Example of realpath function in C

I'm looking for an example of how to use the realpath function in a C program. I can't seem to find one on the web or in any of my C programming books.

13.10.2009 21:58:39

The realpath() function is not described in the C Standard. It is however described by POSIX 1997 and POSIX 2008. If that is what you mean, here is an example:

#include <limits.h> /* PATH_MAX */
#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
int main(void) {
    char buf[PATH_MAX]; /* PATH_MAX incudes the \0 so +1 is not required */
    char *res = realpath("this_source.c", buf);
    if (res) {
        printf("This source is at %s.\n", buf);
    } else {
    return 0;

PATH_MAX is defined in <limits.h> (<limits.h> from POSIX 1997)

12.07.2019 13:40:32
PATH_MAX is the maximum length for a path. It is a weird gizmo; there is guaranteed to be a value _POSIX_PATH_MAX which is the minimum value that PATH_MAX may be. However, many systems have a <limits.h> that does not set PATH_MAX, meaning there isn't a prescribed limit for the maximum length of a path on the machine. It can also be file-system dependent, anyway. So, you can look up a value with sysconf(), or with pathconf(), or you can take a guess that most sane people don't use paths longer than 1024 bytes and use that.
Jonathan Leffler 13.10.2009 22:36:44
you should take into consideration calling free(res); after calling realpath and finishing from res. As realpath allocates the return value in the heap. Source: man realpath
Jalal Mostafa 3.03.2016 17:44:03
@JalalMostafa: POSIX realpath(), as described in the link in my answer, does not allocate memory. I suspect your system is not POSIX compliant. Calling POSIX compliant realpath() with NULL for the 2nd argument invokes UB.
pmg 3.03.2016 19:12:19
@JalalMostafa: There is a new version of the POSIX specification (realpath() in POSIX 2008) there the 2nd argument can be NULL and then malloc() is called. In my example, the buffer is a local array, so no cause for calling free(). Thanks for the heads up.
pmg 3.03.2016 19:22:48
The +1 in PATH_MAX is probably for \0
Arav K. 7.03.2017 15:37:23

Like this:

int main(int argc, char *argv[]) {
    char *symlinkpath = argv[1];
    char actualpath [PATH_MAX];
    char *ptr;
    ptr = realpath(symlinkpath, actualpath);

Borrowed from here

13.10.2009 22:13:39

What the realpath() function does is tell you the pathname of a file when all symbolic links have been resolved. It is not necessarily an absolute pathname if the value you supply is a relative name, but that depends in part on whether you traverse any symbolic links with absolute names for the link value - if you do, then the output is an absolute name after all. Also, if the relative name traverses up to the root directory (or 'beyond', as in '../../../../../..' when only three levels deep in the directory hierarchy).

You may have a 'realpath' program already on your machine. Here's the (non-standard) version I wrote.

@(#)File:           $RCSfile: realpath.c,v $
@(#)Version:        $Revision: 1.3 $
@(#)Last changed:   $Date: 2007/10/23 20:23:44 $
@(#)Purpose:        Command to evaluate realpath(3) on given arguments.
@(#)Author:         J Leffler
@(#)Copyright:      (C) JLSS 2007
@(#)Product:        :PRODUCT:


#if __STDC_VERSION__ >= 199901L
#define _XOPEN_SOURCE 600
#define _XOPEN_SOURCE 500
#endif /* __STDC_VERSION__ */

#include <unistd.h>
#include <limits.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include "stderr.h"

static const char optstr[] = "hlsV";
static const char usestr[] = "[-hslV] given-path [...]";
static const char hlpstr[] =
    "  -h   Print this help message\n"
    "  -l   Long format: print given-path and real-path\n"
    "  -s   Short format: print just real-path\n"
    "  -V   Print version and exit\n"

static int format_type = FMT_LONG;

#ifndef lint
/* Prevent over-aggressive optimizers from eliminating ID string */
extern const char jlss_id_realpath_c[];
const char jlss_id_realpath_c[] = "@(#)$Id: realpath.c,v 1.3 2007/10/23 20:23:44 jleffler Exp $";
#endif /* lint */

static int eval_realpath(const char *given)
    char realname[_POSIX_PATH_MAX];
    int rc = 0;

    if (realpath(given, realname) == 0)
        rc = -1;
        err_sysrem("failed to resolve real path name for %s\n", given);
    else if (format_type == FMT_SHORT)
        printf("%s\n", realname);
        printf("%s %s\n", given, realname);

int main(int argc, char **argv)
    int i;
    int rc = EXIT_SUCCESS;
    int opt;

    while ((opt = getopt(argc, argv, optstr)) != -1)
        switch (opt)
        case 'V':
            err_version("REALPATH", &"@(#)$Revision: 1.3 $ ($Date: 2007/10/23 20:23:44 $)"[4]);
        case 'h':
            err_help(usestr, hlpstr);
        case 'l':
            format_type = FMT_LONG;
        case 's':
            format_type = FMT_SHORT;

    for (i = optind; i < argc; i++)
        if (eval_realpath(argv[i]) != 0)
            rc = EXIT_FAILURE;


I needed it to test some software that was evaluating the security of a path, and needed to be sure my code was evaluating the given path to the same resolved location as realpath() does. It would probably be sensible to extend it with a '-a' option to ensure names are mapped to absolute names (by prefixing the result of getcwd() to relative pathnames).

(Source for stderr.c, stderr.h can be found online if you know where to look. Or contact me - see my profile.)

13.10.2009 22:50:54
No, it does necessarily give you an absolute path name. The documentation says "The realpath() function shall derive, from the pathname pointed to by file_name, an absolute pathname that names the same file, ..."
Adam Rosenfield 20.08.2011 02:46:17
That's odd; you're right, yet...I must have gotten the wrong idea from somewhere. The difficulty almost four years after writing the code, and most of two years after writing the answer, is knowing where I got the misinformation from. It will take some investigation on obscure systems.
Jonathan Leffler 20.08.2011 03:08:50

One-line build command line

Minimalist but it does the job!


gcc -o realpath -x c - <<< $'#include<stdlib.h>\n#include<stdio.h>\nint main(int c,char**v){puts(realpath(v[1],0));}'


$> ./realpath  ~/../../../usr/./bin/./awk

$> readlink -f ~/../../../usr/./bin/./awk


  • for compilation and link
  • for <<< and $' ... \n ... '


My minimalist one-line command line builds an executable realpath that produces a Segmentation fault when the path does not exist. Instead of writing if/else blocs to handle that issue within my answer, I have added below some links to let you have a look on the Busybox implementation of realpath and readlink.

Busybox implementation

For a more complete source code, have a look on this simple implementation.

Official Git repository

GitHub mirror repository

20.11.2017 16:44:12
/usr/bin/readlink -f does not require the path exist. However, realpath api does. Could you help to comment how to mimic readlink in this respect ?
SOUser 11.11.2017 13:05:39
Hi @SOUser. Thank you for your feedback. You are right, my minimalist one-line command line builds an executable realpath that produces a Segmentation fault when path does not exist. Instead of writing if/else blocs to handle that within my answer, I have added links to let you have a look on the Busybox implementation of realpath and readlink. I hope you appreciate the Busybox source code. Please let me know if I can help. Cheers
olibre 17.11.2017 10:04:25