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I have a file "a.txt" and its hardlink "ha.txt". If I open either of those files in notepad and save any changes it would appear in both files as they are still linked. But if I overwrite (copy) a.txt with another file with same name the hardlink breaks. What other operations do this?

Also, can I use it to backup a folder? Since if I ever change (overwrite) "a.txt" the hardlink automatically breaks and I have 2 copies. But because it depends on what I use to overwrite it (notepad certainly won't work) it ultimately depends on what operations in windows "breaks" the hardlinks and make copies?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Anything that deletes and recreates the target file will break the link. Some applications will do this, some won't. I don't think there's any way to predict this in advance.

Hard links are not a sensible backup mechanism, since there is only ever one copy of the file. Backups should always be to a different physical disk, anyway, in case the entire disk fails.

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Also, although obvious, if you modify the content of one "file", the hardlinked "backup" will be modified. Usually, you don't want your backup to change after the backup, don't you ? – xryl669 Dec 16 '14 at 19:14
See also this answer for some examples (especially in the comments): – GlennFromIowa Aug 24 '15 at 12:31

Anything that rewrites the filename will break the link. Modifying the file contents will not, nor will changing the filename metadata.

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Could you clarify "rewrites the filename"? Renaming a file does not affect the hardlink. – grawity Mar 17 '12 at 23:28
One has to separate the concepts of "file name" and "file contents" in order to understand how hard links work. People have been conditioned by FAT/VFAT for so long into thinking that they are one and the same. The "file name" (which in reality is just a hard link) points to the "file contents" stored in inodes on disk. Removing and recreating the hard link in effect "rewrites" it. – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Mar 18 '12 at 1:50

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