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In Unix, what is a symbolic link, and how do I create one?

A symbolic link, also termed a soft link, is a special kind of file that points to another file, much like a shortcut in Windows or a Macintosh alias. Unlike a hard link, a symbolic link does not contain the data in the target file. It simply points to another entry somewhere in the file system. This difference gives symbolic links certain qualities that hard links do not have, such as the ability to link to directories, or to files on remote computers networked through NFS. Also, when you delete a target file, symbolic links to that file become unusable, whereas hard links preserve the contents of the file.

To create a symbolic link in Unix, at the Unix prompt, enter:

ln -s source_file myfile

Replace source_file with the name of the existing file for which you want to create the symbolic link (this file can be any existing file or directory across the file systems). Replace myfile with the name of the symbolic link. The ln command then creates the symbolic link. After you've made the symbolic link, you can perform an operation on or execute myfile, just as you could with the source_file. You can use normal file management commands (e.g., cp, rm) on the symbolic link.

Note: If you delete the source file or move it to a different location, your symbolic file will not function properly. You should either delete or move it. If you try to use it for other purposes (e.g., if you try to edit or execute it), the system will send a "file nonexistent" message.

For more about symbolic links, see the man pages for the ln command. At the Unix prompt, enter man ln .

At Indiana University, for personal or departmental Linux or Unix systems support, see At IU, how do I get support for Linux or Unix?

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Last modified on May 13, 2009.

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