Windows XP and later support symbolic links. Yet, Windows continues to use shortcut files (which essentially store the location of the linked file as text). Why?
A number of reasons, I guess
There will be more reasons than this, but I think that's enough to get you started :) - There's a link provided by @grawity here that will give some further reading on parts of this topic.
A symlink is nothing more than a path wrapped up in a very small amount of filesystem magic. There are any number of ways it can become invalid ("broken"), most of which involve one or more files or directories getting renamed. Since Windows is consumer software, you may have a large number of very poorly designed programs running on a "typical" installation. As a result, this kind of breakage is a lot harder to avoid than on a server where (in theory) every program that touches the disk is a known quantity.
Shortcuts are immune to most forms of breakage since they track their targets independently of path. This makes them more user-friendly. They are specifically designed for consumers, with a "just do what I mean and don't bother me about the details" approach.
Now, you could use hard links for that (to some extent), but hard links have a number of complicated properties which make them unsuitable for consumer use. In particular, files get new inode numbers entirely too easily and some backup software breaks rather spectacularly when confronted with hard links. The former could (perhaps) be solved with filesystem tunneling (which is in fact how shortcuts solve a related problem), but the latter is a much harder problem.
(I should probably also note that "solving" hard links with tunneling is decidedly nontrivial since it's not just a matter of reattaching metadata that's "gotten lost." Inodes are bound up in the disk allocation scheme, so you can't just arbitrarily merge or reassign them after the fact without a fair bit of legwork. Since shortcuts use other metadata that can be easily tunneled, like the creation time, they don't have this issue.)
protected by Raystafarian Feb 22 at 17:51
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