Beauty of Symbolic Links


During your tour of Linux file system, you probably noticed a strange kind of directory entry, particularly in the /boot and /lib directories. When listed with ls -l, you would have seen something like this:


lrwxrwxrwx     25 Jul  3 16:42 System.map -> /boot/System.map-2.0.36-3
-rw-r--r-- 105911 Oct 13  1998 System.map-2.0.36-0.7
-rw-r--r-- 105935 Dec 29  1998 System.map-2.0.36-3
-rw-r--r-- 181986 Dec 11  1999 initrd-2.0.36-0.7.img
-rw-r--r-- 182001 Dec 11  1999 initrd-2.0.36.img
lrwxrwxrwx     26 Jul  3 16:42 module-info -> /boot/module-info-2.0.36-3
-rw-r--r--  11773 Oct 13  1998 module-info-2.0.36-0.7
-rw-r--r--  11773 Dec 29  1998 module-info-2.0.36-3
lrwxrwxrwx     16 Dec 11  1999 vmlinuz -> vmlinuz-2.0.36-3
-rw-r--r-- 454325 Oct 13  1998 vmlinuz-2.0.36-0.7
-rw-r--r-- 454434 Dec 29  1998 vmlinuz-2.0.36-3

Notice the files, System.map, module-info and vmlinuz. See the strange notation after the file names?

These three files are called symbolic links. Symbolic links are a special type of file that point to another file. With symbolic links, it is possible for a single file to have multiple names. Here’s how it works: Whenever the system is given a file name that is a symbolic link, it transparently maps it to the file it is pointing to.

Just what is this good for? This is a very handy feature. Let’s consider the directory listing above (which is the /boot directory of an old Red Hat 5.2 system). This system has had multiple versions of the Linux kernel installed. We can see this from the files vmlinuz-2.0.36-0.7 and vmlinuz-2.0.36-3. These file names suggest that both version 2.0.36-0.7 and 2.0.36-3 are installed. Because the file names contain the version it is easy to see the differences in the directory listing. However, this would be confusing to programs that rely on a fixed name for the kernel file. These programs might expect the kernel to simply be called "vmlinuz". Here is where the beauty of the symbolic link comes in. By creating a symbolic link called vmlinuz that points to vmlinuz-2.0.36-3, we have solved the problem.

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About Amol

I'm blogger, avid read, photographer and book lover. Reading a lot of good stuff and sharing it with the world are my passions.
This entry was posted in Linux, Open Source, Tricks and Tips. and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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