.sh
chmod u=rwx,go=r devops.sh

This will first change ownership to user1, then set permissions where user1 has read, write, and execute access, and the group and others can only read.


  • Running these commands often requires root privileges (use sudo before each command if needed).
  • Be cautious when modifying permissions, especially on system files, as incorrect settings can cause security issues.

7. Conclusion

Mastering chmod is essential for effective file management and security in Linux. Whether you're setting simple permissions or managing complex directory structures, understanding both symbolic and numeric modes will give you the flexibility and control you need. By following best practices and leveraging advanced options, you can ensure your files and directories are accessible to the right users and protected from unauthorized access.