Is there a way to selectively chown the files/folders owned by a particular user, while leaving other files/folders untouched? I'm in the process of migrating to a fresh user account on my machine. I copied what I need from the old user's home directory and chowned it recursively, as described on an Apple support page. The support page makes no mention of chowning files/folders elsewhere on the machine, but I've found plenty of stuff in other locations that are owned by the old user:

  • /Applications (lots of stuff)
  • /Library (lots of stuff)
  • /private/var/tmp (a small lot)
  • /private/var/vm/app_profile/ (2 files)
  • /usr/local/clamXav/ (1 easily replaceable file)
  • /usr/local/lib/codec/ (4 files/folders)

I'm planning to delete the old user once I'm confident that everything is working, and I'm not sure what would happen if some critical files are owned by a deleted user. The old user was an admin account, if that matters. Oh, and I'm running OSX 10.4.11 on a PPC mac, if that matters.

Any help appreciated :)

1 Answer 1


You can check and re-assign ownership recursively over a directory tree with find, stat and chown.


olduser=<oldusername> # replace this with your old username
newuser=<newusername> # replace this with your new username
dir=<dir> # replace this with the directory you want to run through

find $dir | while read filename
  owner=$(stat "$filename" | cut -d ' ' -f 5)
  if [ $owner == $olduser ]
    chown $newuser $filename
  • what's the significance of $ in bash?
    – ivan
    Oct 4, 2012 at 15:27
  • It's how you refer to variables you have assigned. By setting dir='/Applications', for instance, any future use of $dir will be effectively replaced with '/Applications'. Also, in the example of the $() section, it's a way to make bash act as if the output of a particular command or commands were typed in-place. For instance, man $(echo 'grep') is equivalent to man grep, because echo 'grep' returns grep.
    – colons
    Oct 4, 2012 at 15:48
  • 4
    No need for stat, just use find directly: find $dir -user $olduser -exec chown $newuser '{}' \;
    – nohillside
    Oct 4, 2012 at 18:09
  • Ooh. I didn't know find could be filtered like that. Neat.
    – colons
    Oct 4, 2012 at 21:09
  • @patrix- I think I understand the above code, except for the \ . If I understand it correctly, it finds files in $dir that meet two conditions: 1) owned by $olduser and 2) return a zero value exit status when chown $newuser is run on them. I'm guessing it starts with the first condition, and if that condition is met, it then runs chown $newuser on the file to evaluate the second condition. So if the first condition fails (the file's not owned by $olduser), find moves on without chowning that file. A clever way of piping. Is that sort of correct? And thanks for the help!
    – ivan
    Oct 6, 2012 at 1:34

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