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Difference between Hard Link and Soft Link

Last Updated : 11 Mar, 2024
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The file system in Unix-like operating systems, such as Linux and macOS, provides a variety of methods for creating hyperlinks between files and directory paths. These linkages work as suggestions or references to the source file, ensuring the organization of data and enterprise management within the device. In this article, we will discuss the differences between Hard links and Soft Links.

What is a Hard Link?

A Hard link acts as a copy (mirrored) of the selected file. It accesses the data available in the original file. If the earlier selected file is deleted, the hard link to the file will still contain the data of that file.

Advantages of Hard Link

  • It makes efficient use of disc space by avoiding the unnecessary creation of record blocks.
  • There is no risk of link breaking as a result of the removal of the actual file(as long as one hard hyperlink survives, the data will persist).
  • The speed of Hard Links is fast.

Limitation of Hard Link

  • Cannot span several file systems.
  • Directories cannot be hyperlinked.

What is Soft Link?

A soft link (also known as a Symbolic link) acts as a pointer or a reference to the file name. It does not access the data available in the original file. If the earlier file is deleted, the soft link will be pointing to a file that does not exist anymore.

Advantages of Soft Link

  • Versatility in linking files across different localities and document systems.
  • Can link directories.

Disadvantages of Soft Link

  • Slightly slower access than hard links.
  • Deleting or moving the original file will cause soft links to fail.

Differences Between Hard Link and Soft Link

Comparison Parameters Hard link Soft link
Inode number* Files that are hard linked take the same inode number. Files that are soft linked take a different inode number.
Directories Hard links are not allowed for directories. (Only a superuser* can do it) Soft links can be used for linking directories.
File system It cannot be used across file systems. It can be used across file systems.
Data Data present in the original file will still be available in the hard links. Soft links only point to the file name, it does not retain data of the file.
Original file’s deletion If the original file is removed, the link will still work as it accesses the data the original was having access to. If the original file is removed, the link will not work as it doesn’t access the original file’s data.
Speed Hard links are comparatively faster. Soft links are comparatively slower.

Note:

  • Inode number – Index node number is a unique number assigned to all files in a Linux/Unix system.
  • Superuser – A superuser has more rights compared to an ordinary user. They can change file ownership and set permissions.

Diagrammatic representation

Hard and Soft Link

Frequently Asked Question on Hard and Soft Link – FAQs

How can you determine whether a link is hard or soft?

A hard link is a duplicate of the original file. The difference between a hard link and a soft link is that deleting the source file has no effect on a hard link, however it makes a soft link unusable.

What is the syntax of hard link and soft link?

Syntax of Hard Link is “ln” command. On the other hand, the command for a soft link is “ln -s”.

Why hard links Cannot cross partition?

Hard links refer to the same inode, hence they cannot cross filesystems. Soft links are simply references to a file, whether on the same disc or different disc.

How do I find all hard links?

You can search for hard links to inode number NUMĀ by using ‘ -inum NUM.


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