Mac OS

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…

Why Mac Apps Occasionally Ask for Access to Accessibility Features

If you use a Mac and any software that controls your keyboard, including text expanders, you’ve probably come across a dialogue box asking you to grant the app access to “accessibility features.” How-To Geek explains what that means.

Accessibility settings are gated off by Apple for security purposes because apps that help with accessibility, like text-to-speech applications or key logging applications, work by controlling certain system level services or other applications entirely. Traditionally, a Mac app is a single container that cannot access system level controls. Accessibility apps get a little more control over system access and can control other apps entirely. How-To Geek explains it like so:

In part, it uses this name because multiple accessibility applications need access to these…

Why Do Some Mac Apps Need to “Control This Computer Using Accessibility Features?”

Some apps, like Dropbox and Steam, will ask to “control this computer using accessibility features.” But what the heck does that even mean?

The wording is confusing, to say that least. What does this permission actually grant? Basically, this gives the app in question the ability to control other programs. Apple outlines their advice here:

If you’re familiar with an app, you can authorize it by clicking Open System Preferences in the alert, then selecting the checkbox for the app in the Privacy pane. If you’re unfamiliar with an app or you don’t want to give it access to your Mac at that time, click Deny in the alert.

But that just leaves more questions. Why do you have to give this permission at all? What does giving this permission mean—will such applications really “control this computer”? And why is this called “Accessibility” access, instead of just system access? Let’s break this down.

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Why Do I Have to Do This?

The process of enabling Accessibility Settings is a bit convoluted. You need to open System Preferences, then head to Security & Privacy > Privacy > Accessibility. From there you need to click the lock icon in the bottom-left corner, enter you password, and only then can you grant your application access.

So why do you have to do this? The answer, in short, is to protect your security.

By default, Mac apps are self-contained, and can’t change the way you interact with the system or other applications. This is a very good thing. It prevents sketchy things from happening, like games you’ve downloaded logging your keystrokes or malware clicking buttons in your browser.

But some applications need to control other applications to…

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…