There is a misconception in some community that Windows doesn’t support hard link and symbolic link as in Unix world. Most of us think that Windows OS only support link (with .lnk extension) and I’ve seen that there are also several articles point out that symbolic linking in Unix world is closely resemble to Windows .lnk file.

Though the concept is not very similar, we can say that Windows has three type of linking: hard link, junction, and symbolic link. Before we go through them, let’s give the concept of hard link and symbolic link (soft link).

Links in Unix

In Unix world, symbolic link (also termed as soft link) is a special kind of file that points to another file. Well, hard link too is a special kind of file that points to another file. The difference between two is symbolic link does not contain the data in the target file. It simply points to another entry somewhere in the file system. The difference gives symbolic link certain qualities that hard links does not offer, such as the ability to link to directories, or to files on remote computers network through NFS. When we delete a target file, symbolic links to the file become unusable. Whereas the hard links preserve the contents of the file. So we can say that hard link is essentially a label or another name assigned to a file. Operation executed upon any of these “different names” will be operated upon the original file. When the original file is deleted, the hard link will still persist. You can think it as a reference count.

In Unix, these commands create symbolic link and hard link respectively.

Concept of Links in Windows

Now let’s go to the Windows world. The definition of hard link and symbolic link is nearly similar.

A hard link is the file system representation of a file by which more than one path references a single file in the same volume.MSDN states that any changes to the file are instantly visible to applications that access it through the hard links that reference it. Changes in the original file will be reflected in every hard link made to that file. Thus, if there are multiple hard link point to a READ-ONLY file and we want to delete a particular hard link, then after delete it we need to reset the READONLY attribute to any of remaining hard link (or original file).

A symbolic link is a file-system object that points to another file system object. The object being pointed to is called the target. They are transparent to users; the links appear as normal file or directories and can be acted upon by the user or application in exactly the same manner.

Then, what is junction?

Junction (Microsoft refer it as soft link) is similar to hard link. Indeed it is a hard link. It differs from a hard link in that the storage object it references are separate directories and a junction can link directories located on different local volumes on the same computer. Otherwise it is identical to hard link.

The Command (Utility)

Hard Link

Symbolic Link

Junction

Create Link Programmatically

Hard Link: CreateHardLink

Symbolic Link: CreateSymbolicLink

Misc

So what’s the different of these links with .lnk file?

Well we need to see the representation. Links are file system object while the .lnk file is a file. The .lnk file is a file describe the redirection and any extra operation need to perform when it is executed. The links are only redirection to the file.

To feed our brain, NTFS has many advanced options that is unknown to us as end-user.

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