Symbolic links or symbolic links are one of the lesser known, but useful, features of Windows. You can think of symbolic links as the shortcuts that you create in Windows. However, symbolic links are much more powerful and useful than traditional shortcuts. Let’s see what symbolic links are and how you can easily create them in Windows 10.
What are symbolic links?
When you create a shortcut for a file or folder, all you do is point it to that specific file or folder, nothing more. Symbolic links are more than just a shortcut. They act like a virtual file or folder that links to the actual file or folder.
When you symlink a file, it looks like it is the actual file when in reality it redirects you to the actual file in the background. Besides files, you can also create symbolic links for folders. Simply put, a symbolic link is nothing more than a construction of the text string that lets the operating system know that it is simply a path to another file or folder.
For example, most cloud service apps that you install will only sync files and folders that are in their own folder. But there will be times when you might have a folder on another drive that you want to sync with the cloud storage service.
However, you don’t want to move the folder from its actual location or don’t want to create a copy of the folder. In these situations, you can just create a symbolic link in the cloud service folder so that you can sync the contents of the target folder without actually moving or copying the actual folder.
Since a symbolic link is just a virtual folder that just acts as a path to the real folder, you don’t have to worry about the symbolic link consuming your disk space.
Create a symbolic link using the Link Shell extension
If you don’t want to move around in the Command Prompt and are ready to move around a bit by installing a tool that allows you to create symbolic links to an existing file or directory using the context menu of the right click, try the following. Shell link extension is a tool that allows you to create hard links and symbolic links by right-clicking on the folder you want to link to.
There are a few hoops with the installation. You will receive a warning that it cannot be downloaded safely and Windows Defender may warn you that it is “unsigned”.
We can assure you that the tool is safe. Go ahead and install it. During installation, explorer.exe will restart, so make sure you have backed up important items.
Once LSE is installed, right click on the target file or folder to which you want to symbolic link, then click “Choose link source”.
Next, navigate to the folder you want the symbolic link to appear in, right-click it, and select “Drop As -> Symbolic Link”.
Create a symbolic link using Mklink
Note: although I am showing this in Windows 10, the commands shown here are applicable to Windows Vista and above.
Creating symbolic links in Windows is quite simple with the
mklink order. To start, press To win + X, and then select the option “Command Prompt (Admin)” to open the Command Prompt with administrator rights.
Once the Command Prompt opens, use the command format below to create a symbolic link for a file.
In my case I want to symbolic link in drive E for a text file located on drive F, so the command looks like this:
The first path you see in the command above is where you’ll create your symbolic link. This path is called a “link”. The second path belongs to the actual file on your disk and is called “Target”.
Once you’ve created the symbolic link, this is how it looks in File Explorer. Although the icon looks like a normal shortcut, it is a symbolic link.
With individual files, you can create symbolic links for entire directories. To do this, use the command below. The switch
/D allows you to do that.
As soon as you run the command, the symbolic link will be created for the target directory. You can use it to access all files and folders in the real folder. If you want, you can remove the symbolic link like any other file or folder. Just select the symbolic link, hit the Delete key on your keyboard, and you’re good to go.
And you are done! If you want to do more tweaking under the hood in Windows 10, check out our list of the best registry hacks. Also check out our guide on how to get Mac Style Hot Corners in Windows 10.
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