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Difference between Soft Link vs Hard Links in Linux/UNIX? Answer

Hello guys, if you are looking to find out the difference between a soft link and a hard link in Linux then you have come to the right place. Earlier, I have shared the free Linux courses for beginners and in this article, I am going to explain the soft links and hard links in UNIX operator systems like Linux. There are two types of links in the UNIX system, hard links and soft links, also known as symbolic links or symlinks. Though both points to some other source, there is a lot of difference between them. The most important difference is that a hard link is a direct pointer to the inode of the original file. If you compare the original file with the hard link there won't be any differences between them. 

On other hand, a soft link is a file that has the information to point to another file or inode. That inode points to the data in the disk. Hard links are also much more restrictive than soft links and that's why they are used rarely. Also, not all file systems support hard links but UNIX does. 

Earlier Windows file system doesn't support soft links but from Windows 2000 onward they are supporting it, both Windows Vista and Windows 7 support links now. MS-DOS operating system doesn't support neither hard link nor soft link.

You can use the ln command in UNIX to create, update and remove soft links. I often use links for build and release management purpose like our application never points to hard-coded file or directory instead it points to links which are updated on every release.

Btw, if you are new to Linux or UNIX operating system then you can join a comprehensive Linux course like Linux Mastery: Master the Linux Command Line in 11.5 Hours on Udemy. This is one of the best online courses to learn essential Linux concepts and commands in a quick time. It's also very affordable as you can get this 12-hour long course for just $10 on Udemy. 

Difference between Soft link and Hard link in Linux

Here are a couple of important differences between soft links and hard links in UNIX, and another UNIX-based operating system like Linux. ?You can revise these points to prepare for Linux interviews. 

1. The target of the hard link must exist, which is not mandatory in the case of a soft link. A soft link is said broken if the target link doesn't exist.

2. Unlike soft links which are mostly created to reference directories like the current link pointing to the latest release, Hard links are generally not allowed on directories. 

3. One more critical difference between soft links and Hard links is that hard links are not allowed to cross partitions or volumes. Therefore, they cannot exist across file systems.

4. A hard link looks, and behaves, like a regular file, so it can be hard to find. On the other hand, soft links are quite different than regular files. 

5. A hard link is, for all intents and purposes, the same entity as the original file. They have the same file permissions, timestamps, and so on. All attributes are identical. The difference between a soft link and the hard link is also one of the popular Linux and UNIX Interview questions, so knowing the difference will also help you on interviews.  

By the way, A picture is worth a thousand words and this is true in connection with this image. You can see that how hard links and soft links are different from each other, hard links directly point to the file. You can learn more about the soft links on Learn Linux in 5 Days and Level Up Your Career course on Udemy, a fundamental Linux course for beginners. 

What is difference between Soft Link vs Hard Links in Linux/UNIX?

That's all about the difference between hard links and soft links in UNIX. Because of these restrictions, hard links are not used as often as symbolic links. I have yet to find a good reason to use the hard links but I have been using soft links for a long time for starting our Java application. It's much more flexible to refer to links in shell script than hard-coded files and directory names.

Here are a couple of more UNIX Interview questions and articles from this blog :
  • How do you find symbolic links in a directory in UNIX? (answer)
  • How to find hostname from IP address in UNIX? (answer)
  • How to find the size of a directory including all files and sub-directory? (answer)
  • Top 5 Courses to learn Vim Editor (online courses)
  • VI Editor examples and tips for beginners (vi examples)
  • How to find swap space and usage in Solaris? (answer)
  • How to remove empty files and directories in UNIX? (answer)
  • 10 Linux command line courses for Beginners (courses)
  • How does the nslookup command work in UNIX? (answer)
  • 10 examples of lsof command in Linux? (examples)
  • 7 Best Linux Courses for DevOps Engineers (Linux courses)
  • How to use the netstat command to find which process is listening on a port? (example)
  • Linux find + du + grep example (example)
  • 10 Examples of curl command in Linux (cURL)
  • 10 Examples of chmod command in Linux (chmod)
  • A Practical Guide to Linux Commands, Editors, and Shell Programming (guide)

Thanks for reading this article so far. If you found this Linux tutorial useful then please share it with your friends and colleagues. If you have any questions or feedback then please drop a note. 

P. S. - If you are new to the Linux world and looking for a free online course to start with then you can also check out this Learn The Linux Command Line: Basic Commands (FREE Course) course from Udemy. It's a great course to learn essential Linux command and concepts for FREE. More than 60K students have already joined this course. 

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