I want to take down data in /path/to/data/folder/month/date/hour/minute/file and symlink it to /path/to/recent/file and do this automatically every time a file is created.

Assuming I will not know ahead of time if /path/to/recent/file exists, how can I go about creating it (if it doesn't exist) or replacing it (if it does exist)? I am sure I can just check if it exists and then do a delete, symlink, but I'm wondering if there is a simple command which will do what I want in one step.

  • If the destination exists, but is not a symlink, what do you want/expect to happen? Jun 13, 2019 at 18:03

2 Answers 2


This is the purpose of ln's -f option: it removes existing destination files, if any, before creating the link.

ln -sf /path/to/data/folder/month/date/hour/minute/file /path/to/recent/file

will create the symlink /path/to/recent/file pointing to /path/to/data/folder/month/date/hour/minute/file, replacing any existing file or symlink to a file if necessary (and working fine if nothing exists there already).

If a directory, or symlink to a directory, already exists with the target name, the symlink will be created inside it (so you'd end up with /path/to/recent/file/file in the example above). The -n option, available in some versions of ln, will take care of symlinks to directories for you, replacing them as necessary:

ln -sfn /path/to/data/folder/month/date/hour/minute/file /path/to/recent/file

POSIX ln doesn’t specify -n so you can’t rely on it generally. Much of ln’s behaviour is implementation-defined so you really need to check the specifics of the system you’re using. If you’re using GNU ln, you can use the -t and -T options too, to make its behaviour fully predictable in the presence of directories (i.e. fail instead of creating the link inside the existing directory with the same name).


Please read the manual.

ln -sfn /new/target /path/to/symlink

$ man ln

-n, --no-dereference
treat LINK_NAME as a normal file if it is a symbolic link to a directory

  • 5
    Why is this the correct answer?
    – Mrchief
    Jun 19, 2017 at 18:02
  • 9
    @Mrchief If /path/to/symlink is already a symlink to a directory, without the -n flag, you'll get the symlink created in /path/to/symlink/target instead of replacing /path/to/symlink
    – Flimm
    Jun 22, 2017 at 10:42
  • 2
    Note that in macOS, this still doesn't work in some cases, for instances, when /path/to/symlink exists and is a directory, and but not a symlink. I think the only way to work around it is to run rm -rf first.
    – Flimm
    Jun 22, 2017 at 10:47
  • @Flimm I don't think anyone would expect adding a flag to an ln operation to become equivalent to an rm -rf. In such a case it should fail, and be up to the user to remove a dir.
    – Walf
    Dec 8, 2021 at 0:06

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