Computer file

How to Create and Use Symbolic Links (aka Symlinks) on a Mac

Symbolic links, also known as symlinks, are special files that point to files or directories in other locations on your system. You can think of them like advanced aliases and here’s how to use them in MacOS.

Symbolic links are similar to aliases, except they work in every application on your Mac—including in the Terminal. They’re particularly useful when apps don’t want to work correctly with a regular alias. On macOS, you create symbolic links in the Terminal using the ln utility. You can’t create them in the Finder. Symbolic links in macOS work similarly to symbolic links in Linux, because both are Unix-like operating systems. Symbolic links in Windows work a bit differently.

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What Are Symbolic Links?

In macOS, you can create regular aliases in the Finder. Aliases point at files or folders, but they’re more like simple shortcuts.

A symbolic link is a more advanced type of alias that works in every application on the system, including command-line utilities in the terminal. A symbolic link you create appears to apps to be the same as the original file or folder it’s pointing at—even though it’s just a link.

For example, let’s say you have a program that needs its files stored at /Library/Program. But you want to store those files somewhere else on the system—for example, in /Volumes/Program. You can move the Program directory to /Volumes/Program, and then create a symbolic link at /Library/Program pointing to /Volumes/Program. The program will try to access its folder at /Library/Program, and the operating system will redirect it to /Volumes/Program.

This is entirely transparent to the macOS operating system and the applications you use. If you browse to the /Library/Program directory in the Finder or any other application, it will appear to contain the files inside /Volumes/Program.

In addition to symbolic links, which are sometimes called “soft links”, you can instead create “hard links”. A symbolic or soft link points to a path in the file system. For example, let’s say you have a symbolic—or soft—link from /Users/example pointing to /opt/example. If you move the file at /opt/example, the link at /Users/example will be broken. However, if you create a hard link, it will actually point to the underlying inode on the file system. So, if you created a hard link from /Users/example pointing to /opt/example and later moved /opt/example, the link at /Users/example would still point to the file, no matter where you moved it. The hard link works at a lower level.

You should generally use standard symbolic…

How to Securely Wipe a Hard Drive on Your Mac

Thinking of giving an old hard drive to a friend, or taking it to be recycled? Be careful. When you delete a file on a mechanical drive, it’s not really gone—at least, not physically. Your file system marks the spot taken up by the file as “free space,” which is why you can sometimes recover deleted files.

With enough usage, new files will overwrite your deleted files, making them harder to recover. Until that happens, though, your files aren’t physically gone. As a result, it’s very important that you securely wipe a mechanical drive before giving it away or recycling it.

If you’re a Mac user, Disk Utility can write random information over any entire drive. A single pass with random data will foil most recovery software, but if you’re as paranoid as the US government, you can run multiple passes as well.

NOTE: it’s not really necessary to overwrite files on an SSD with TRiM enabled; your Mac is already deleting files completely to ensure fast write speeds later. This is much more important for mechanical drives with spinning platters.

To wipe your mechanical drive, open Disk Utility, which you’ll find in Applications > Utilities.

Connect the drive you want to securely delete, then click it in…

How to Add Programs, Files, and Folders to System Startup in Windows

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Some Windows apps configure themselves to automatically start whenever Windows boots. But you can make any app, file, or folder start with Windows by adding it to the Windows “Startup” folder.

  1. Press Windows+R to open the “Run” dialog box.
  2. Type “shell:startup” and then hit Enter to open the “Startup” folder.
  3. Create a shortcut in the “Startup” folder to any file, folder, or app’s executable file. It will open on startup the next time you boot.

Some apps already have a bulit-in setting for this, but if they don’t, this method is what you want. You can also make any file or folder open when Windows starts—just in case there’s something you find yourself using regularly. All you have to do is create a shortcut to whatever you want to start in a special “Startup” folder—one of Windows’ hidden system folders. This technique will work with just about any version of Windows from Vista on up through Windows 7, 8, and 10.

Note also, though, that the more programs you start on boot, the longer the startup process will appear to take. If there are any apps you don’t want to start on boot, you can disable certain startup programs too.

