From the GNU Fileutils/ln info page:

Symbolic links, ("symlinks" for short), are a special file type (which not all kernels support: System V release 3 (and older) systems lack symlinks) in which the link file actually refers to a different file, by name. When most operations (opening, reading, writing and so on) are passed the symbolic link file, the kernel automatically "dereferences" the link and operates on the target of the link. But some operations (e.g., removing) work on the link file itself, rather than on its target.