I have 2 directories (FOO, LALA). I create a symbolic link in one of them like this

ln -s /etc/apache2 FOO/apache2

Afterwards I want to create another symlink, pointing to the same directory, but not using the initial directory but the symlink created. So I try

ln -s FOO/apache2 LALA/apache2

The problem is that the second link is invalid.

ls FOO/apache2

The above works and lists files in /etc/apache2

ls LALA/apache2

But this one doesn't. It just lists the link itself. If I add a slash at the end of each ls

ls FOO/apache2/

Works as well.

ls LALA/apache2/

I get ls: cannot access LALA/apache2/: No such file or directory/

If instead of

ln -s FOO/apache2 LALA/apache2

I do

cd LALA ; ln -s ../FOO/apache2 apache2

Then the symlink is valid

Any idea what's the difference?

Initial question from here https://stackoverflow.com/questions/10656666/use-a-symbolic-link-to-create-a-new-symbolic-link

1 Answer 1


The difference is that relative symlinks are resolved at access time, not creation time.

In your first example, if the link's name is /somedir/LALA/apache2 and its target is FOO/apache2, it will be resolved to /somedir/LALA/FOO/apache2 when accessing it.

link name:                link target:    absolute target:
"/somedir/LALA/apache2" + "FOO/apache2" = "/somedir/LALA/FOO/apache2"

In the second example, the link's name is same – /somedir/LALA/apache2 – but its target, ../FOO/apache2, is now resolved as:

link name:                link target:       absolute target:
"/somedir/LALA/apache2" + "../FOO/apache2" = "/somedir/LALA/../FOO/apache2"
                                           → "/somedir/FOO/apache2"

This means that you must always give "../FOO/apache2" as the target to ln -s when creating the second link, regardless of what directory you are currently in.

Note: In the latest version of coreutils, the ln command has a new option -r/--relative, which does the job for you. For example, ln -r -s FOO/apache2 LALA/apache2 would work correctly.

For older versions, you could hack something with realpath --strip --relative-to...
I wrote sym for my own use.

  • Great. That was the problem... Really strange if you ask me. I'll probably end up using readlink in the first symlink and create the second one with the result from readlink as the target. May 18, 2012 at 19:37
  • @GeorgeKastrinis: Maybe this script will be useful. May 18, 2012 at 19:41

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