I have read here and in few books that making symbolic links using relative pathway is preferred because if you move link and file, it won't break. I wondering if we should always create relative pathway symbolic links? Like for example if I want to link /etc/passwd to current directory, should I use absolute or relative path?

ln -rs /etc/passwd passwd-symlink will create the relative pathway link but is this necessary?

  • I don't understand the question. You do what you need - these things have different use cases. If you want a link to be relative, you use a relative link; if you need it to be absolute, you use an absolute link. Commented Dec 19, 2021 at 0:59
  • For example, you have a link "configs-enabled/config.txt" that points to another file that's always in "../configs-available/`; in this case, you want a relative link. You have config file that should always point to /etc/config.txt? Then you clearly want an absolute path. This becomes more clear when you realize that not all processes necessarily see the same file system hierarchy (e.g. due to Linux namespaces/containers, or chroot, or due to bind mounts, or due to the same volume being mounted at a different place on a different machine), so /etc/config.txt might be different! Commented Dec 19, 2021 at 1:04
  • @MarcusMüller The question is under what scenarios would you use a relative vs. absolute pathway. I am asking for a decision process of using one over other.
    – Cruise5
    Commented Dec 19, 2021 at 1:19

1 Answer 1


There is probably not one clear answer for this, and there are many instances where it doesn't particularly matter if a symlink target is relative or absolute.

It is probably a good idea to use a relative symlink if any of the following apply, because the link will remain valid in these situations:

  • if the target is in the same directory tree and the whole tree could be moved
  • If the target is in the same filesystem, and it gets mounted somewhere else in some future mount (perhaps in a rescue live environment or a container or on another system)

However an absolute link might be better if any of the following apply

  • the target is in a radically different directory, where the right number of ../ sequences might not be clear
  • you want to point to a very specific file that is not relative to the current directory (for example, a config file in /etc maybe)
  • if you want to be very clear what file this points to, when a realtive link might turn into a maze of symlinks pointing to symlinks or targets that traverse symlinks to directories...

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