What is the difference between a hard link and a symbolic link?

Hard links and symbolic links are two different methods to refer to a file in the hard drive. These methods are part of the filesystem that organizes what file is what and where. A hard link is essentially a synced carbon copy of a file that refers directly to the inode of a file. Symbolic links on the other hand refer directly to the file which refers to the inode, a shortcut. In order to understand how symbolic and hard links work, we will need to go over what are inodes.

What is an inode?

The inode is a database that describes the file/directory attributes such as metadata and the physical location on the hard drive. They are essentially the numerical equivalent of a full address. With an inode, the OS can retrieve information about the file such as permission privileges and the physical location of the data on the hard drive to access the file. Should a file be moved from one folder to another, the file will be moved to a different location on the hard drive and its inode value will change with it automatically. This will be important for hard links. Speaking of hard links….

What is a hard link?

A hard link is a direct reference to a file via its inode. You can also only hardlink files and not directories. By using a hardlink, you can change the original file’s contents or location and the hardlink will still point to the original file because its inode is still pointing to that file. There is no referencing to the original file. In addition, hardlinks can only refer to files within the same volume otherwise symbolic links will be needed. To make a hard link of a file, you will require the ln command and refer to the source file before naming what the hard link will be named. Here is an example of how a hard link named test 2 will be made.

First made the test file before making hard link test2

The file test should be completely empty and I will add “Hello” to it via the hard link.

Typing in Hello into the file test via test2