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If I check the file size of a symbolic link by stat(), then it reports a nonzero file size equal to the link path string. But when I use du on the link, it reports a size of zero blocks.

Is there a simple explanation for this? Is it correct to interpret symbolic links as requiring no disk space? Where is the symbolic link information being stored?

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You might find this useful. – terdon Sep 3 '13 at 3:41
up vote 4 down vote accepted

See Modern systems use what are called "fast symlinks". No blocks are allocated for the symlink. Instead, the symlink reference is stored in the inode itself, where a regular file stores the locations of the blocks that make it up. du only looks at how many blocks are allocated, and so may show 0. stat and ls -l are smart enough to report the length of the symlink based on the data stored in the inode.

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But if I do du -B1 my_file, it still turns up as zero. Doesn't -b enable the apparent-size flag? Maybe I should be asking where the data is saved? – marshall.ward Sep 3 '13 at 2:25
This turned out to be much more involved than I realized - I've edited my answer. – wingedsubmariner Sep 3 '13 at 2:44
Thank you for the update, this explains it nicely. – marshall.ward Sep 3 '13 at 2:46

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