Brief overview: I know of two methods to make an alias in mac. One is by dragging holding Command-Option, the other is via terminal. I am putting an alias in my texmf folder, but with one method the alias is found and with the other it isn't. I am not sure why this is.

Also, I am (still) using natbib for this particular tex file I am compiling. Perhaps that has something to do with the issue. And I am compiling with Bibtex

More detailed description

Suppose I have a bibliography called "mybib" in ~/Documents.

I want this file here for ease of access, but I want TexShop to find it when I use it in a tex file. So I make an alias and I put the alias in


Here is my problem/question

If I make the alias through terminal using the command

ln -s ~/Documents/mybib.bib ~/Library/texmf/bibtex/bib/local

Then when I compile a Tex document the bibliography is found. But if I make an alias by using "Option-Command drag" on ~/Documents/mybib.bib to ~/Library/texmf/bibtex/bib/local, this bibliography is not found

I am not sure what the difference between these two methods is? They are both making an alias that reference the same file.

Looking quickly I see that the terminal method calls the Alias "mybib.bib" whereas the drag method just calls it "mybib". If I manually append ".bib" to the end, then the bibliography is found but I get some weird compile error (error says "you're missing an entry type" and then a bunch of characters with accents/symbols)

Also, if I look at the "get info" of each file, the one made via terminal is much smaller (both files are small, but for example the file from dragging is about 900 bytes, 4kb on disk, the one from terminal is 80 bytes, 0 on disk).

The issue is not serious, I am just curious.


1 Answer 1


A Mac alias is not the same as a symbolic link. I am not certain how Apple currently implements the former. In the past, these used resource forks, I think. At least, looking at them on the command line, they would have a size of zero.

https://www.lifewire.com/aliases-symbolic-links-hard-links-mac-2260189 explains the differences between aliases, symbolic links and hard links. Of these, aliases are Mac-specific. [This sense of 'alias'. 'Alias' has another sense which is relevant on Macs, but not Mac-specific.] Symbolic and hard links are found on most Unix-ish file systems, including OS X's. According to this site, aliases go back way before OS X, so maybe the ones I still occasionally find on my system are the same kind you have. These are, as the site also explains, useless to non Mac tools.

This type of shortcut is the oldest for the Mac; its roots go all the way back to System 7. Aliases are created and managed at the Finder level, which means that if you're using Terminal or a non-Mac application, such as many UNIX apps and utilities, an alias won't work.


ls -al ~/Library/texmf/bibtex/bib/local/mybib.bib ~/Library/texmf/bibtex/bib/local/mybib
file ~/Library/texmf/bibtex/bib/local/mybib.bib ~/Library/texmf/bibtex/bib/local/mybib

to see the differences.

You might also try

ls -rsrc

However, I am not sure if this is still relevant on current systems or not. (The last version of the OS I used was Tiger.)

In general, Finder did not used to provide a very useful interface to the file system, from a command-line point-of-view. It sounds as if things have not changed much.

  • @majmun Finder when I used it was absolutely untrustworthy as far as the underlying file system went. It lied to make things 'easier'. I rendered my system unbootable as a result. It would have been nice to think things would have changed since, but it sounds as if that's probably not the case. The way Finder represents the file system is dangerous: it represents directories as files, represents directories with contents as empty, misrepresents ownership and permissions, fails to show extended attributes, conflates important distinctions ....
    – cfr
    Dec 17, 2017 at 2:52
  • 1
    sorry, I deleted my original comment (because I recalled that comment guidelines say comments are for adding something to the post). I think your comment does add information though, so for those who may be reading this later, my original comment basically said (Finder was calling both the symbolic link and the alias "alias", and representing them the same visually, which made me think they are the same)
    – majmun
    Dec 17, 2017 at 2:55
  • 1
    @majmun It also makes it trickier to google: what's the difference between an alias and an alias won't get many useful results :-).
    – cfr
    Dec 17, 2017 at 2:59

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .