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.

Back Up and Protect Your Windows 10 PC the Easy Way

Windows 10 includes a number of backup and recovery tools for free, but the reality is that they aren’t anywhere near as good as commercial solutions. Carbonite automatically backs up all of your files, photos, and documents and stores them encrypted in the cloud.

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.

And for a limited time, How-To Geek readers get 2 free bonus months.

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…

How to Set Your Kodi Library to Automatically Update

Kodi can make your massive media collection easy to browse and play, but adding new media is a bit of a chore. By default, you need to manually tell the program to re-scan your folders every time you add something, which is annoying if you add new media regularly. Isn’t there a way to automate this?

Yes: there are three options. Here they are, listed in terms of how easy they are to set up:

  1. Tell Kodi to update the library every time it starts up. This doesn’t require any add-ons, but only works if you close and open Kodi regularly.
  2. Use Library Auto-Update, a lightweight add-on that re-scans folders on a timer you set. This is ideal if you don’t restart Kodi regularly, but still want routine updates.
  3. Use Watchdog, a slightly heavier add-on that monitors folders and adds new files in real time. This is ideal if you are constantly adding new media, but takes up a lot of system resources and might prove unstable.

None of these methods are particularly complicated, but the two add-ons are going to require a bit more effort, with Watchdog being the most work. In exchange for more complication, each option gives more flexibility than the last, so it’s worth going over all three.

Our recommendation: choose the least complicated option that does what you want.

Option One: Update Kodi’s Library When the Program Launches

Kodi can, without any add-ons, re-scan your library every time it starts up. To get started, click the Settings gear from the home screen.

Next, head to Media Settings.

From here you’ll find the option to scan the library on startup. Note that there is a different option for Videos and Music.

Toggle those two options and your done: Kodi will now update the library every time you start it up. If that’s all you want, you don’t need to do anything else.

Option Two: Update on a Timer with Library Auto-Update

Some people rarely, if ever, restart Kodi, putting the computer to sleep instead of shutting it down. If that’s you, re-scanning the library probably isn’t good enough. Library Auto-Update is a Kodi add-on that lets you set a schedule for re-scanning your library. The add-on is lightweight, too—all it does…

How Long Will a File’s Copy Remain in File History After It Is Deleted From Windows 10?

If you have decided to make use of Windows 10’s file history capabilities, how long will a saved copy of a file remain in the backup folder if you decide to delete the original? Today’s SuperUser Q&A post has the answer to a curious reader’s question.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

SuperUser reader Lumo5 wants to know how long a saved copy of a file will remain in file history after the original one is deleted from Windows 10:

When using File History in Windows 10 and deleting a file from your computer, how long will the saved…

Save Space on Your Time Machine Drive by Excluding These Folders From Backups

Are you getting notifications about a full Time Machine drive? Do you feel like your backups are taking too long? A bigger, faster hard drive might be the best solution, but you can also help by excluding particular folders from your backups.

We’ve shown you how to back up and restore files with Time Machine, including how to exclude particular folders from being backed up. To exclude a folder, just head to System Preferences > Time Machine > Options.

Some more options will slide down, giving you the ability to exclude particular folders from your backups. But which folders can be safely disabled? And are any disabled by the system already? Let’s take a look.

What Does Time Machine Exclude By Default?

Time Machine already excludes a bunch of things you don’t need backed up: your Trash, caches, and indexes. And you know how you can use Time Machine even if your drive isn’t plugged in? The local backups that make that possible are also not backed up, as that would be redundant. So you don’t need to worry about excluding system-level things like logs and caches—Time Machine already has you covered.

If just knowing that system-level stuff is already excluded is enough for you, go ahead and skip the rest of this section. But if you’re interested in seeing the complete list of folders excluded by default (or just want to prove to yourself that something is excluded), here’s how to do it.

A file named “StdExclusions.plist” outlines everything that Time Machine excludes. You can find that file in the following location:

/System/Library/CoreServices/backupd.bundle/Contents/Resources/

You can quickly open that file by running the following command in the Terminal (which you can find at Applications > Utilities > Terminal):

/System/Library/CoreServices/backupd.bundle/Contents/Resources/StdExclusions.plist
The list is too long to include here, so you should just check it out yourself.

Individual programs can also mark particular files to not be backed up. Typically, this includes caches and other temporary files. You can find a list of these exempt files by running the following command in the Terminal:

sudo mdfind "com_apple_backup_excludeItem = 'com.apple.backupd'"

To summarize, though, you don’t need to worry about stopping Time Machine from backing up caches or your Trash folder, because it already knows not to. And a big thanks to Brant Bobby on Stack Exchange for pointing out the commands that prove this.

What Other Items Should I Consider Excluding?

