[bash] 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".

This question is related to bash shell scripting symlink

The answer is

In case where pwd can't be used (e.g. calling a scripts from a different location), use realpath (with or without dirname):

$(dirname $(realpath $PATH_TO_BE_RESOLVED))

Works both when calling through (multiple) symlink(s) or when directly calling the script - from any location.

This is a symlink resolver in Bash that works whether the link is a directory or a non-directory:

function readlinks {(
  set -o errexit -o nounset
  declare n=0 limit=1024 link="$1"

  # If it's a directory, just skip all this.
  if cd "$link" 2>/dev/null
    pwd -P
    return 0

  # Resolve until we are out of links (or recurse too deep).
  while [[ -L $link ]] && [[ $n -lt $limit ]]
    cd "$(dirname -- "$link")"
    n=$((n + 1))
    link="$(readlink -- "${link##*/}")"
  cd "$(dirname -- "$link")"

  if [[ $n -ge $limit ]]
    echo "Recursion limit ($limit) exceeded." >&2
    return 2

  printf '%s/%s\n' "$(pwd -P)" "${link##*/}"

Note that all the cd and set stuff takes place in a subshell.

To work around the Mac incompatibility, I came up with

echo `php -r "echo realpath('foo');"`

Not great but cross OS

Note: I believe this to be a solid, portable, ready-made solution, which is invariably lengthy for that very reason.

Below is a fully POSIX-compliant script / function that is therefore cross-platform (works on macOS too, whose readlink still doesn't support -f as of 10.12 (Sierra)) - it uses only POSIX shell language features and only POSIX-compliant utility calls.

It is a portable implementation of GNU's readlink -e (the stricter version of readlink -f).

You can run the script with sh or source the function in bash, ksh, and zsh:

For instance, inside a script you can use it as follows to get the running's script true directory of origin, with symlinks resolved:

trueScriptDir=$(dirname -- "$(rreadlink "$0")")

rreadlink script / function definition:

The code was adapted with gratitude from this answer.
I've also created a bash-based stand-alone utility version here, which you can install with
npm install rreadlink -g, if you have Node.js installed.


#   rreadlink <fileOrDirPath>
#   Resolves <fileOrDirPath> to its ultimate target, if it is a symlink, and
#   prints its canonical path. If it is not a symlink, its own canonical path
#   is printed.
#   A broken symlink causes an error that reports the non-existent target.
#   - Won't work with filenames with embedded newlines or filenames containing 
#     the string ' -> '.
#   This is a fully POSIX-compliant implementation of what GNU readlink's
#    -e option does.
#   In a shell script, use the following to get that script's true directory of origin:
#     trueScriptDir=$(dirname -- "$(rreadlink "$0")")
rreadlink() ( # Execute the function in a *subshell* to localize variables and the effect of `cd`.

  target=$1 fname= targetDir= CDPATH=

  # Try to make the execution environment as predictable as possible:
  # All commands below are invoked via `command`, so we must make sure that
  # `command` itself is not redefined as an alias or shell function.
  # (Note that command is too inconsistent across shells, so we don't use it.)
  # `command` is a *builtin* in bash, dash, ksh, zsh, and some platforms do not 
  # even have an external utility version of it (e.g, Ubuntu).
  # `command` bypasses aliases and shell functions and also finds builtins 
  # in bash, dash, and ksh. In zsh, option POSIX_BUILTINS must be turned on for
  # that to happen.
  { \unalias command; \unset -f command; } >/dev/null 2>&1
  [ -n "$ZSH_VERSION" ] && options[POSIX_BUILTINS]=on # make zsh find *builtins* with `command` too.

  while :; do # Resolve potential symlinks until the ultimate target is found.
      [ -L "$target" ] || [ -e "$target" ] || { command printf '%s\n' "ERROR: '$target' does not exist." >&2; return 1; }
      command cd "$(command dirname -- "$target")" # Change to target dir; necessary for correct resolution of target path.
      fname=$(command basename -- "$target") # Extract filename.
      [ "$fname" = '/' ] && fname='' # !! curiously, `basename /` returns '/'
      if [ -L "$fname" ]; then
        # Extract [next] target path, which may be defined
        # *relative* to the symlink's own directory.
        # Note: We parse `ls -l` output to find the symlink target
        #       which is the only POSIX-compliant, albeit somewhat fragile, way.
        target=$(command ls -l "$fname")
        target=${target#* -> }
        continue # Resolve [next] symlink target.
      break # Ultimate target reached.
  targetDir=$(command pwd -P) # Get canonical dir. path
  # Output the ultimate target's canonical path.
  # Note that we manually resolve paths ending in /. and /.. to make sure we have a normalized path.
  if [ "$fname" = '.' ]; then
    command printf '%s\n' "${targetDir%/}"
  elif  [ "$fname" = '..' ]; then
    # Caveat: something like /var/.. will resolve to /private (assuming /var@ -> /private/var), i.e. the '..' is applied
    # AFTER canonicalization.
    command printf '%s\n' "$(command dirname -- "${targetDir}")"
    command printf '%s\n' "${targetDir%/}/$fname"

rreadlink "$@"

