154

I created this file structure:

test/src
test/firefox

When I run this command:

ln -s test/src test/firefox

I would expect a symbolic link test/firefox/src to be created pointing to test/src, however I get this error instead:

-bash: cd: src: Too many levels of symbolic links
  • What am I doing wrong?
  • Can you not create a symbolic link to one folder which is stored in a sibling of that folder?
  • What's the point of this?
6
  • I'm not sure I follow what you did. Please post the output of ls -ld test test/*, or the exact sequence of commands that you ran to create these files. Jul 9 '14 at 0:53
  • mkdir test; mkdir test/src; mkdir test/firefox; ln -s test/src test/firefox Jul 9 '14 at 1:14
  • With these commands, cd test/firefox/src would show the error cd: no such file or directory: test/firefox/src, because test/firefox/src is a dangling symbolic link. Are you running cd on some other symbolic link called src? Jul 9 '14 at 1:18
  • I am sure you did something between the ln -s and the cd that you don't tell us. Assuming that there is only a test subdirectory in your current directory, a cd src (or whatever you executed) should throw an error. Did you put something into test/firefox?
    – Dubu
    Jul 9 '14 at 7:44
  • 8
    And as @Gilles gave a hint, that link will not do what you think it does. Symbolic links with relative targets are always relative to the symlink directory, not the directory from where you created the link. So, being in a directory /some/path, a ln -s test/src test/firefox will create a symlink pointing from /some/path/test/firefox/src to /some/path/test/firefox/test/src, not to /some/path/test/src.
    – Dubu
    Jul 9 '14 at 7:48
257

As Dubu points out in a comment, the issue lies in your relative paths. I had a similar problem symlinking my nginx configuration from /usr/local/etc/nginx to /etc/nginx. If you create your symlink like this:

cd /usr/local/etc
ln -s nginx/ /etc/nginx

You will in fact make the link /etc/nginx -> /etc/nginx, because the source path is relative to the link's path. The solution is as simple as using absolute paths:

ln -s /usr/local/etc/nginx /etc/nginx

If you want to use relative paths and have them behave the way you probably expect them to, you can use the $PWD variable to easily add in the path to the current working directory path, like so:

cd /usr/local/etc
ln -s "$PWD/nginx/" /etc/nginx

Make sure that the path is in double quotes, to make sure things like spaces in your current path are escaped. Note that you must use double quotes when doing this, as $PWD will not be substituted if you use single quotes.

8
  • 80
    This answer was clearer than the other one. "Use absolute paths."
    – wulftone
    Jun 17 '15 at 16:59
  • 2
    I can confirm that this worked for me on Windows using cygwin. Thanks!
    – dimiguel
    Sep 28 '15 at 16:59
  • I often have problems getting the arguments correct. On OSX and GNU Linux, they are reversed which confuses me even more.
    – Daniel W.
    Nov 21 '16 at 13:39
  • 1
    I still can't believe this works.
    – Aloha
    Jan 17 '17 at 8:17
  • 8
    You can use relative links, but they should be based on the directory where the symbolic link is. In other words: the first argument should be the same that you would write after cd if you would like to go to the targeted directory from the directory where the symbolic link's file is.
    – totymedli
    Mar 14 '18 at 15:19
48

On the surface, what you've suggested you've tried works for me.

Example

$ mkdir -p test/src test/firefox

$ tree --noreport -fp
.
`-- [drwxrwxr-x]  ./test
    |-- [drwxrwxr-x]  ./test/firefox
    `-- [drwxrwxr-x]  ./test/src

Make the symbolic link:

$ ln -s test/src test/firefox

$ tree --noreport -fp
.
`-- [drwxrwxr-x]  ./test
    |-- [drwxrwxr-x]  ./test/firefox
    |   `-- [lrwxrwxrwx]  ./test/firefox/src -> test/src
    `-- [drwxrwxr-x]  ./test/src

Running it a 2nd time would typically produce this:

$ ln -s test/src test/firefox
ln: failed to create symbolic link ‘test/firefox/src’: File exists

So you likely have something else going on here. I would suspect that you have a circular reference where a link is pointing back onto itself.

You can use find to sleuth this out a bit:

$ cd /suspected/directory
$ find -L ./ -mindepth 15
2
  • 3
    find -L ./ -mindepth 15 revealed the culprit
    – user7610
    Oct 13 '16 at 12:49
  • It is certainly a symbolic link pointing to itself or this link point to another one that point to itself. I have seen this myself. Under Ubuntu, when you do ls -l, the link will blink; so it is hard to miss.
    – Kemin Zhou
    Dec 11 '19 at 23:58
17

Symlinks are relative to the parent directory of the link, not of the current directory of the ln process.

When you do:

cd /top/dir
ln -s test/src test/firefox

(where test/firefox is a directory), you're making a test/firefox/src symlink whose target is test/src.

That test/src is relative to the test/firefox directory, so that's a symlink to /top/dir/test/firefox/test/src.

If you wanted that symlink to be a link to /top/dir/test/src, you'd need to write:

ln -s ../src test/firefox/

Or

ln -s /top/dir/test/src test/firefox/

though it's generally a bad idea to make symlinks to absolute paths as they are easily broken when directories are renamed or filesystems are mounted elsewhere.

With GNU ln, you can use its -r option to let it make the calculation by itself:

$ ln -rs test/src test/firefox/
$ ls -ld test/firefox/src
lrwxrwxrwx 1 chazelas chazelas 6 Nov 29 15:59 test/firefox/src -> ../src
1
  • This is the most concise and clearest of answers
    – Eddy Ekofo
    May 20 at 9:56
12

Use the absolute path instead of the relative path, then it will work.

Eg:

ln -s /home/user/test/src /home/user/test/firefox
2
  • Sometimes the issue is so simple. I was stuck for a while when I realized I used a relative path so the symlink was pointing to itself because it had the same name... upvoted
    – vdegenne
    Dec 19 '19 at 11:35
  • Just as a side note, you can indeed use relative paths and my advice is to generate a symlink directly from the directory where it will be created. For instance cd ./foo then ln -s ../bar bar (this symlink called bar will point the bar directory in the parent directory.
    – vdegenne
    Dec 19 '19 at 11:44
1

The answer is to use absolute path. But it can be annoying to type the full path for something that is in the current directory. You can use command substitution of pwd to avoid that. If your target is in the current directory:

ln -s "$(pwd)"/target abs/path/to/link 

If your link should be in the current directory:

ln -s /abs/path/to/target "$(pwd)"
1
  • 1
    Note that POSIX shells have the $PWD special variable for that. That has the advantage over $(pwd) that it still works if the current directory ends in newline characters. Note that it's general better to use relative paths instead of absolute paths in the targets of symlinks as those with absolute paths are more easily broken when directories are renamed or moved or filesystems are mounted elsewhere. Jul 2 '20 at 6:00

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