Now that you’ve seen what Time Machine excludes by default, let’s take a look at some of the other items you might consider excluding to free up some space.

Your Dropbox Folder, or Any Folder You’re Already Syncing

If you’re using Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, or any other syncing service, you already have those files stored in at least two locations—on your local drive and in the cloud. If you’re syncing files to other devices, as well, then you have those files stored in other locations as well.

Just be careful. Most cloud services offer a grace period to recover deleted files. Dropbox, for example, gives you 30 days, and keeps older versions of the files it has—just like a backup. But if your cloud service does not provide this feature, you probably don’t want to exclude those files from your Time Machine backup, since…

How to Prevent Certain Photos from Showing Up in Android’s Gallery or Google Photos

Look, we get it: you don’t want every picture showing up in your gallery app on your Android phone. The thing is, there’s not an easy way to just let Gallery or Google Photos know you want to keep certain photos (or even folders) private. But there is a workaround.

Before we get started, let’s talk about apps that are dedicated to this very thing: yes, there are tons of them in the Play Store. But I’ll tell you know now that we’re not going that direction with this piece. If you like those, then by all means, use one! This is how to keep things from showing up in the gallery without the need for some third-party software (well, outside of a file manager, which many of you probably already have).

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Yes, you’ll need a file manager. We recommend Solid Explorer, but if you already have one you like, that’s cool too.

One more noteworthy thing before we get into the meat and potatoes, too. If you use Google Photos, you’ll want to make sure the backup and sync options are turned off. Because that thing is pretty fast and efficient about backing your pictures up, so if you want to keep things hidden you’d have to move the files instantly. That’s a lot of hassle, so it’s probably best just to keep backup and sync disabled if you want to keep things personal.

There are a couple of ways to go about this whole “hide pictures” thing: you can make a new folder and move pictures that you’d like to be hidden into said folder, or you can…

How To Replace Notepad with Another Text Editor in Windows

Notepad is a Windows staple that hasn’t really changed in years. It’s fine as a basic text editor, but if you’d like to replace it with something a bit more powerful, then read on.

Text editors are great. They’re fast and easy to use for simple things like taking fast notes, keeping a dated log or journal file, or editing the odd configuration or even HTML file. Programmers and developers use them as one of their basic editing tools. Notepad has been the standard text editor included with Windows for many years. The problem is, as text editors go, Notepad is really basic. There are plenty of alternatives out there that add things like tabs, highlighted syntax, autocompletion, bookmarks, and customizable interfaces. And most of them are just as fast and easy to use as Notepad.

Sure, you could always just install one and use it like any other app, but we’re going to show you how actually replace Notepad so that your preferred text editor becomes the default tool when you—or any app—opens text files or calls on Notepad from anywhere in the Windows interface.

Step One: Choose a Replacement Text Editor

There are a ton of great Notepad replacements out there. Notepad2 and Metapad are both freeware favorites that work with the technique we’re describing in this article. If you use an editor professionally for development and don’t mind paying for extra features, you might also want to check out Sublime Text ($70) and UltraEdit ($99.95). The best editor for you will depend on what you need a text editor to do, so we encourage you to try them out and see what strikes your fancy before settling on a replacement. Once you do settle on a replacement, you’re ready to move on with the rest of these instructions.

We’re using Notepad2 as our example in this article. With its relatively minimalist interface, line numbers, and highlighted syntax, it’s long been a favorite around here.

Step Two: Make Sure the New Text Editor Will Work as a Replacement

The technique we’re using in this article is to actually replace the “notepad.exe” file in the Windows system folders with a copy of the EXE file for our chosen replacement editor. For this reason, the text editor replacement you choose will only work if its executable file can run outside its own folder. This usually isn’t the case with apps you have to install, so it’s best to look for an app that you can download as a self-contained ZIP package instead. Portable apps are ideal candidates.

We’ve already tested both Metapad and Notepad2, and both will work. If you’re using a different app, it’s easy enough to test whether it will work. Start by downloading the app you want to test and installing it if it’s an installable app. Next, you’ll need to find the app’s folder. If it’s a portable app, that’s just the folder you extracted. If it’s an installed app, you’ll find it in either your “Program Files” or “Program Files (x86)” folders.

When you’ve found the app’s folder, you should see just one file inside with an EXE extension.

Copy that executable file by selecting it and pressing Ctrl+C on your keyboard. Go to your desktop and paste the file there by hitting Ctrl+V. The idea here is to get the executable file somewhere all by itself, without the other stuff in its folder. Now, double-click that copied file and see if the text editor can run. If it does, you’re good to go. If it doesn’t, then it won’t work with the techniques in this article.

NOTE: You may have noticed that one of the long-standing favorite text editors—Notepad++—isn’t on our list. While it used to work with the techniques we’re discussing in this article, it’s…