How to Remove (Delete) Symbolic Links in Linux

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A symbolic link, also known as a symlink, is a special type of file that points to another file or directory. It is something like a shortcut in Windows. A symlink can point to a file or a directory on the same or a different filesystem or partition.

In this guide, we will show you how to remove (delete) symbolic links in Linux/UNIX systems using the rm, unlink, and find commands.

Before You Begin

To remove a symlink, you need to have writing permissions on the directory that contains the symlink. Otherwise, you will get “Operation not permitted” error.

When you remove a symlink, the file it points to is not affected.

Use the ls -l command to check whether a given file is a symbolic link, and to find the file or directory that symbolic link point to.

ls -l /usr/bin/python
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 9 Apr 16  2018 /usr/bin/python -> python2.7

The first character “l”, indicates that the file is a symlink. The “->” symbol shows the file the symlink points to.

The rm command removes given files and directories.

To delete a symlink, invoke the rm command followed by the symbolic link name as an argument:

rm symlink_name

On success, the command exits with zero and displays no output.

With rm you can delete more than one symbolic links at once. To do that pass the names of the symlinks as arguments, separated by space:

rm symlink1 symlink2

To get prompted before removing the symlink, use the -i option:

rm -i symlink_name

To confirm type y and press Enter.

rm: remove symbolic link 'symlink_name'? 

If the symbolic link points to a directory, do not append the / trailing slash at the end. Otherwise, you will get an error:

rm symlink_to_dir/
rm: cannot remove 'symlink_to_dir/': Is a directory

If the name of the argument ends with /, the rm command assumes that the file is a directory. The error happens because, when used without the -d or -r option, rm cannot delete directories.

To be on the safe side, never -r option when removing symbolic links with rm. For example, if you type:

rm -f symlink_to_dir/

The contents of the target directory will be deleted.

The unlink command deletes a given file. Unlike rm, unlink accepts only a single argument.

To delete a symbolic link, run the unlink command followed by the symlink name as an argument:

unlink symlink_name

If the command executes successfully, it displays no output.

Do not append the / trailing slash at the end of the symlink name because unlink cannot remove directories.

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

To find all broken symbolic links under a given directory, run the following command:

find /path/to/directory -xtype l
/path/to/directory/symlink1
/path/to/directory/subdir/symlink2

The command will list all broken links under the directory and its subdirectories.

If you want to exclude the symlinks that are contained in the subdirectories pass the -maxdepth 1 option to find:

find /path/to/directory -maxdepth 1 -xtype l
/path/to/directory/symlink1

Once you find the broken symlinks, you can either manually remove them with rm or unlink or use the -delete option of the find command:

find /path/to/directory -xtype l -delete

Conclusion

To remove a symbolic link, use either the rm or unlink command followed by the name of the symlink as an argument. When removing a symbolic link that points to a directory do not append a trailing slash to the symlink name.

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