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Ln Command in Linux (Create Symbolic Links)

A symbolic link, also known as a symlink or soft link, is a special type of file that points to another file or directory.

In this guide, we will cover how to use the ln command to create symbolic links.

There are two types of links in Linux/UNIX systems:

  • Hard links. You can think a hard link as an additional name for an existing file. Hard links are associating two or more file names with the same inode. You can create one or more hard links for a single file. Hard links cannot be created for directories and files on a different filesystem or partition.
  • Soft links. A soft link is something like a shortcut in Windows. It is an indirect pointer to a file or directory. Unlike a hard link, a symbolic link can point to a file or a directory on a different filesystem or partition.

How to Use the ln Command

ln is a command-line utility for creating links between files. By default, the ln command creates hard links. To create a symbolic link use, the -s (--symbolic) option.

The ln command syntax for creating symbolic links is as follows:

ln -s [OPTIONS] FILE LINK
  • If both the FILE and LINK are given, ln will create a link from the file specified as the first argument (FILE) to the file specified as the second argument (LINK).
  • If only one file is given as an argument or the second argument is a dot (.), ln will create a link to that file in the current working directory. The name of the symlink will be the same as the name of the file it points to.

By default, on success, ln doesn’t produce any output and returns zero.

To create a symbolic link to a given file, open your terminal and type:

ln -s source_file symbolic_link

Replace source_file with the name of the existing file for which you want to create the symbolic link and symbolic_link with the name of the symbolic link.

The symbolic_link parameter is optional. If you do not specify the symbolic link, the ln command will create a new link in your current directory:

In the following example, we are creating a symbolic link named my_link.txt to a file named my_file.txt:

ln -s my_file.txt my_link.txt

To verify that the symlink was successfully created, use the ls command:

ls -l my_link.txt

The output will look something like this:

lrwxrwxrwx 1 linuxize users  4 Nov  2 23:03  my_link.txt -> my_file.txt

The l character is a file type flag that represents a symbolic link. The -> symbol shows the file the symlink points to.

The command for creating a symbolic link to a directory is the same as when creating a symbolic link to a file. Specify the directory name as the first parameter and the symlink as the second parameter.

For example, if you want to create a symbolic link from the /mnt/my_drive/movies directory to the ~/my_movies directory you would run:

ln -s /mnt/my_drive/movies ~/my_movies

If you try to create a symbolic link that already exists, the ln command will print an error message.

ln -s my_file.txt my_link.txt
ln: failed to create symbolic link 'my_link.txt': File exists

To overwrite the destination path of the symlink, use the -f (--force) option.

ln -sf my_file.txt my_link.txt

To delete/remove symbolic links use either the unlink or rm command.

The syntax of the unlink is very simple:

unlink symlink_to_remove

Removing a symbolic link using the rm command is the same as when removing a file:

rm symlink_to_remove

No matter which command you use, when removing a symbolic link not append the / trailing slash at the end of its name.

If you delete or move the source file to a different location, the symbolic file will be left dangling (broken) and should be removed.

Conclusion

To create a symbolic link is Linux use the ln command with the -s option.

For more information about the ln command, visit the ln man page or type man ln in your terminal.

If you have any question or feedback, feel free to leave a comment.