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How to Find Out How Much Storage Space Is Used in Your Dropbox Folder

Dropbox is an excellent tool for making sure you have access to all your important files on whatever device you’re using. Finding out how much storage space is currently used up in your Dropbox folder can be slightly annoying, but we’re here to help.

Find Dropbox Storage Details in Windows

Figuring out how much of your Dropbox storage is currently used is super simple in Windows. Assuming you have the official Dropbox client installed and running, find the icon in the system tray. It might be displayed near the clock, but if not then the icon is probably hidden. Click the arrow at the left of your system tray to reveal the items tucked inside, and then find the Dropbox icon.

Click the icon to open a quick view of recent files, and then click the Settings icon in the upper right corner. The first item on the Setting menu shows you how much space (by percentage) is currently being used.

Find Dropbox Storage Details in macOS

Finding how much of your Dropbox storage space you’re using is also quite simple on the Mac. Click the Dropbox menu bar icon and you’ll see a popup window of recent files and notifications.

Click the Settings gear icon at top-right of this popup to open a menu. The first item in the menu lets you know how much total space…

How to Use All of Windows 10’s Backup and Recovery Tools

Windows 10 includes several different types of backup and recovery tools. And we’re going to take a look at all of them.

Sometimes, bad things happen to good computers. Fortunately, Windows includes a number of tools you can use to make sure your files are properly backed up and to recover your computer should you need to. On the backup side of things, File History is the primary backup tool in Windows 8 and 10. It offers not just full backups, but also a way to restore previous versions of files. Microsoft also includes the old Windows 7 Backup and Restore in both Windows 8 and 10 and it works the same way it always has, allowing you to perform selective or even full image-based backups. And while it’s not really a true backup solution, the inclusion of OneDrive does let you build a little redundancy into your file storage.

On the Recovery side of things, Windows offers a full recovery environment you can use for troubleshooting and recovery, as well as the ability to fully reset your PC to it’s default settings. Here’s how it all fits together.

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Not only do you get cheap unlimited cloud backup, but you can also use Carbonite to backup your PC to a local hard drive. And you get versioning, deleted file protection, mobile apps so you can access your files from any device, and a whole lot more.

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Built-In Backup Tools in Windows

You’ve heard the advice a million times, but it’s still surprising how many people don’t take the time to make sure their files are adequately backed up. We’ve covered all kinds of ways to make sure that your computer is backed up and we’ve even talked about what files you should be backing up. The good news is Windows itself provides some pretty solid tools to get the job done. Just remember, it’s not only about backing up to an external hard drive. You also should be creating offsite backups—or at the very least, storing a copy of your backups in a different location.

File History

File History was first introduced in Windows 8 and continues to be the primary built-in backup solution in Windows 10. File History doesn’t create a full backup of your entire PC. Rather, it focuses on making sure that your personal files are backed up. You set up File History to back up all your files to an external drive and then you really can just let it do its job. It not only regularly backs up files, it also retains previous versions of files that you can easily restore.

By default, File History backs up important folders in your user folder—stuff like Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, Videos, and parts of the AppData folder. You can exclude folders you don’t want backed up and add folders from elsewhere on your PC that you do want backed up.

When you need to recover files, you can browse through the whole collection of backed up files and folders.

Or you can restore previous versions of files from right within File Explorer.

File History gives you a pretty reliable way to make sure your personal files are regularly backed up. Make sure you check out our full guide to using File History for instructions on setting it up and using it.

Backup and Restore (Windows 7)

Microsoft also kept the old Backup and Restore feature from Windows 7 around. It was available in Windows 8, removed in Windows 8.1, and is back in Windows 10. The Backup and Restore (Windows 7) tool allows you to restore any of your old Windows 7 backups onto your Windows 10 computer—likely why the tool is still around—but you can also use it to back up your Windows 10 PC in the exact same way you’d back up a Windows 7 PC.

Unlike the newer File History backup solution, you can use Backup and Restore to more easily create a backup of practically everything on your hard drive. However, it also does not feature File History’s ability to maintain older versions of your files.

You can find the tool by hitting Start, typing “backup,” and then selecting “Backup and Restore (Windows 7).”

Setting up the backup is pretty straightforward. You’ll choose an external drive (or network location), pick the folders you want to backup, and set a schedule. After that, everything’s automatic. Do be sure to check…