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Windows File Junctions, Symbolic Links and Hard Links

Well a short cut is basically a file that points to another file. It is an antiquated, pointing system from the Windows 95 days. Shortcuts not only use up space on your hard drive, they also linger around after the item they are pointing to has been deleted and break if the item is renamed.

A symbolic link is like a short cut, but instead of being saved as a file, they are registered to the file system. This means they do not use hard disk space; all programs recognise and can read where the link is pointing to. A symbolic link can point to any file, folder either locally on the computer or over a network using a SMB path.

A file hard link and the directory junction are a little different. It not only points to the item but duplicates it, but does so without taking up the extra hard disk space required by a copied file. Also if you have a hard link pointing to a file then delete that original file, the hard link will still retain a copy. A limitation of the file hard link though is that the link can only be made on the same file partition as the file.

Finally a junction is a hard link for directories. To me they are the most useful and unlike file hard links, you can create junctions on different partitions to where the original folder is located. Again a junction is stored on the file system, does not take up space and is treated by the operating system and programs as a local folder.

Windows Vista/7 uses the command line program called mklink to create these symbolic links. It has 3 arguments and then requires both a link name and target.

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