Better symlinks are coming in Windows 10 Creators Update

Dave W. Shanahan

Windows 10 Creators Update

Microsoft promises better symlink accessibility is on the way in the upcoming Windows 10 Creators Update. Symbolic links, or symlinks for short, are files or folders that refer to physical files or folders that are in a different location. Symlinks are shortcuts to files, much like when you create a shortcut to a program on the Windows 10 desktop. In addition to Windows, other operating systems, like Linux and OSX, use symlinks as an important built-in feature.

Since Windows Vista, Microsoft’s Windows NTFS (New Technology File System) file system has used symlinks with some issues. To make it easier for developers to create symlinks, Microsoft is making adjustments for symlinks to run more smoothly in the Windows 10 Creators Update. Microsoft wanted to make it so that non-admin users would be able to create symlinks more easily for three reasons:

  1. Modern development projects are increasingly portable across operating systems
  2. Modern development tools are symlink-aware, and many are optimized for symlinks
  3. Windows developers should enjoy a development environment that is at least the equal of others

Windows 10 Insiders build 14971, has the new symlinks support, while the rest of the general public will be getting symlink support in the Windows 10 Creators Update in early 2017. Microsoft is also looking to partner with open-source community tools, including Git and npm so that both can make appropriate changes to better support symlinks in Windows 10.

“Developers often replace duplicate copies of shared files/folders with symlinks referencing physical files/folders. Replacing redundant copies of files can save a great deal of physical disk space, and significantly reduce the time taken to copy/backup/deploy/clone projects. For Windows users, due to Windows Vista’s security requirements, users needed local admin rights and, importantly, had to run mklink in a command-line console elevated as administrator to create/modify symlinks.

This latter restriction resulted in symlinks being infrequently used by most Windows developers, and caused many modern cross-platform development tools to work less efficiently and reliably on Windows. Now in Windows 10 Creators Update, a user (with admin rights) can first enable Developer Mode, and then any user on the machine can run the mklink command without elevating a command-line console.”

To try out symlinks today, make sure you are a Windows Insider, have Windows Insider build 14971 installed, and refer to the CreateSymlink API to get started. Symlinks can be created using the CreateSymlink API or by using the mklink command.