I was wondering if there was a way to register this, but since most modern search engines don't work well with phrases over about 5 words in length, I need some help on this one.

I was wondering this because I'm making a bash script that has to register files as certain types and make decisions accordingly. This technically isn't important to my project, but I was curious.

Also, if they are considered to be regular files, then is there a way to check if these files are hard linked without having to parse ls -i? And is there a way to check if some arbitrary file, X, is hard linked to some other arbitrary file, Y, without using the find -i command?

  • 5
    With hard links "X" isn't really linked to "Y". "X" and "Y" are the same file.
    – jordanm
    Oct 7, 2015 at 1:46
  • 6
    All "regular files" in a directory are hard links. Some such files have more than one. Oct 7, 2015 at 1:47
  • @AndrewHenle Wow, good point. That is exactly the kind of thing that I was looking for, so thanks. Oct 7, 2015 at 2:01
  • 2
    @Mr.MintyFresh In particular, there's no distinction between the "original" and the "link" as there is for symbolic links.
    – Random832
    Oct 7, 2015 at 5:52
  • 1

2 Answers 2


In Unix-style systems, the data structure which represents filesystem objects (in other words, the data about a file), is stored in what's called an "inode".

A file name is just a link to this inode, and is referred to as a "hard link". There is no difference between the first name a file is given and any subsequent link. So the answer is, "yes": a hard link is a regular file and, indeed, a regular file is a hard link.

The ls command will show you how many hard links there are to the file.

For example:

seumasmac@comp:~$ echo Hello > /tmp/hello.txt
seumasmac@comp:~$ ls -l /tmp/hello.txt 
-rw-rw-r-- 1 seumasmac seumasmac 6 Oct  4 13:05 /tmp/hello.txt

Here we've created a file called /tmp/hello.txt. The 1 in the output from ls -l indicates that there is 1 hard link to this file. This hard link is the filename itself /tmp/hello.txt.

If we now create another hard link to this file:

seumasmac@comp:~$ ln /tmp/hello.txt /tmp/helloagain.txt
seumasmac@comp:~$ ls -l /tmp/hello*
-rw-rw-r-- 2 seumasmac seumasmac 6 Oct  4 13:05 /tmp/helloagain.txt
-rw-rw-r-- 2 seumasmac seumasmac 6 Oct  4 13:05 /tmp/hello.txt

you can now see that both filenames indicate there are 2 hard links to the file. Neither of these is the "proper" filename, they're both equally valid. We can see that they both point to the same inode (in this case, 5374043):

seumasmac@comp:~$ ls -i /tmp/hello*
5374043 /tmp/helloagain.txt  5374043 /tmp/hello.txt

There is a common misconception that this is different for directories. I've heard people say that the number of links returned by ls for a directory is the number of subdirectories, including . and .. which is incorrect. Or, at least, while it will give you the correct number, it's right for the wrong reasons!

If we create a directory and do a ls -ld we get:

seumasmac@comp:~$ mkdir /tmp/testdir
seumasmac@comp:~$ ls -ld /tmp/testdir
drwxrwxr-x 2 seumasmac seumasmac 4096 Oct  4 13:20 /tmp/testdir

This shows there are 2 hard links to this directory. These are:


Note that /tmp/testdir/.. is not a link to this directory, it's a link to /tmp. And this tells you why the "number of subdirectories" thing works. When we create a new subdirectory:

seumasmac@comp:~$ mkdir /tmp/testdir/dir2
seumasmac@comp:~$ ls -ld /tmp/testdir
drwxrwxr-x 3 seumasmac seumasmac 4096 Oct  4 13:24 /tmp/testdir

you can now see there are 3 hard links to /tmp/testdir directory. These are:


So every new sub-directory will increase the link count by one, because of the .. entry it contains.

  • I understand how metadata, inodes, and hard linking works. I just needed it clarified if the hard linked file was counted as a regular file. This only shows me that the answer is 'yes' because of the column dedicated to this, which implicitly indicates that this is native to all files. So sorry, but I'll have to downvote this :( Oct 7, 2015 at 2:22
  • That's fine, I'm sure it will be useful info for someone else.
    – seumasmac
    Oct 7, 2015 at 2:28
  • Interesting edit with the dotglob hardlink system, I never knew that it does this. Oct 7, 2015 at 2:34
  • I clarified the hard links == regular files paragraph.
    – seumasmac
    Oct 7, 2015 at 2:40
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    Particularly like the sentence: "Neither of these is the 'proper' filename, they're both equally valid." That is a crucial ingredient to an understanding of hard links. Very nicely written.
    – Wildcard
    Oct 7, 2015 at 6:42

Do hard links count as normal files?

Hard links count as whatever they're linked to. You can link to anything on the same filesystem.

mkdir test
cd !$

ln -s file sym
mknod pipe p

ln file file2
ln -P sym sym2
ln pipe pipe2

ls -al

# sockets, too:
cat >tsock.c <<\EOD
#include <sys/socket.h>
#include <sys/un.h>
int main(int n, char **a)
        struct sockaddr_un test = { AF_UNIX, "socket" };
        int testfd = socket(AF_UNIX, SOCK_SEQPACKET, 0);
        bind(testfd,(struct sockaddr *)&test,sizeof test);
make tsock

ln socket socket2

ls -al

# even devices if you want:
sudo mknod mytty c 5 0
ln mytty mytty2
sudo chmod 666 mytty

ls -al
# notice permissions are on an object not on the links to it:
echo Hi, Kilroy! >mytty2  

Every hardlink to anything is equivalent, the underlying object sticks around so long as there's any (edit: non-symbolic) link at all to it (even an open file descriptor, for which I have embarrassing cause to be very grateful).

The system will enforce rules on directory links, you get one named link to a directory and the system automatically adds its embedded . link and any subdirectories' .. links (notice that . in the ls's above has two links) but that's an explicit check, on some modded systems privileged users who promise promise promise not to make loops can add new links themselves. The filesystem doesn't care, it can represent arbitrary directory graphs just fine, but nobody wants to deal with them.

There are (lots of non-unix) filesystems that don't work this way, including some that call what they offer as a substitute "hard links". OS X has kludged up an equivalent on HFS+ (which doesn't have them natively) if I recall correctly, I don't know how faithfully it preserves the semantics here.

  • what does ./tsock actually do, anyway?
    – mikeserv
    Oct 8, 2015 at 4:41
  • @mikeserv It's the make-a-socket program above, it just drops a socket link named "socket" in its current directory.
    – jthill
    Oct 8, 2015 at 4:43
  • ok, but maybe i should have made it clearer about how little i know about sockets. i think i understand links well enough and so it just gives the same socket a new name, right? that doesn't have any special significance for sockets or anything, yeah? sorry about my ignorance.
    – mikeserv
    Oct 8, 2015 at 4:45
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    @mikeserv A socket's a purely runtime entity. socket() creates an actual socket, bind() gives it a specific name, connect() connects a socket you made to some named socket. Different kinds of sockets use different kinds of names, e.g. Internet sockets use Internet addresses, but they all share common API (including read() and write(), it makes me sad that you can't open() a filesystem socket and have the OS or libc do socket() and connect() for you). man 7 socket has more, all the networking protocols do make for a fidgety manpage.
    – jthill
    Oct 8, 2015 at 5:03
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    @mikeserv See, I can spell pty and pts, and probably even ptmx on a good day, but that's about it. :-) at least the 5,0 node works everywhere I can find, it's the controlling-tty device type. I got it with just ls -l /dev/tty, guess I got lucky there.
    – jthill
    Oct 8, 2015 at 5:22

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