The owner of the file specified by path is changed. Only the super-user may change the owner of a file. The owner of a file may change the group of the file to any group of which that owner is a member. The super-user may change the group arbitrarily.
If the owner or group is specified as -1, then that ID is not changed.
When the owner or group of an executable file are changed by a non-super-user, the S_ISUID and S_ISGID mode bits are cleared. POSIX does not specify whether this also should happen when root does the chown; the Linux behaviour depends on the kernel version. In case of a non-group-executable file (with clear S_IXGRP bit) the S_ISGID bit indicates mandatory locking, and is not cleared by a chown.
On success, zero is returned. On error, -1 is returned, and errno is set appropriately.
Depending on the file system, other errors can be returned. The more general errors for chown(2) are listed below:
Since Linux 2.1.81, chown(2) does follow symbolic links, and there is a new system call lchown(2) that does not follow symbolic links. Since Linux 2.1.86, this new call (that has the same semantics as the old chown(2)) has got the same syscall number, and chown(2) got the newly introduced number.
The chown call conforms to SVr4, SVID, POSIX, X/OPEN. The 4.4BSD version can only be used by the superuser (that is, ordinary users cannot give away files). SVr4 documents EINVAL, EINTR, ENOLINK and EMULTIHOP returns, but no ENOMEM. POSIX.1 does not document ENOMEM or ELOOP error conditions.
The chown(2) semantics are deliberately violated on NFS file systems which have UID mapping enabled. Additionally, the semantics of all system calls which access the file contents are violated, because chown(2) may cause immediate access revocation on already open files. Client side caching may lead to a delay between the time where ownership have been changed to allow access for a user and the time where the file can actually be accessed by the user on other clients.