Directory (computing)

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 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 Import and Export Contacts Between Outlook and Gmail

You can use Microsoft Outlook with just about any email account, including Gmail—but Outlook doesn’t provide a built-in way to sync your Gmail contacts. If you’ve amassed a bunch of contacts in either service, you’ll have to import them from the other manually to use them.

You could re-enter each contact one by one, of course, but we recommend importing all of your contacts in one go. In this article, we’ll demonstrate how to first export your contacts from Gmail into Outlook, and then export from Outlook into Gmail.

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How to Export Contacts from Gmail and Import Them into Outlook

To export contacts from your Gmail account, open a browser and log in to your account. Then, click on “Gmail” and then select “Contacts” from the dropdown.

Google is redesigning Contacts and you can try out the Contacts preview (click on “Try Contacts preview” in the menu on the left when viewing contacts in the old version). However, the Contacts preview does not allow you to export contacts yet, so we have to revert to the old version to export our contacts. To do that, click “Go to the old version” at the bottom of the list of options on the left.

Once you’re back in the old version of Google Contacts, click “More” at the top of the page and select “Export” from the dropdown.

Notice, you can export a group, selected contacts, or all your contacts into one of three formats. The export format should be an Outlook .CSV (CSV = Comma Separated Values, which means each field [Name, Address, Phone, etc.] is separated by a comma) file. Select the contacts you want to export, and then select the “Outlook CSV format” option.

Click “Export” to start the export process.

On the Save As dialog box, navigate to where you want to save your contacts CSV file. By default, contacts.csv is entered in the “File name” box as a suggestion for a name, but you can change that, if you want. Then, click the “Save” button.

When the export is finished, you can open the exported .CSV file in Excel and manipulate itby adding addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and other information that will help round out your address book. While this is an optional step, it’s nice to be able to go through and make your contacts neat and consistent.

When you’re ready, it’s time to import your shiny new contacts file into Outlook. Open Outlook and click the “File” tab.

On the backstage screen, click “Open & Export” on the left and then click the “Import/Export” button.

The Import and Export Wizard dialog box displays. Select “Import from another program or file” under Choose an action to perform and then click the “Next” button.

Select “Comma Separated Values” and click the “Next” button.

Now, we need to select the file to import, so click the “Browse” button.

On the Browse dialog box, navigate to the folder where you saved the .csv file, select the file, and then click the “OK” button.

Under Options, decide whether or not you want duplicates to be imported. You can save yourself time later by selecting “Do not import duplicate items” now. Click the “Next” button.

Select “Contacts” in the Select destination folder box under the email account where you want to save your contacts. Then, click the “Next” button.

The last screen on the Import a File dialog box shows you…

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…

Spark for Mac Adds Folder Management, Label Support, and Smart Filters

Mac: When Spark initially launched on Mac, it had enough features to get by, but it still needed to check off a few boxes to convince power users to give it a look. In an update today, they’ve added a few new tools for managing your email.

The update adds in folder management, support for labels, and smart filters. All of this stuff is prevalent in other desktop clients, but considering Spark is free and one of the better designed options around, it’s nice to see it here.

Labels are a favorite amongst many for quickly organizing emails, and…

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 Disable the Unified Inbox (and Grouped Folders) in Outlook 2016 for Mac

By default, the folder list in Outlook 2016 for Mac is grouped into similar folders, which means that folders that are common to all your accounts, such as Inbox, Drafts, Sent Items, and Deleted Items, are grouped together.

The Inbox folder at the top of the folder list combines messages received in the inboxes for all your accounts, and then each separate inbox is listed below that. This allows you to quickly and easily check all your email without having to scroll to access your other accounts. You can also access Drafts, Sent Items, and Deleted Items for all accounts combined. The remaining folders unique to each account are listed further down with each account.

NOTE: The On My Computer folder is used for POP accounts. Messages from all POP accounts are…