Dropbox

Hardly naive. Creating symlinks isn’t exactly ordinary Macintosh usage. It is a function of the underlying UNIX system which, at first glance is kind of confusing because it seems to be just like aliases (and indeed when you are using a UNIX system that is what they are used for)—and in a way Finder treats them like aliases on the surface, but they are a bit different (for one thing they do not track the original file if you move it).

There might be an easier way of doing this with a bunch of GUI razzle-dazzle, but the way I always make them is to open up Terminal.app and type:

ln -s ~/Documents/school ~/Dropbox

ln is the command to make a link. The “-s” tells the system to make it a symbolic link (symlink for short. The other mode is a “hard link” which is entirely different and has restrictions that would make it not useful for Dropbox), then the first part of the command is the source file or folder “school” in this case. The “~” at the front is just a shorthand way of saying “my user folder, wherever that may be”. The second part of the command is where to put the link. In this case, I reference the default DropBox location. This will create what appears to be an alias called ‘school’ in the Dropbox folder. If you wanted to call it something else, you could have specified the new name after the Dropbox part, like: “~/Dropbox/schoolwork”

It looks like Dropbox is doing something “magic” with the symlink. Instead of just storing the link itself which is an empty file with a pointer to the original, it is storing the full original file. What I haven’t tested is going onto a second machine and accessing the file from there. Does it automatically create the file in the appropriate location? I’m not sure. I just played around with it enough to note that it was storing data in the web interface.

Thank you Amber, that was really very helpful. You explained it in a way that even I was able to understand ^^

I’ll definitely try this.

To “reverse” this I guess I can simply delete the symlink in the Dropbox folder correct? And I may not move the file the link points to to any other location as it won’t find it anymore.

Thank you again!

That is correct, it will not update itself when the original is moved. This is actually kind of a “feature” as you can establish links to things that do not exist yet. And yes, to get rid of it you can simply delete the link in Dropbox using the Finder. The original, of course, will not be touched—just like when you delete an alias.

If you’re going to be making a bunch of symbolic links, consider using PathFinder to speed the process up.

In PathFinder, navigate to the folder containing the thing you want to link. Open the in-program terminal:

By default, the Terminal should have the folder you are currently browsing open (see screenshot). Type “ls -s ./” and the first few letters of the thing you want to link to (the “./” means “the current folder”). Hit tab to autocomplete. Assuming you typed enough unique letters it should autocomplete and append a space to the end. Type “~/Dr” and tab again to autocomplete the Dropbox path, and you’re good to go with very few keypresses.

The nice thing about autocomplete, too, is that it will escape any spaces automatically (so if you have a folder called “My Stuff” it’ll automatically be “My\ Stuff” in the command).