Too many levels of symbolic links

I created this file structure:


When I run this command:

ln -s test/src test/firefox

I would expect a symbolic link test/firefox/src to be created pointing to test/src, however I get this error instead:

-bash: cd: src: Too many levels of symbolic links
  • What am I doing wrong?
  • Can you not create a symbolic link to one folder which is stored in a
    sibling of that folder?
  • What’s the point of this?
Asked By: David Zorychta


On the surface, what you’ve suggested you’ve tried works for me.


$ mkdir -p test/src test/firefox

$ tree --noreport -fp
`-- [drwxrwxr-x]  ./test
    |-- [drwxrwxr-x]  ./test/firefox
    `-- [drwxrwxr-x]  ./test/src

Make the symbolic link:

$ ln -s test/src test/firefox

$ tree --noreport -fp
`-- [drwxrwxr-x]  ./test
    |-- [drwxrwxr-x]  ./test/firefox
    |   `-- [lrwxrwxrwx]  ./test/firefox/src -> test/src
    `-- [drwxrwxr-x]  ./test/src

Running it a 2nd time would typically produce this:

$ ln -s test/src test/firefox
ln: failed to create symbolic link ‘test/firefox/src’: File exists

So you likely have something else going on here. I would suspect that you have a circular reference where a link is pointing back onto itself.

You can use find to sleuth this out a bit:

$ cd /suspected/directory
$ find -L ./ -mindepth 15
Answered By: slm

As Dubu points out in a comment, the issue lies in your relative paths. I had a similar problem symlinking my nginx configuration from /usr/local/etc/nginx to /etc/nginx. If you create your symlink like this:

cd /usr/local/etc
ln -s nginx/ /etc/nginx

You will in fact make the link /etc/nginx -> /etc/nginx, because the source path is relative to the link’s path. The solution is as simple as using absolute paths:

ln -s /usr/local/etc/nginx /etc/nginx

If you want to use relative paths and have them behave the way you probably expect them to, you can use the $PWD variable to easily add in the path to the current working directory path, like so:

cd /usr/local/etc
ln -s "$PWD/nginx/" /etc/nginx

Make sure that the path is in double quotes, to make sure things like spaces in your current path are escaped. Note that you must use double quotes when doing this, as $PWD will not be substituted if you use single quotes.

Answered By: Steen Schütt

Symlinks are relative to the parent directory of the link, not of the current directory of the ln process.

When you do:

cd /top/dir
ln -s test/src test/firefox

(where test/firefox is a directory), you’re making a test/firefox/src symlink whose target is test/src.

That test/src is relative to the test/firefox directory, so that’s a symlink to /top/dir/test/firefox/test/src.

If you wanted that symlink to be a link to /top/dir/test/src, you’d need to write:

ln -s ../src test/firefox/


ln -s /top/dir/test/src test/firefox/

though it’s generally a bad idea to make symlinks to absolute paths as they are easily broken when directories are renamed or filesystems are mounted elsewhere.

With GNU ln, you can use its -r option to let it make the calculation by itself:

$ ln -rs test/src test/firefox/
$ ls -ld test/firefox/src
lrwxrwxrwx 1 chazelas chazelas 6 Nov 29 15:59 test/firefox/src -> ../src
Answered By: Stéphane Chazelas

Use the absolute path instead of the relative path, then it will work.


ln -s /home/user/test/src /home/user/test/firefox
Answered By: JISHNU T U

The answer is to use absolute path. But it can be annoying to type the full path for something that is in the current directory. You can use command substitution of pwd to avoid that.
If your target is in the current directory:

ln -s "$(pwd)"/target abs/path/to/link 

If your link should be in the current directory:

ln -s /abs/path/to/target "$(pwd)"
Answered By: breadnbeer

I’ve been battling with this for a while and absolute paths are not an option because I need to dockerize my pipeline where relative paths are critical. I finally figured it out:

SRC=$(realpath --relative-to "$DST" -- "$SRC")
Answered By: O.rka
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