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Windows 7: MKLINK – Create and Use Links in Windows

MKLINK – Create and Use Links in Windows

How to Create and Use Links with MKLINK in Windows
Published by Kari
12 Feb 2013
Published by

How to Create and Use Links with MKLINK in Windows

information   Information
As so many other things in computing, Windows Links seem more complicated to understand and use than what they really are in reality.

This tutorial will tell you how to create and use links using MKLINK to redirect system queries made to a local or network storage location to another location.

In this tutorial we will concentrate on the most important link type, a Directory Junction. A junction is a very practical way to customize your file handling and procedures.

A Link is basically nothing more than a shortcut. Its purpose is to get Windows to think that a file or folder which is physically located in folder Real on drive A is in fact in folder Fake on drive B by creating a link between B:\Fake (a link or junction) and A:\Real (a target folder). Opening the link for instance in Explorer shows contents of target, saving a document to link actually saves it on target.

As Windows now gets a query from user to open B:\Fake this query is sent to A:\Real. In reality the location B:\Fake does not exist but system answers this query as it was a real folder instead of just a symbolic link and presents user the contents of A:\Real as if it was contents of B:\Fake. Sounds complicated? Don’t worry, it’s quite easy in fact.

Part 1: What is a Link?

Note   Note
A Link in Windows is a virtual object that points to a real physical location. It can be compared to Windows desktop shortcut, doing essentially the same thing in redirecting user to a physical storage location.

A Link can be so called Hard Link linking one file to a target file, or a Soft Link linking a folder to a target folder. Soft Links are also called Symbolic Links. Third link type is Junction, basically a hard link but as hard links can only link files we need to use junctions to link folders.

If you are using Windows Vista or later you have most probably used links without ever noticing it. In Windows XP all user data was saved in a folder called C:\Documents and Settings (default name and location). Windows Vista changed this; instead of Documents and Settings the data was divided between two system folders, C:\Users for user specific application data and personal files and folders, and C:\ProgramData for all users shared application data. To allow backwards compatibility all Windows versions since Vista have a link C:\Documents and Settings with two target folders, ProgramData and Users.

You can check this by yourself by allowing protected system files and folders to be shown and opening C: drive on Explorer:
(Please notice, screenshots from Windows 8 but links work the same way on Windows 7. Highlighted with yellow = visible system folders created by Windows installation, red = hidden or protected system folders.)

If you try to open Documents and Settings you get an "Access Denied" message. It does not exist, there is no such folder on your C: drive but it is needed for legacy software.

An example: You want to install Microsoft Office XP on your Windows 7. As Office XP was published for Windows XP long before Vista it uses the XP system folder Documents and Settings to store user data. Vista and later Windows do no longer have this folder so a link is needed. Office XP setup thinks it is creating files and folders normally in Documents and Settings but actually your Windows 7 is lying to Office XP setup, not telling it those files and folders are in fact created in Users and ProgramData. Office XP setup does not notice this deception, installation works and later when user works with Office XP it still thinks the Documents and Settings folder is there, never learning the fact that all queries to that folder are sent further and returned as if they really came from Documents and Settings.

Part 2: Working with Directory Junctions

(1.) Command Syntax

Links are created wit command mklink, short from Make Link. Typing mklink /? on Command Prompt you get the command syntax and options:
MKLINK [[/D] | [/H] | [/J]] Link Target
        /D      Creates a directory symbolic link.  Default is a file symbolic link.
       /H      Creates a hard link instead of a symbolic link.
        /J   Creates a Directory Junction.
        Link    specifies the new symbolic link name.
        Target  specifies the path (relative or absolute) that the new link refers to.
(2.) Use an Elevated Command Prompt

You must use elevated command prompt to work with links.

(3.) Create a Link or a Junction

Creating a directory junction D:\Docs with target E:\Users\Kari\Documents:
mklink /j D:\Docs E:\Users\Kari\Documents
Windows tells you clearly if the creating of junction has succeeded:
Name:  mklink_02.png
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(4.) Main principles when creating a link or a junction
  1. A file or a folder with the name of the intended Link name may not exist. The link file or folder name must be free to use, not reserved by an existing file or folder. If the name is reserved you get an error message. My D: drive already has a folder Test, this is what happens when trying to create a junction with D:\Test (already an existing folder) as link and E:\Users as target:
    Name:  mklink_03.png
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    Notice that command prompt is telling about a file already existing instead of a folder. This is because the system sees links as shortcuts (files) and not as folders.
  2. Target folder may but must not exist. If it does not exist at the time when a link is created it must be created before you can use the link:
    Name:  mklink_04.png
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  3. Target can be another Link. Above in (3.) we created a junction D:\Docs with target E:\Users\Kari\Documents. Following command would now create a link C:\Docs with target D:\Docs:
    mklink /j C:\Docs D:\Docs
    In fact Windows sees no difference if the target is a real physical folder location or just another link. In this case all queries to C:\Docs would be sent to D:\Docs which would send them further to E:\Users\Kari\Documents. If a user now opens C:\Docs in Explorer, it shows the contents of E:\Users\Kari\Documents:
    Noticed something interesting in screenshot above? The target folder is called Documents but Explorer shows it as My Documents. This is because those "My ..." folders in your user profile folder are actually not real folders. They are directory links: My Videos is simply a link with target Videos and so on.
(5.) Remove or rename a link

Links and junctions can be renamed and removed as any real folders. System automatically modifies registry and sets the target to be the same for a renamed link as it was on the original link.

