How To Remove Symbolic Links on Linux

Remove Symbolic Links on Linux

Symbolic links, also known as symlinks or soft links, are a fundamental concept in Linux systems. They serve as pointers or references to other files or directories, allowing users to create convenient shortcuts and organize their file structure more efficiently. However, there may be situations where you need to remove symbolic links, such as when they are no longer needed, pointing to non-existent targets, or causing confusion. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore various methods and best practices for safely removing symbolic links on Linux systems.

Understanding Symbolic Links

Before diving into the process of removing symbolic links, it’s essential to have a solid understanding of what they are and how they work. Symbolic links are special files that contain a reference to another file or directory. Unlike hard links, which point directly to the data on the disk, symbolic links simply store the path to the target file or directory. When you access a symbolic link, the operating system transparently redirects you to the target location.

To identify symbolic links, you can use the ls -l command. Symbolic links are denoted by an arrow (->) pointing to the target file or directory. For example:

lrwxrwxrwx 1 user group 10 Apr 14 10:53 symlink -> target_file

In this example, symlink is the name of the symbolic link, and target_file is the file it points to.

Removing Symbolic Links with the unlink Command

The unlink command is specifically designed to remove symbolic links. It is a straightforward and efficient way to delete a symbolic link without affecting the target file or directory. To remove a symbolic link using unlink, follow these steps:

  • Open a terminal window.
  • Navigate to the directory containing the symbolic link you want to remove.
  • Use the unlink command followed by the name of the symbolic link. For example:
unlink symlink
  • Press Enter to execute the command.

If the symbolic link is successfully removed, you will not receive any output. You can verify the removal by using the ls -l command again. The symbolic link should no longer be listed.

It’s important to note that unlink only removes the symbolic link itself and does not affect the target file or directory. If you want to delete the target as well, you need to do that separately.

Removing Symbolic Links with the rm Command

In addition to the unlink command, you can also use the rm command to remove symbolic links. The rm command is commonly used for deleting files and directories, but it can also handle symbolic links. Here’s how to use rm to remove a symbolic link:

  • Open a terminal window.
  • Navigate to the directory containing the symbolic link you want to remove.
  • Use the rm command followed by the name of the symbolic link. For example:
rm symlink
  • Press Enter to execute the command.

By default, rm will remove the symbolic link without prompting for confirmation. If you prefer an interactive mode where rm asks for confirmation before deleting each link, you can use the -i option:

This will prompt you with a message like remove symbolic link ‘symlink’? for each link, and you can enter y to confirm the deletion or n to skip it. Like unlink, rm only removes the symbolic link and does not affect the target file or directory.

Removing Multiple Symbolic Links

If you have multiple symbolic links that you want to remove simultaneously, you can use wildcards or loops to streamline the process. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Using wildcards with rm:
rm symlink_*

This command will remove all symbolic links in the current directory that start with symlink_. The asterisk (*) acts as a wildcard, matching any characters after the prefix.

  • Using a for loop with unlink or rm:
for link in symlink1 symlink2 symlink3; do unlink "$link"; done

This loop iterates over a list of symbolic link names (symlink1, symlink2, symlink3) and removes each one using the unlink command. You can replace unlink with rm if desired.

When removing multiple symbolic links, it’s crucial to double-check the list of links before executing the command to avoid accidentally deleting unintended links.

Removing Symbolic Links to Directories

Removing symbolic links that point to directories follows the same syntax as removing links to files. However, there is one important consideration: if you include a trailing slash (/) after the symbolic link name, you may encounter an error. For example:

unlink symlink_to_dir/

This command will result in an error message like unlink: cannot unlink ‘symlink_to_dir/‘: Not a directory. To avoid this error, make sure to specify the symbolic link name without the trailing slash:

unlink symlink_to_dir

This will successfully remove the symbolic link to the directory without affecting the target directory itself.

Finding and Removing Broken Symbolic Links

Over time, symbolic links may become broken if the target file or directory is moved, renamed, or deleted. Broken symbolic links can clutter your file system and cause confusion. To find and remove broken symbolic links, you can use the find command in combination with rm or unlink. Here’s an example:

find /path/to/directory -type l -xtype l -delete

Let’s break down this command:

  • /path/to/directory: Replace this with the directory where you want to search for broken symbolic links. You can use . for the current directory.
  • -type l: This option tells find to search for symbolic links.
  • -xtype l: This option filters the results to include only broken symbolic links.
  • -delete: This option instructs find to delete the broken symbolic links it finds.

If you prefer to review the list of broken symbolic links before deleting them, you can omit the -delete option and pipe the results to xargs:

find /path/to/directory -type l -xtype l | xargs rm

This command will display the list of broken symbolic links and remove them using the rm command. Remember to exercise caution when removing broken symbolic links, especially if you are searching in system directories or directories with important files.


Removing symbolic links on Linux is a straightforward process that can be accomplished using the unlink or rm command. By understanding the syntax and behavior of these commands, you can efficiently remove symbolic links without affecting the target files or directories.

Throughout this guide, we covered various scenarios, including removing individual symbolic links, removing multiple links using wildcards or loops, handling symbolic links to directories, and finding and removing broken symbolic links.

It’s crucial to follow best practices and exercise caution when removing symbolic links to avoid unintended consequences. Always double-check the link names and paths, use interactive removal options when unsure, and have backups of important files and directories.

By mastering the techniques and concepts presented in this article, you will be well-equipped to manage symbolic links on your Linux system effectively. Remember to practice the commands in a safe environment and consult additional resources if you encounter any challenges or need further guidance.


r00t is a seasoned Linux system administrator with a wealth of experience in the field. Known for his contributions to, r00t has authored numerous tutorials and guides, helping users navigate the complexities of Linux systems. His expertise spans across various Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, CentOS, and Debian. r00t's work is characterized by his ability to simplify complex concepts, making Linux more accessible to users of all skill levels. His dedication to the Linux community and his commitment to sharing knowledge makes him a respected figure in the field.
Back to top button