A tangent on security:

jarno, in reference to the function ensuring that builtin command is not shadowed by an alias or shell function of the same name, asks in a comment:

What if unalias or unset and [ are set as aliases or shell functions?

The motivation behind rreadlink ensuring that command has its original meaning is to use it to bypass (benign) convenience aliases and functions often used to shadow standard commands in interactive shells, such as redefining ls to include favorite options.

I think it's safe to say that unless you're dealing with an untrusted, malicious environment, worrying about unalias or unset - or, for that matter, while, do, ... - being redefined is not a concern.

There is something that the function must rely on to have its original meaning and behavior - there is no way around that.
That POSIX-like shells allow redefinition of builtins and even language keywords is inherently a security risk (and writing paranoid code is hard in general).

To address your concerns specifically:

The function relies on unalias and unset having their original meaning. Having them redefined as shell functions in a manner that alters their behavior would be a problem; redefinition as an alias is not necessarily a concern, because quoting (part of) the command name (e.g., \unalias) bypasses aliases.

However, quoting is not an option for shell keywords (while, for, if, do, ...) and while shell keywords do take precedence over shell functions, in bash and zsh aliases have the highest precedence, so to guard against shell-keyword redefinitions you must run unalias with their names (although in non-interactive bash shells (such as scripts) aliases are not expanded by default - only if shopt -s expand_aliases is explicitly called first).

To ensure that unalias - as a builtin - has its original meaning, you must use \unset on it first, which requires that unset have its original meaning:

unset is a shell builtin, so to ensure that it is invoked as such, you'd have to make sure that it itself is not redefined as a function. While you can bypass an alias form with quoting, you cannot bypass a shell-function form - catch 22.

Thus, unless you can rely on unset to have its original meaning, from what I can tell, there is no guaranteed way to defend against all malicious redefinitions.

Putting some of the given solutions together, knowing that readlink is available on most systems, but needs different arguments, this works well for me on OSX and Debian. I'm not sure about BSD systems. Maybe the condition needs to be [[ $OSTYPE != darwin* ]] to exclude -f from OSX only.

MY_DIR=$( cd $(dirname $(readlink `[[ $OSTYPE == linux* ]] && echo "-f"` $0)) ; pwd -P)
echo "$MY_DIR"

Here's how one can get the actual path to the file in MacOS/Unix using an inline Perl script:

FILE=$(perl -e "use Cwd qw(abs_path); print abs_path('$0')")

Similarly, to get the directory of a symlinked file:

DIR=$(perl -e "use Cwd qw(abs_path); use File::Basename; print dirname(abs_path('$0'))")

Common shell scripts often have to find their "home" directory even if they are invoked as a symlink. The script thus have to find their "real" position from just $0.

cat `mvn`

on my system prints a script containing the following, which should be a good hint at what you need.

if [ -z "$M2_HOME" ] ; then
  ## resolve links - $0 may be a link to maven's home

  # need this for relative symlinks
  while [ -h "$PRG" ] ; do
    ls=`ls -ld "$PRG"`
    link=`expr "$ls" : '.*-> \(.*\)$'`
    if expr "$link" : '/.*' > /dev/null; then
      PRG="`dirname "$PRG"`/$link"


  M2_HOME=`dirname "$PRG"`/..

  # make it fully qualified
  M2_HOME=`cd "$M2_HOME" && pwd`

Here I present what I believe to be a cross-platform (Linux and macOS at least) solution to the answer that is working well for me currently.

    local ref="$1"
    if [ -x "$(which realpath)" ]; then
        path="$(realpath "$ref")"
        path="$(readlink -f "$ref" 2> /dev/null)"
        if [ $? -gt 0 ]; then
            if [ -x "$(which readlink)" ]; then
                if [ ! -z "$(readlink "$ref")" ]; then
                    ref="$(readlink "$ref")"
                echo "realpath and readlink not available. The following may not be the final path." 1>&2
            if [ -d "$ref" ]; then
                path="$(cd "$ref"; pwd -P)"
                path="$(cd $(dirname "$ref"); pwd -P)/$(basename "$ref")"
    echo "$path"

