On the NTFS file system, freeware program “Link Shell Extension” provides you with the ability to create clones (called hard links) of your files and folders straight from the context menu.
Clones, if you’re wondering, are not copies of a file or shortcuts. Cloned files look like normal files (except for a little inverted blue arrow) and what they are are multiple instances of a file that point to the same exact data. So, for example, you can have a cloned file reside on your desktop as well as in another directory on the same drive (or even in the same directory under a different name), but in reality there is only a single copy on your drive, with two files pointing to it. Opening any one of those two clones will access the same data, so that if you save a change to the file on your desktop for example it will be reflected in the other one as well. The process of creating these clones is referred to as hardlinking.
How this can be useful: hardlinking can be useful whenever your primary method for organizing your files is within a folder structure. As an example, you might organize your MP3s such
that each folder represents an album and contains the constituent song files. But let’s say that you also want to have a “best of” folder that contains your favorite songs; instead of making copies of the MP3s and putting them in the ’best of’ folder (or using shortcuts that need to be maintained and might not be recognized by media players) you can use hardlinked clones such that any single song in the “best of” folder will actually exist in both the “album” and “best of” folders at once. This way your songs take up hard drive space only once, and any change you might make to the tags/metadata of one file will be instantly the case for the other (because they in fact the same file), instead of having to be performed twice.
How to perform hardlinking using “Link Shell Extension”; after installing “Link Shell Extension”, you can create hardlinks as follows:
Step1: right click on a file and select “Pick Link Source” (see screenshots below)
Step2: right click on the destination folder where you would like to place the clone (in this case its a folder called “place1″) and select “Drop Hardlink from the right click menu. Note that (a) both the file (spzar.txt in this case) and the destination folder have to be on the same partition, and (b) you can use the “Cancel Link Creation” from the right click menu to cancel.
That’s it. See screenshot at the top of this posting for an example of a hardlinked file.
Symbolic Links: are supported only in Vista. Unlike normal hardlinks hitherto being discussed, which require that both file and clone reside on the same partition, these “Symbolic Links” allow for the creation of hardlinked files that reside on another partition or hard drive.
Hardlinking folders: is also possible. However, “Link Shell Extension” offers three ways in which you can do this, as follows:
- Junctions: are straightforward clones of folder (i.e. the new hardlinked folder is equivalent to and points to the same folder data as the original). Junctions (hardlinked folders) have a little “chain” on their icons that mark them as such.
- Hardlink clones: in this case, it is not really the folder that is cloned but, instead, the folder structure of the original folder is copied and all the files inside are cloned.
- Volume mountpoint: provides the ability to instantly mount a folder, but is only available in NTFS v5. For some reason I wasn’t able to perform volume mountpointing myself when I tested this program. If you want another freeware that does this (and works on both NTFS and FAT32) check out Visual Subst.
Here’s more Q&A on this:
Q: How is cloning possible? Is it some sort of scary Windows hack?
A: No. According to the program’s documentation, hardlinks “can be created with the POSIX command ln included in the Windows Resource Kit or the fsutil command utility included in Windows XP”. “Link Shell Extension” merely gives you this functionality in the Windows’ context menu. For more info see the hardlinking entry on Wikipedia.
A: Does this mean that I can open the same exact data twice in a single application at the same time?
Q: In most cases yes, so be careful how you use this functionality.
A: What happens if I move a file into the same folder as its clone?
Q: If they have the same name, one of them will simply disappear.
For more info on this program, check out its documentation.
Version tested: 2.803
Compatibility: Windows NT4/W2K/WXP/W2K3/WXP64/Vista/Vista64. You have to have an NTFS formatted hard drive. Check out the list of limitations on the program page.