Symlinks (symbolic links) to other files *inside dropbox* are destroyed on change

  • 17
  • Problem
  • Updated 4 years ago
Symlinks (symbolic links) to other files *inside dropbox* are destroyed when changed on a computer sharing the Dropbox file.
On the computer on which the symlink was created (OSX, probably Linux) the symlink remains a symlink through edits, and both ends are updated on change. Dropbox though, treats both files as unrelated files. If the symlink end is edited on another computer the symlink on the original computer is replaced with the changed file, destroying the relationship between the files.

Symlinks to directories work well so long as the computer on which the symlink is made is always on. If conflicts are introduced while that computer is disconnected, when that computer is reconnected it will pull down both changes, and whichever is made last will overwrite the other silently. The old file version will exist in Dropbox online, but the change is silent, so you probably won't know you've just lost information.

This is all confusing.

It'd be great if Dropbox could recognise and gracefully handle internal pointers (links, symbolic or hard), to allow more finegrained sharing that is currently possible.

If you don't intend to make this change I hope this report is Google-able enough that others may find it.
Photo of M@


  • 1 Post
  • 0 Reply Likes
  • confused

Posted 7 years ago

  • 17
Photo of Tom Gibson

Tom Gibson

  • 1 Post
  • 0 Reply Likes
I agree with what the post above says, although the problem is that whatever treatment is adopted it will always break the other behaviour. If the symlink itself is backed up, then the ability to link to folders outside dropbox is lost, but if the current behaviour is used then symlinks cannot be used with files or folders in the dropbox directory except to include more folders in the backup.

Perhaps the middle ground would be as suggested above, that if a symlink points to something within the dropbox folder then it is backed up as a symlink. If it points outside then the existing behaviour is used.

For the moment the best workaround I have is to copy symlinks via some other means between machines, which should leave everything as expected.

EDIT: My supposed workaround has other issues, I have realised if I edit a symbolic link that I have recreated manually on two machines, then the file that it points to on the other machine will be overwritten by the new file it points to on the first machine, since the symbolic link will not be updated on the new machine! Very confusing... :-S
Photo of Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson

  • 1 Post
  • 1 Reply Like
Symlinks should stay Symlinks. If they cannot be replicated onto another OS, just don't replicate them. Symlinks on windows might be replicated with junctions.
Photo of kyle.milnes


  • 1 Post
  • 1 Reply Like
I put forward a suggestion on reddit today, check out the mock up of the Dropbox preferences:

In theory it would cater for all uses cases?
Photo of djo0012


  • 1 Post
  • 0 Reply Likes
Even worst, I got in a case yesterday where I change file in a symlinked location on the original computer, but only the original file was updated and not both copy as I would have expected.


-> file1 (only this file was changed in dropbox)
->file1 (edit this file, but wasn't changed in dropbox)
Photo of Adam Banker

Adam Banker

  • 1 Post
  • 0 Reply Likes
Also bad! I've found that if I symlink to a folder outside of the dropbox folder, then, from the dropbox website, delete that folder - it deletes the content of the real folder! I wanted it to only remove the symlink. :(