How to resolve symbolic links in a shell script


Given an absolute or relative path (in a Unix-like system), I would like to determine the full path of the target after resolving any intermediate symlinks. Bonus points for also resolving ~username notation at the same time.

If the target is a directory, it might be possible to chdir() into the directory and then call getcwd(), but I really want to do this from a shell script rather than writing a C helper. Unfortunately, shells have a tendency to try to hide the existence of symlinks from the user (this is bash on OS X):

$ ls -ld foo bar
drwxr-xr-x   2 greg  greg  68 Aug 11 22:36 bar
lrwxr-xr-x   1 greg  greg   3 Aug 11 22:36 foo -> bar
$ cd foo
$ pwd

What I want is a function resolve() such that when executed from the tmp directory in the above example, resolve("foo") == "/Users/greg/tmp/bar".

7/29/2009 4:29:32 AM

Accepted Answer

According to the standards, pwd -P should return the path with symlinks resolved.

C function char *getcwd(char *buf, size_t size) from unistd.h should have the same behaviour.

getcwd pwd

10/21/2015 6:41:11 PM

readlink -f "$path"

Editor's note: The above works with GNU readlink and FreeBSD/PC-BSD/OpenBSD readlink, but not on OS X as of 10.11.
GNU readlink offers additional, related options, such as -m for resolving a symlink whether or not the ultimate target exists.

Note since GNU coreutils 8.15 (2012-01-06), there is a realpath program available that is less obtuse and more flexible than the above. It's also compatible with the FreeBSD util of the same name. It also includes functionality to generate a relative path between two files.

realpath $path

[Admin addition below from comment by halloleodanorton]

For Mac OS X (through at least 10.11.x), use readlink without the -f option:

readlink $path

Editor's note: This will not resolve symlinks recursively and thus won't report the ultimate target; e.g., given symlink a that points to b, which in turn points to c, this will only report b (and won't ensure that it is output as an absolute path).
Use the following perl command on OS X to fill the gap of the missing readlink -f functionality:
perl -MCwd -le 'print Cwd::abs_path(shift)' "$path"

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