Why doesn't chown -R root:www-data work on my Wordpress installation?

Quite some time ago, I was following this tutorial which showed me how to install Wordpress on an NGINX + Ubuntu (LEMP) setup:

I got stuck on this portion for quite some time back then as I used root as the user for this instruction snippet below:

The group that nginx operates under is www-data. For the user portion, enter your user account name. We will demonstrate with an account called demo here:

sudo chown -R demo:www-data /var/www/html/*

To clarify, it didn’t give me any errors or anything, but what I found out was that if I used root:www-data for my file ownership settings, I wouldn’t be able to add / update plugins / edit code on the site. It would always prompt me for FTP / SFTP details, in which it would fail even if i entered the correct credentials due to the permissions being drwxr-xr-x (Owner has write permission).

So i tried this:

sudo chown -R www-data:www-data /var/www/html/*

and it worked – I was able to write / update plugins freely as the Wordpress site admin.

However, I now have a roughly better understanding of how ownership and groups work, and I’m concerned that by doing chown -R www-data:www-data, I opened a security flaw on my own.

Am I doing it right? Why didn’t root:www-data work for being able to update the site in the first place?

Submit an answer

This textbox defaults to using Markdown to format your answer.

You can type !ref in this text area to quickly search our full set of tutorials, documentation & marketplace offerings and insert the link!

Sign In or Sign Up to Answer

These answers are provided by our Community. If you find them useful, show some love by clicking the heart. If you run into issues leave a comment, or add your own answer to help others.

Want to learn more? Join the DigitalOcean Community!

Join our DigitalOcean community of over a million developers for free! Get help and share knowledge in Q&A, subscribe to topics of interest, and get courses and tools that will help you grow as a developer and scale your project or business.

I researched the same problem and I found the solution. The trick is to add your user “demo” to the group www-data (since www-data is a group)

add user “demo” to group “www-data” (below replace demo with your username)

sudo usermod -a -G www-data demo

set permissions for user group www-data

sudo chgrp -R www-data /var/www/html

followed by

sudo chmod -R g+w /var/www/html

Now you can modify files as “demo” via SFTP and your wordpress installation can modify files without requesting credentials

This solution worked indeed - Thanks a lot sugarhill BUT unfortunately, the file permissions changed from 755 to 775… and a warning message is appearing now in the wp-admin interface, stating - ---------->> var/www/html/wp-content is write-able. When finished installing the plugin, change the permissions back to the default: chmod 755 /var/www/html/wp-content. Permissions are currently 775. ---------->> If I change the file permission, then it again shows the same issue. Any suggestion? Thanks for your support.

Thank you so much, Worked like a charm.