Here is a macOS (only?) solution. Possibly better suited to the original question.

    local ref="$1"
    if [[ ! -z "$(readlink "$ref")" ]]; then
        ref="$(readlink "$1")"
    if [[ -d "$ref" ]]; then
        echo "$(cd "$ref"; pwd -P)"
        echo "$(cd $(dirname "$ref"); pwd -P)/$(basename "$ref")"

function realpath {
    local r=$1; local t=$(readlink $r)
    while [ $t ]; do
        r=$(cd $(dirname $r) && cd $(dirname $t) && pwd -P)/$(basename $t)
        t=$(readlink $r)
    echo $r

#example usage
SCRIPT_PARENT_DIR=$(dirname $(realpath "$0"))/..

Try this:

cd $(dirname $([ -L $0 ] && readlink -f $0 || echo $0))

My answer here Bash: how to get real path of a symlink?

but in short very handy in scripts:

script_home=$( dirname $(realpath "$0") )
echo Original script home: $script_home

These are part of GNU coreutils, suitable for use in Linux systems.

To test everything, we put symlink into /home/test2/, amend some additional things and run/call it from root directory:

/$ /home/test2/symlink
Original script home: /home/test


Original script is: /home/test/realscript.sh
Called script is: /home/test2/symlink

One of my favorites is realpath foo

realpath - return the canonicalized absolute pathname

realpath  expands  all  symbolic  links  and resolves references to '/./', '/../' and extra '/' characters in the null terminated string named by path and
       stores the canonicalized absolute pathname in the buffer of size PATH_MAX named by resolved_path.  The resulting path will have no symbolic link, '/./' or
       '/../' components.

Since I've run into this many times over the years, and this time around I needed a pure bash portable version that I could use on OSX and linux, I went ahead and wrote one:

The living version lives here:


but for the sake of SO, here's the current version (I feel it's well tested..but I'm open to feedback!)

Might not be difficult to make it work for plain bourne shell (sh), but I didn't try...I like $FUNCNAME too much. :)


resolve_path() {
    #I'm bash only, please!
    # usage:  resolve_path <a file or directory> 
    # follows symlinks and relative paths, returns a full real path
    local owd="$PWD"
    #echo "$FUNCNAME for $1" >&2
    local opath="$1"
    local npath=""
    local obase=$(basename "$opath")
    local odir=$(dirname "$opath")
    if [[ -L "$opath" ]]
    #it's a link.
    #file or directory, we want to cd into it's dir
        cd $odir
    #then extract where the link points.
        npath=$(readlink "$obase")
        #have to -L BEFORE we -f, because -f includes -L :(
        if [[ -L $npath ]]
        #the link points to another symlink, so go follow that.
            resolve_path "$npath"
            #and finish out early, we're done.
            return $?
        elif [[ -f $npath ]]
        #the link points to a file.
            #get the dir for the new file
            nbase=$(basename $npath)
            npath=$(dirname $npath)
            cd "$npath"
            ndir=$(pwd -P)
        elif [[ -d $npath ]]
        #the link points to a directory.
            cd "$npath"
            ndir=$(pwd -P)
            echo "$FUNCNAME: ERROR: unknown condition inside link!!" >&2
            echo "opath [[ $opath ]]" >&2
            echo "npath [[ $npath ]]" >&2
            return 1
        if ! [[ -e "$opath" ]]
            echo "$FUNCNAME: $opath: No such file or directory" >&2
            return 1
            #and break early
        elif [[ -d "$opath" ]]
            cd "$opath"
            ndir=$(pwd -P)
        elif [[ -f "$opath" ]]
            cd $odir
            ndir=$(pwd -P)
            nbase=$(basename "$opath")
            echo "$FUNCNAME: ERROR: unknown condition outside link!!" >&2
            echo "opath [[ $opath ]]" >&2
            return 1
    #now assemble our output
    echo -n "$ndir"
    if [[ "x${nbase:=}" != "x" ]]
        echo "/$nbase"
    #now return to where we were
    cd "$owd"
    return $retval

here's a classic example, thanks to brew:

%% ls -l `which mvn`
lrwxr-xr-x  1 draistrick  502  29 Dec 17 10:50 /usr/local/bin/mvn@ -> ../Cellar/maven/3.2.3/bin/mvn

use this function and it will return the -real- path:

%% cat test.sh
. resolve_path.inc
echo "relative symlinked path:"
which mvn
echo "and the real path:"
resolve_path `which mvn`

