Symbolic Links Guide in Linux For Beginners

In this article, we try to provide Symbolic Links guide steps in Linux for beginners. You will learn to create, enable, disable, and remove symbolic links in Linux distributions. In Linux, a symbolic link (also known as a symlink) is a type of file that serves as a reference or pointer to another file or directory. It’s similar to a shortcut in Windows. A symlink can point to a file or a directory on the same or a different filesystem.

Before you start, you need to know the following notes about symlinks:

  • Reference by Path: A symbolic link points to a file or directory by its path. If the target is moved or renamed, the symlink will not update and will point to a non-existent location and become a broken link.
  • Not a Copy: The symlink is not a copy of the target file; it’s simply a pointer. Any changes made to the file through the symlink are made to the target file.
  • Storage and Permissions: A symbolic link has its file permissions, but these permissions do not affect access to the target file. Access permissions are determined by the target file’s permissions.
  • File Size: The size of a symbolic link is the number of characters in the path it points to, not the size of the actual target file.

For learning Symbolic links, you need a Linux distro such as Debian, Ubuntu, AlmaLinux, etc, and root or non-root user access with sudo privileges.

Then, follow the steps below to complete this guide. Here we use AlmaLinux distro to show you the guide steps.

To create a symlink, you can easily use the ln command with the -s option. The format of it looks like the following command:

ln -s target_path link_name

The target path is the path to the file or directory you want to link to. The link name is the path of the symbolic link you’re creating.

For example:

ln -s /usr/local/example.txt ~/example_link.txt

This command creates a symbolic link named example_link.txt in the user’s home directory, which points to /usr/local/example.txt.

Also, you can use the ls -la to get full information and permissions to your symlinks.

ls -la
Exmaple Output
...
lrwxrwxrwx   1 root root        22 Jan 27 05:03 example_link.txt -> /usr/local/e         xample.txt

At this point, you can easily disable your symbolic links. It depends on the web server that you are using.

Apache users can add the following line to the .htaccess or the Apache configuration file to disable a symbolic link:

Options -FollowSymlinks

Nginx users can use the following line in their configuration files to disable a symbolic link:

disable_symlinks on

If you plan to remove or unlink a symlink on your distro, you can simply use the following commands:

# rm link_name

Or
# unlink link_name

For example:

# rm example_link.txt
Or
# unlink example_link.txt

Note: If you are unsure whether a file is a symbolic link, you can use the ls -l command to check it. Symbolic links are indicated with an l (lowercase L) in the first column of the output, and the link path is shown after the -> symbol.

For example:

Find Symlink files in Linux

As you may know, a broken link is the target of a link that doesn’t exist. To find a broken link in Linux, you can use the find command with the -xtype l option:

find /path/to/search -xtype l

Replace the /path/to/search with the desired directory you want to search for broken links. Also, you can use / to search your entire system.

For example, to find all broken symbolic links in the home directory, we can use:

find ~/ -xtype l

The command will show a list of broken symbolic links found in the specified directory and its subdirectories.

Once you find your broken links, you can easily use the rm and unlink commands to remove them.

Conclusion

Learning symbolic links is important for effective file system management and navigation in Linux. They provide a powerful way to organize and access files and directories. Hope you enjoy this guide. Also, you may like to read the following articles:

AppArmor Configuration on Debian 12 Bookworm

Best Way To Get PHP 7.4 on Debian 12 Bookworm

Extract Tar Gz Files in the Linux Command Line

Fix unknown filesystem type NTFS error in Linux

Essential Facts About /etc/passwd File in Linux

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