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Say that I setup a symbolic link:

ln -s /root/Public/mytextfile.txt /root/Public/myothertextfile.txt

is there a way to see what the target of myothertextfile.txt is using the command line?

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up vote 77 down vote accepted

Edited: use the '-f' flag to print the canonicalized version.

readlink -f /root/Public/myothertextfile.txt

man readlink
   -f, --canonicalize
          canonicalize by following every symlink in every component of the given name recursively; all but the last component must exist
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As suggested in another question, you may want to use readlink -f. – Denilson Sá Jun 7 '14 at 0:14
To get this working on Mac OS X, brew install coreutils. This installs basic gnu versions of commands prefixed with the letter g, i.e. greadlink -f somefile – Mike D Feb 21 at 20:47

readlink is the command you want. You should look at the man page for the command. Because if you want to follow a chain of symbolic links to the actual file, then you need the -e or -f switch:

$ ln -s foooooo zipzip   # fooooo doesn't actually exist
$ ln -s zipzip zapzap

$ # Follows it, but doesn't let you know the file doesn't actually exist
$ readlink -f zapzap

$ # Follows it, but file not there
$ readlink -e zapzap

$ # Follows it, but just to the next symlink
$ readlink zapzap
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This will also work:

ls -l /root/Public/myothertextfile.txt

but readlink would be preferred for use in a script rather than parsing ls.

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If you can't use readlink, then parsing the result of ls -l could be done like this.

The normal result would be:

ls -l /root/Public/myothertextfile.txt
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 30 Jan  1 12:00 /root/Public/myothertextfile.txt -> /root/Public/mytextfile.txt

So we want to replace everything before " -> " and the arrow included. We could use sed for this:

ls -l /root/Public/myothertextfile.txt | sed 's/^.* -> //'
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If you want to show the source and the destination of the link, try stat -c%N files*. E.g.

$ stat -c%N /dev/fd/*
‘/dev/fd/0’ -> ‘/dev/pts/4’
‘/dev/fd/1’ -> ‘/dev/pts/4’

It’s not good for parsing (use readlink for that), but it shows link name and destination, without the clutter of ls -l

-c can be written --format and %N means “quoted file name with dereference if symbolic link”.

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The readlink is a good thing, but GNU-specific and non cross platform. I used to write cross platform scripts for /bin/sh, therefore I'd use something like:

 ls -l /root/Public/myothertextfile.txt | awk '{print $NF}'


 ls -l /root/Public/myothertextfile.txt | awk -F"-> " '{print $2}'

but these needs to be tested on different platforms. I think they'll work, but don't 100% sure for ls output format.

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