I needed to edit a .config file (which I know for a fact is not creating these problems, just to clear that up) and it wouldn't let me save it, so I took ownership of /etc and all contents with the command chown -hR username /etc and that let me edit the .config file but now whenever I try to install any packages or use any sudo commands, it doesn't work (I've checked for errors in the sudo file in sudoers.d and there was nothing wrong with that).

So how do I return it to the previous owner?

marked as duplicate by Eric Carvalho, waltinator, Kevin Bowen, MadMike, Dan Mar 23 '17 at 12:31

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • Try running sudo chown -R root:root /etc. It works... now you know you shouldn't play like this with root own files! :) – edwin May 27 '13 at 13:20
  • i did that, now whenever i run a sudo command it says 'sudo: /etc/sudoers.d is world writable' – Raf May 27 '13 at 14:11
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    @Raf If it says /etc/sudoers.d is world writable after re-chowning everything back to root you must have done something else, like chmod 666. That is an entirely different kettle of fish. – l0b0 Feb 20 '17 at 18:34
  • 2
    unless you have some long winded configurations setup for this system i would reinstall it , it will be safer and more reliable than having unexpected permissions in /etc IMHO – Amias Feb 21 '17 at 11:14
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    Can anyone explain to me why this is a candidate for reopening? Thanks. – Elder Geek Aug 24 '17 at 23:59

Since some of the files in /etc might not be owned by root, if you want to avoid reinstalling, you can do the following:

  1. Boot into a live system and mount the partition containing the /etc directory. For example, if your / partition is /dev/sda1, you would do this from the live system:

    sudo mount /dev/sda1 /mnt
  2. Set the ownership of all files to root:

    sudo chown -R root /mnt/etc
  3. At this point all files belong to root. This is probably what you need but some files in /etc/ might have different ownership. If those files are also not owned by root in the live system, you can use them as a reference to change the permissions on the installed system:

    shopt -s globstar
    cd /mnt/etc
    for file in **/*; do 
        [ -e "$liveSystem/$file" ] &&
            echo sudo chown --reference "$liveSystem/$file" "$file"

    If you have also changed the permissions, do this instead:

    shopt -s globstar
    cd /mnt/etc
    for file in **/*; do 
        [ -e "$liveSystem/$file" ] &&
            echo sudo chown --reference "$liveSystem/$file" "$file" &&
            echo sudo chmod --reference "$liveSystem/$file" "$file"

    That will just print what command would be run. Once you've seen what that does and are satisfied that it is correct, remove the echo to make it actually run the commands.

    Now that will iterate over all files, including those whose ownership is root in both directories, but that doesn't matter. You could write a more sophisticated approach but it's not worth it since this will take seconds.

  4. Reboot your machine: everything should be back to normal.

IMPORTANT: this will not help if you have installed something that isn't on the live system and whose files in /etc don't belong to root. If this is the case, you'll either need to find what you installed and reinstall it or you might need to reinstall the system.


Boot into recovery and issue the following commands:

mount -o remount,rw -n /
chown -R root: /etc

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