Last Updated: February 25, 2016
· mlafeldt

Get real absolute path to a directory in Shell

If you're a Ruby programmer, you might know that Pathname#realpath returns the real (absolute) path to a file or directory in the actual filesystem without symlinks or useless dots.

For example:

[1] pry(main)> require 'pathname'
=> true
[2] pry(main)>'/tmp/bar').realpath.to_s
=> "/tmp/foo"

In shell, you can implement something similar with this function:

realpath() { (cd -P -- "${1:-.}" && pwd) }

Some notes:

  • Only works for existing directories (not for files).
  • This function is portable, while readlink(1) is not even part of POSIX.
  • Both cd and pwd understand -P to resolve all symbolic links and operate on the physical path.
  • The same method can be used to get the directory your shell script lives in: APP_ROOT="$(cd -P -- $(dirname -- "$0") && pwd)"