How to use symlinks with Dropbox

A symlink, or symbolic link, is a type of file that contains a link to another file or folder. Symlinks are often used so that one file can be referenced in two places.

How does Dropbox sync symlinks?

As of mid-2019, Dropbox no longer follows items outside of your Dropbox account that are linked to by a symlink.

You can have symlinks that link to items both in and outside of your Dropbox account; however, these two types of symlinks sync differently.

  • If you create a symlink that links to an item in your Dropbox account, we’ll sync the the symlink file at its location and the item that it links to at its location respectively
  • If you create a symlink that links to an item outside of your Dropbox account, when you sign in to dropbox.com you’ll only see the symlink file but not the content it links to

For example, if you have a symlink named “Batter recipe” in your Dropbox account

/Dropbox/Cake recipes/Batter recipe
And it links to a file named “Batter recipe.pdf” that’s also in your Dropbox account
/Dropbox/Cupcake recipes/Documents/Batter recipe.pdf

You would see both a symlink named “Batter recipe.symlink” and a file named “Batter recipe.pdf” when you log in to dropbox.com.

However, if you have a symlink named “Batter recipe” in your Dropbox account

/Dropbox/Cake recipes/Batter recipe
But it links to a file named “Batter recipe.pdf” that’s not in your Dropbox account
/Desktop/Cupcake recipes/Batter recipe.pdf

You would only see the symlink named “Batter recipe.symlink” when you log in to dropbox.com, not the file named “Batter recipe.pdf”.

If you create symlinks that link to items outside of your Dropbox account you will not be able to open them on other devices as the file the symlink is linked to is not available on the other device. 

How do symlinks work in shared folders?

If you create a symlink in a shared folder that links to an item outside that shared folder, everyone who has access to the shared folder will see the symlink but not the file it links to.

For example, if you have a symlink named “Batter recipe” in a shared folder

/Dropbox/Shared cake recipes/Batter recipe
And it links to a file named “Batter recipe.pdf” in a folder that’s not shared
/Dropbox/My personal cupcake recipes/Batter recipe.pdf

Anyone with access to the shared folder will see the symlink named “Batter recipe”, but they won’t be able to open “Batter recipe.pdf”.

Why does my folder say “Symlink Backup Copy”?

Any items that were synced to your Dropbox account via a symlink that linked outside of your Dropbox folder prior to mid-2019 can be found in a copy of the folder appended with (Symlink Backup Copy). Any changes made to items in the original location the symlink referenced will no longer sync to your Dropbox account. If you still want to sync the original item, we recommend adding that item to your Dropbox account instead of the symlink.

By default, this folder will be unchecked in your selective sync preferences.

Why do I have a folder named “Shared Symlink Backups”?

Any items that were synced to your Dropbox account via a symlink that was within a shared folder and that linked outside of a shared Dropbox folder prior to mid-2019 can be found in a new folder named Shared Symlink Backups. Any changes made to items in the original location the symlink referenced will no longer sync to your Dropbox account.

Users with access to the shared folder may no longer have access to the content referenced by these symlinks—they will only be able to see the symlink file. If you would like these users to have access to both the symlink and the items it references, you’ll need to move the referenced item inside the shared folder.

What should I do if I see a symlink where I previously accessed a file or a folder?

If the symlink is in a shared folder and you did not create it, it is possible that someone had previously created a symlink and the files referenced by the symlink are not in the shared folder. To resolve this, you should ask the owner of those files to move the files into the shared folder, instead of the symlink.

If the symlink is in a shared folder, or a personal non-shared folder, you may want to replace the symlink file with the files it references to make those files accessible across the website and all your other devices.

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