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One of the very powerful features of Linux file systems is symbolic links, more commonly known as soft links or simply symlinks. Symlinks make it much easier to get to a commonly used file or directory. Let’s assume we have a deep directory tree and want to make it easy to access myfile within it:

$ mkdir -p deep/directory/tree
$ ln -s deep/directory/tree shortcut
$ touch shortcut/myfile

Now we can refer to that file as either shortcut/myfile or deep/directory/tree/myfile from the current directory.

Symlinks can point to other symlinks. For example, on the Debian system I’m typing this on, /usr/bin/vim is a symlink:

$ file /usr/bin/vim
/usr/bin/vim: symbolic link to /etc/alternatives/vim

But the place it points to is also a symlink:

$ file /etc/alternatives/vim
/etc/alternatives/vim: symbolic link to /usr/bin/vim.gtk

That’s not an uncommon configuration to handle the update-alternatives(1) mechanism.

Finding the True Path

There’s a really simple what of finding out where the real file is: realpath. Here it is in action:

$ realpath shortcut/myfile 
/tmp/deep/directory/tree/myfile
$ realpath /usr/bin/vim
/usr/bin/vim.gtk

When we traverse symlinked directories to get to our working directory, it can even be confusing as to where we are, because pwd will show the path with symlinks:

$ cd shortcut
/tmp/shortcut
$ pwd
/tmp/shortcut

However, realpath can show where we really are:

$ realpath .
/tmp/deep/directory/tree

Was This Linux Tip Useful?

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