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Is there a way to find all symbolic links that don't point anywere?

find ./ -type l

will give me all symbolic links, but makes no distinction between links that go somewhere and links that don't.

I'm currently doing:

find ./ -type l -exec file {} \; |grep broken

But I'm wondering what alternate solutions exist.

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up vote 179 down vote accepted

I'd strongly suggest not to use find -L for the task (see below for explanation). Here are some other ways to do this:

  • If you want to use a "pure find" method, it should rather look like this:

    find . -xtype l

    (xtype is a test performed on a dereferenced link) This may not be available in all versions of find, though. But there are other options as well;

  • You can also exec test -e from within the find command:

    find . -type l -! -exec test -e {} \; -print
  • Even some grep trick could be better (i.e. safer) than find -L, but not exactly such as presented in the question (which greps in entire output lines, including filenames):

     find . -type l -exec sh -c "file -b {} | grep -q ^broken" \; -print

The find -L trick quoted by solo from commandlinefu looks nice and hacky, but it has one very dangerous pitfall: All the symlinks are followed. Consider directory with the contents presented below:

$ ls -l
total 0
lrwxrwxrwx 1 michal users  6 May 15 08:12 link_1 -> nonexistent1
lrwxrwxrwx 1 michal users  6 May 15 08:13 link_2 -> nonexistent2
lrwxrwxrwx 1 michal users  6 May 15 08:13 link_3 -> nonexistent3
lrwxrwxrwx 1 michal users  6 May 15 08:13 link_4 -> nonexistent4
lrwxrwxrwx 1 michal users 11 May 15 08:20 link_out -> /usr/share/

If you run find -L . -type l in that directory, all /usr/share/ would be searched as well (and that can take really long)1. For a find command that is "immune to outgoing links", don't use -L.

1 This may look like a minor inconvenience (the command will "just" take long to traverse all /usr/share) - but can have more severe consequences. For instance, consider chroot environments: They can exist in some subdirectory of the main filesystem and contain symlinks to absolute locations. Those links could seem to be broken for the "outside" system, because they only point to proper places once you've entered the chroot. I also recall that some bootloader used symlinks under /boot that only made sense in an initial boot phase, when the boot partition was mounted as /.

So if you use a find -L command to find and then delete broken symlinks from some harmless-looking directory, you might even break your system...

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This is something I hadn't considered @rozcietrzewiacz and is something that will definitely effect my particular case. Thanks for the thorough follow-up. – gabe. May 15 '12 at 15:46
I think this might be the answer to a major performance problem we've been having with a particular script. Thanks! – Kenny Rasschaert Jun 11 '12 at 9:37
This is awesome! I've been writing throw-away Python script for this particular one!! :-/ – Lester Cheung Oct 19 '12 at 0:02
I think -type l is redundant since -xtype l will operate as -type l on non-links. So find -xtype l is probably all you need. Thanks for this approach. – quornian Nov 17 '12 at 21:56
@JoóÁdám "which can only be a symbolic link in case it is broken". Give "broken symbolic link" or "non exist file" an individual type, instead of overloading l, is less confusing to me. – weakish Apr 22 at 12:19

The symlinks command from http://www.ibiblio.org/pub/Linux/utils/file/symlinks-1.4.tar.gz can be used to identify symlinks with a variety of characteristics. For instance:

$ rm a
$ ln -s a b
$ symlinks .
dangling: /tmp/b -> a
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Is this tool available for osx? – qed Jul 27 '14 at 20:32
Never mind, got it compiled. – qed Jul 27 '14 at 20:51
Apparently symlinks is pre-installed on Fedora. – Daniel Jonsson Apr 11 '15 at 22:11

As rozcietrzewiacz has already commented, find -L can have unexpected consequence of expanding the search into symlinked directories, so isn't the optimal approach. What no one has mentioned yet is that

find /path/to/search -xtype l

is the more concise, and logically identical command to

find /path/to/search -type l -xtype l

None of the solutions presented so far will detect cyclic symlinks, which is another type of breakage. this question addresses portability. To summarize, the portable way to find broken symbolic links, including cyclic links, is:

find /path/to/search -type l -exec test ! -e {} \; -print

For more details, see this question or ynform.org. Of course, the definitive source for all this is the findutils documentaton.

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Short, consice, and addresses the find -L pitfall as well as cyclical links. +1 – Flimm Oct 7 '14 at 13:00

I believe adding the -L flag to your command will allow you do get rid of the grep:

$ find -L . -type l


from the man:

 -L      Cause the file information and file type (see stat(2)) returned 
         for each symbolic link to be those of the file referenced by the
         link, not the link itself. If the referenced file does not exist,
         the file information and type will be for the link itself.
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At first I've upvoted this, but then I've realised how dangerous it may be. Before you use it, please have a look at my answer! – rozcietrzewiacz May 15 '12 at 7:37

If you need a different behavior whether the link is broken or cyclic you can also use %Y with find:

$ touch a
$ ln -s a b  # link to existing target
$ ln -s c d  # link to non-existing target
$ ln -s e e  # link to itself
$ find . -type l -exec test ! -e {} \; -printf '%Y %p\n' \
   | while read type link; do
         case "$type" in
         N) echo "do something with broken link $link" ;;
         L) echo "do something with cyclic link $link" ;;
do something with broken link ./d
do something with cyclic link ./e

This example is copied from this post (site deleted).


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Thank you @andy – gabe. Dec 27 '12 at 21:26
Yet another shorthand for those whose find command does not support xtype can be derived from this: find . type l -printf "%Y %p\n" | grep -w '^N'. As andy beat me to it with the same (basic) idea in his script, I was reluctant to write it as separate answer. :) – syntaxerror Jun 25 '15 at 0:28

This will print out the names of broken symlinks in the current directory.

for l in $(find . -type l); do cd $(dirname $l); if [ ! -e "$(readlink $(basename $l))" ]; then echo $l; fi; cd - > /dev/null; done

Works in Bash. Don't know about other shells.

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I use this for my case and it works quite well, as I know the directory to look for broken symlinks:

find -L $path -maxdepth 1 -type l

and my folder does include a link to /usr/share but it doesn't traverse it. Cross-device links and those that are valid for chroots, etc. are still a pitfall but for my use case it's sufficient.

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find -L . -type l |xargs symlinks will give you info whether the link exists or not on a per foundfile basis.

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