I hear that you can now create soft links in Vista too. So, what is the difference between a soft (symbolic) link and a hard link on UNIX/Linux/Vista?
Are there advantages of using one over the other? Or do they just serve two distinct purposes?
A hard link traditionally shares the same file system structures (inode in unixspeak), while a soft-link is a pathname redirect.
..entries in unix directories which are hard links).
(Some details brought back to mind by mat1t. Thanks.)
The summary is that a symbolic / short link acts as a shortcut to the first file's location, whereas a hardlink is a shortcut to the file on the disk.
If you delete the target of a soft link then the soft link will cease to work, but if you delete one copy of a hard link, the file will remain on the disk until all hard links to it are removed. In effect all filenames are hardlinks to the file on the disk.
There are also certain restrictions, eg I don't think you can create hard links of folders, but you can create soft links of them. Soft links can also point to files/folders on different drives and partitions whereas hard links can't.
The MS Windows system always uses soft links (shortcuts). That is, the link simply acts as a shortcut pointing to the file location. If the location of the original is moved, the link breaks. Furthermore, what you do to the shortcut (such as changing permissions, or changing the name of the shortcut) does not affect the actual file.
So the question started with an incorrect assumption. Yes, Vista uses softlinks, but it is not new, that is waht an MS shortcut is.
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