Creating Symlinks on Linux
A symbolic link, also called a soft link, or a symlink, is a special file on a Linux system, that points to another file or folder on the system. These are a rough equivalent to a Windows shortcut, on a Linux system.
Difference between Symlinks and Shortcuts
A symlink does not act as a pointer to a different file, or a folder, unlike a shortcut. A symlink acts as if the object is actually there.
For example, we want to sync a folder to dropbox, but we don't want to move it to dropbox. Creating a shortcut would make dropbox refer to that file location, and hence if we access it on another system it would fail. But with a symlink, Dropbox thinks the file is present there, and syncs the folder contents, giving us access even on other systems.
Applications of Symlinks
- Memory efficient shortcuts. Execute the same application from various folders, but consumes only a few bytes to make a symlink.
- Moving of data, or applications to another drive, without disrupting work.
To create a symlink from the command line, the basic command format is as follows.
ln -s <path to file/folder> <path of link>
ln, is the link command.
-s is used to specify that our link is symbolic and/or soft. By default
ln creates only hard links, so we need to remember to specify the
-s flag. After that in order, is the source file/folder, and then the destination of the shortcut.
Symlinking a file
To symlink a file, for example, the
.bashrc file in your
~ directory, to a
.termrc file in the
Documents/ directory, we run the following.
ln -s .bashrc Documents/.termrc
To check if a file is a symlink, running the command
ls -l Documents/.termrc
If the first column is an
l, it means it is a link.
Symlinking a folder
To symlink a folder, for example, to access
~/.local/bin/ (user local executables) in
~/Documents/projects/, we would run the following.
ln -s ~/.local/bin/ ~/Documents/projects/lbin
Symbolic links can be unlinked in two manners. One is using
Unlinking a Symlink
unlink has the following syntax.
unlink <path to link>
This will delete the link if the process is successful. A thing to remember is, even if the symlink is for a folder, we do not add the trailing '
/', because Linux assumes it to be a directory, and unlink can't delete directories.
Deleting a symlink
Since a symlink is nothing but a special file on a Linux filesystem, it can be removed in the same a Linux file can. By using
rm. Just like with
unlink, the trailing '
/' is not to be added if the symlink is that to a folder.
The syntax to
rm (remove) a symlink is as follows.
The benefit of using
unlink is that you can simultaneously delete multiple links using
Finding and Deleting broken Links
Sometimes there are too many links to keep track of, and we have modified our files various times, and we end up with dangling/broken links, due to missing files, or renamed folders, and other such causes. To handle this, we can find all broken links using the handy
find program on Linux.
find is a Linux utility that can search for symbolic links, and delete them as well, out of many other things.
To search for broken symlinks, use the command
find . -maxdepth 1 -xtype l -print # Max Depth to be used to find links, only in current folder, without recursive search
find . -maxdepth 1 -xtype l -delete # Delete after confirmation of files using -print
Hence, for example, the following commands were used to make a symlink and then move the original file, we get.
ln -s abc.cpp acbd
ll acbd # Check on link
mv abc.cpp a.cpp
We can see that the file
acbd, is now a broken link. To search and remove it, we use the
find command and
This tutorial covered how to use the
ln command, with the
-s flag to create soft/symbolic links, and how to handle those links, using
rm. It also covers how to find any broken links due to mishaps, and delete them.