This is because even not really existing, the system handles links as if they were real existing folders. This is what Explorer shows when asked for Properties for our example junction D:\Docs:
Name:  mklink_07.png
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Only way to really see it is in fact a junction is to get directory listing in command prompt:
The listing not only shows it is a junction but also its target folder.

Part 3: Practical Examples

A typical situation: You have bought a game that must be installed on root level folder C:\Games. Your C: drive is becoming full, so you decide to move the whole C:\Games folder to D:, delete now empty C:\Games (remember, link folder may not exist) and create a junction:
mklink /j C:\Games D:\Games
When launching the game it still assumes it is located on C: although you, me and Windows know better : it's "secretly" residing on D: but still using the old address on C:.

Another situation: You want to work with some pics from last Christmas, to edit them to be ready to be published on that website of yours. Pics are currently located in X:\Backups\Pictures\My Pictures\Holidays\Christmas 2012.

You can create a junction X:\Pics, and now whenever you want to work with those pics you just type X:\Pics to Run dialog to open the correct folder:
mklink /j X:\Pics "X:\Backups\Pictures\My Pictures\Holidays\Christmas 2012"
Notice that if a path contains spaces it must be set in between quotation marks as in above target path.

That's about it. Any feedback welcome.

14 Feb 2013   #1
Microsoft MVP

64-bit Windows 8.1 Enterprise

Great tutorial Kari.

My System SpecsSystem Spec
14 Feb 2013   #2

Microsoft Community Contributor Award Recipient

Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit 7601 Multiprocessor Free Service Pack 1

Nice tutorial Kari. If you don't feel comfortable with command prompt there is a GUI for it. Junction Link Magic
My System SpecsSystem Spec
14 Feb 2013   #3

Microsoft Community Contributor Award Recipient

Windows 8.1 Pro with Media Center

Thanks geeks!

Never used that GUI for junctions, Kado but it could be practical for those not familiar with Command Prompt. For me the CP is perfect to play with when nostalgic feelings hit me and I need to remember those good old days when we had to walk 10 miles in heavy rain carrying our younger siblings just to get a file copied from C: to D: .
My System SpecsSystem Spec
14 Mar 2013   #4

Windows 7 Pro 64 bit

Thanks Kari, I created a link and would like to delete it I am still not sure of the proper path can you help
I created mklink/j C:\Users\Brett M:\Users\Brett
My System SpecsSystem Spec
14 Mar 2013   #5

Microsoft Community Contributor Award Recipient

Windows 8.1 Pro with Media Center

Hi Motigerman, welcome to the Seven Forums.

You delete junctions as you would delete folders. In command prompt, the syntax is:
rd C:\Folder\Subfolder
Above example would delete the folder or junction called Subfolder which is located in C:\Folder. The command rd comes from words Remove Directory (directory = folder).

My System SpecsSystem Spec
19 Jul 2013   #6

windows 7 professional 64 bits
Access denied

Hello all,
I have a windows 7 Professional 64 bit and I want to make symbolic link to a known network on the folder that I have full access permission. The Network computer is windows server 2000. I mapped the folder that I have full access to my windows 7 with H: which redirect me to windows 2000 server where I have full access.

As u know the typical usage of Mlink is (Mklink /D LINK TARGET)

If I use this kind of symbol link where the LINK is on the server that I described I get access denied :

mklink \D h:\test c:\test ( Access Denied)

However; I have no errors if I change the LOCAL and TARGET arguments

mklink \D c:\test h:\test ( successfully done)

It should be something belong to the permission policy as it should make the folder test on (h if I use the first alternative. But I have full permission on that folder.
Anyone has any idea why I have access denied?

My System SpecsSystem Spec
09 Feb 2014   #7

Win 7 32bit
Using mklink for networked drives

Hi Kari,

Thanks for the useful post on using mklink. How do you use mklink to make links to a network drive?
i.e. a drive that doesn't show up as a X:


My System SpecsSystem Spec
10 Feb 2014   #8

Microsoft Community Contributor Award Recipient

Windows 8.1 Pro with Media Center

sam80, I am really sorry I noticed your post first half a year after it was posted here. I have no explanations, I do not know how the hell I have not noticed it before .

Your question: both link and target must be on local volumes. Creating a link on a network drive will not work.

AxledeMaxle, simple answer is you can't. Both link and target must be on local volumes. See this screenshot and explanations below it:
  1. Trying to "fool" MKLINK to think a network drive is in fact a local volume, I assign drive letter Z: to network folder \\Computer_Name\Folderpath using my credentials on that network computer
  2. Testing it with command DIR Z: I can see the drive is correctly mapped and shown in my local computer
  3. Using MKLINK I try to create a link D:\Docs on local computer, target Z:\Documents which in reality is a network folder \\AGM-SERVER\Users\Public\Documents. MKLINK cannot create the link telling Local volumes are required to complete the operation
  4. Another try with MKLINK, this time using the network path for target. The same error than in 3.

My System SpecsSystem Spec
04 Mar 2014   #9

Windows 7 Enterprise x64
Try /d option

Hi! I was able to get network shares to link using the /d option - to a drive letter and to a UNC path. Hope this helps!
My System SpecsSystem Spec

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