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From the chown manpage:

The following options modify how a hierarchy is traversed when the -R option is also specified.  If more than one is specified, only the final one takes effect.

-H     if a command line argument is a symbolic link to a directory, traverse it

-L     traverse every symbolic link to a directory encountered

-P     do not traverse any symbolic links (default)

What is the exact difference between the -H and -L options? As I understood it, -H allows for directory symlink traversal only when that directory is specified as argument, where -L traverses all directory symlinks in any case. (These options apply only when chowning recursively using the -R option. In non-recursive mode, a directory symlink specified as argument is always traversed.) Is this correct?

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    That how I understand it too. – Henrik Sep 7 '16 at 6:50
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Your understanding is correct; these options match the same options in find.

Thus

chown -R .

or

chown -R -P .

changes the owner recursively without de-referencing any symlinks;

chown -R -H *

changes the owner recursively, de-referencing any symlinks in the current directory (since they end up being part of the arguments) but

chown -R -H .

still doesn't de-reference any symlink, and finally

chown -R -L .
chown -R -L *

both de-reference syminks.

(As an aside for the examples above, note that . and * don't necessarily result in the same outcome, depending on your shell's globbing options — * typically doesn't match dotfiles.)

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