%% test.sh

relative symlinked path:

and the real path:

readlink -e [filepath]

seems to be exactly what you're asking for - it accepts an arbirary path, resolves all symlinks, and returns the "real" path - and it's "standard *nix" that likely all systems already have

"pwd -P" seems to work if you just want the directory, but if for some reason you want the name of the actual executable I don't think that helps. Here's my solution:


# get the absolute path of the executable
SELF_PATH=$(cd -P -- "$(dirname -- "$0")" && pwd -P) && SELF_PATH=$SELF_PATH/$(basename -- "$0")

# resolve symlinks
while [[ -h $SELF_PATH ]]; do
    # 1) cd to directory of the symlink
    # 2) cd to the directory of where the symlink points
    # 3) get the pwd
    # 4) append the basename
    DIR=$(dirname -- "$SELF_PATH")
    SYM=$(readlink "$SELF_PATH")
    SELF_PATH=$(cd "$DIR" && cd "$(dirname -- "$SYM")" && pwd)/$(basename -- "$SYM")

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"

Another way:

# Gets the real path of a link, following all links
myreadlink() { [ ! -h "$1" ] && echo "$1" || (local link="$(expr "$(command ls -ld -- "$1")" : '.*-> \(.*\)$')"; cd $(dirname $1); myreadlink "$link" | sed "s|^\([^/].*\)\$|$(dirname $1)/\1|"); }

# Returns the absolute path to a command, maybe in $PATH (which) or not. If not found, returns the same
whereis() { echo $1 | sed "s|^\([^/].*/.*\)|$(pwd)/\1|;s|^\([^/]*\)$|$(which -- $1)|;s|^$|$1|"; } 

# Returns the realpath of a called command.
whereis_realpath() { local SCRIPT_PATH=$(whereis $1); myreadlink ${SCRIPT_PATH} | sed "s|^\([^/].*\)\$|$(dirname ${SCRIPT_PATH})/\1|"; } 

Is your path a directory, or might it be a file? If it's a directory, it's simple:

(cd "$DIR"; pwd -P)

However, if it might be a file, then this won't work:

DIR=$(cd $(dirname "$FILE"); pwd -P); echo "${DIR}/$(readlink "$FILE")"

because the symlink might resolve into a relative or full path.

On scripts I need to find the real path, so that I might reference configuration or other scripts installed together with it, I use this:

while [ -h "$SOURCE" ]; do # resolve $SOURCE until the file is no longer a symlink
  DIR="$( cd -P "$( dirname "$SOURCE" )" && pwd )"
  SOURCE="$(readlink "$SOURCE")"
  [[ $SOURCE != /* ]] && SOURCE="$DIR/$SOURCE" # if $SOURCE was a relative symlink, we need to resolve it relative to the path where the symlink file was located

You could set SOURCE to any file path. Basically, for as long as the path is a symlink, it resolves that symlink. The trick is in the last line of the loop. If the resolved symlink is absolute, it will use that as SOURCE. However, if it is relative, it will prepend the DIR for it, which was resolved into a real location by the simple trick I first described.

Examples related to bash

Comparing a variable with a string python not working when redirecting from bash script Zipping a file in bash fails How do I prevent Conda from activating the base environment by default? Get first line of a shell command's output Fixing a systemd service 203/EXEC failure (no such file or directory) /bin/sh: apt-get: not found VSCode Change Default Terminal Run bash command on jenkins pipeline How to check if the docker engine and a docker container are running? How to switch Python versions in Terminal?

Examples related to shell

Comparing a variable with a string python not working when redirecting from bash script Get first line of a shell command's output How to run shell script file using nodejs? Run bash command on jenkins pipeline Way to create multiline comments in Bash? How to do multiline shell script in Ansible How to check if a file exists in a shell script How to check if an environment variable exists and get its value? Curl to return http status code along with the response docker entrypoint running bash script gets "permission denied"

Examples related to scripting

What does `set -x` do? Creating an array from a text file in Bash Windows batch - concatenate multiple text files into one Raise error in a Bash script How do I assign a null value to a variable in PowerShell? Difference between ${} and $() in Bash Using a batch to copy from network drive to C: or D: drive Check if a string matches a regex in Bash script How to run a script at a certain time on Linux? How to make an "alias" for a long path? Nginx sites-enabled, sites-available: Cannot create soft-link between config files in Ubuntu 12.04 How to see full absolute path of a symlink Create a symbolic link of directory in Ubuntu How do I find all of the symlinks in a directory tree? Apache won't follow symlinks (403 Forbidden) Git Symlinks in Windows How to check if a symlink exists How can I symlink a file in Linux? Can you change what a symlink points to after it is created? How does Git handle symbolic links?