Archiving and compression tools

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The traditional Unix archiving and compression tools are separated according to the Unix philosophy:

  • A file archiver combines several files into one archive file, e.g. tar.
  • A compression tool compresses and decompresses data.

These tools are often used in sequence by firstly creating an archive file and then compressing it.

Of course there are also programs that do both, which additionally tend to offer encryption, error detection and recovery.

Archiving only

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Name Packages Manual Description
tar coreutils tar(1) GNU utility for manipulating the ubiquitous tar archives (tarballs), see tar for usage examples.
ar binutils ar(1) Legacy Unix archiver before tar. Today only used for creating static library files.
cpio cpio cpio(1) File archiver via stdin/stdout, supports cpio and tar formats.
Note: When GNU tar is given a compressed file it automatically invokes the right compression program based on the file extension. bzip2, xz, lzip, lxma, lzop, gzip and compress are supported.

Compression tools

Compression only

These compression programs implement their own file format.

Name Packages Manual Ext Tar ext Description Parallel implementations
bzip2 bzip2 bzip2(1) .bz2, .bz .tbz2, .tbz Uses the Burrows–Wheeler algorithm. lbzip2, pbzip2
gzip gzip gzip(1) .gz, .z .tgz, .taz GNU zip, based on DEFLATE algorithm. pigz
lrzip lrzip lrzip(1) .lrz Improved version of rzip, uses multiple compression algorithms.
lzip lzip lzip(1) .lz Uses LZMA.
lzop lzop lzop(1) .lzop .tzo Uses LZO.
xz xz xz(1) .xz, .lzma .txz, .tlz Uses LZMA, default for GNU coreutils and kernel archive files. pixz, pxzAUR
  • Parallel implementations offer improved speeds by using multiple CPU cores.
  • Tar extensions refers to compressed archives where tar and the compression tool is used, e.g. .tzo is .tar.lzo.

Archiving and compression

Name Packages Manual Ext Description
7z p7zip 7z(1) .7z Popular OpenSource tool on non-Linux machines. See p7zip.
RAR rarAUR, unrar rar(1) .rar Popular Windows tool available for Linux. See RAR.
ZIP zip, unzip zip(1), unzip(1) .zip Widely used outside of the Linux-world.
Unarchiver unarchiver unar(1), lsar(1) many Command-line tool of a Mac application, supports over 40 archive formats.

Esoteric, rare or deprecated tools

Name Packages Ext Description
ARC arcAUR .arc, .ark Was very popular during the early days of the dial-up BBS. Superseded by ZIP.
ARJ arj .arj An archiver used on DOS/Windows in mid-1990s. This is an open source clone.
compress ncompressAUR .Z The classic unix compression utility which can handle the ancient .Z archive.
PAR2 par2cmdline .par2 Parity archiver for increased data integrity. See also Parchive.

Feature charts

Decompress

Name gzip bzip2 ZIP compress pack CAB ARJ
gzip Yes No Yes Yes Yes No No
p7zip Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
unarchiver Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes partial

Usage comparison

Archiving only

Name Create archive Extract archive List content
tar(1) tar cfv archive.tar file1 file2 tar xfv archive.tar tar -tvf archive.tar
cpio(1) ls file1 file2 | cpio -o > archive.cpio cpio -i -vd < archive.cpio cpio -t < archive.cpio

Compression only

Name Compress Decompress Decompress to stdout
bzip2(1) bzip2 file bzip2 -d file.bz2 bzcat file.bz2
gzip(1) gzip file gzip -d file.gz zcat file.gz
lrzip(1) lrzip file
lrztar folder
lrzip -d file.lrz
lrztar -d folder.tar.lrz
lrzcat file.lrz
xz(1) xz file xz -d file.xz xzcat file.xz

Archiving and compression

Name Compress Decompress Decompress to stdout List content
7z(1) 7z a archive.7z file1 file2 7z x archive.7z 7z e -so archive.7z file1 7z l archive.7z
rar(1) & unrar rar a archive.rar file1 file2 rar x archive.rar rar p -inul archive.rar file1 rar l archive.rar
zip(1), unzip(1) zip archive.zip file1 file2 unzip archive.zip unzip -p archive.zip file1 unzip -l archive.zip

Convenience tools

  • atool — Script for managing file archives of various types.
https://www.nongnu.org/atool/ || atool
  • dtrx — An intelligent archive extraction tool.
https://brettcsmith.org/2007/dtrx/ || dtrxAUR
  • unp — Command line tool that can unpack archives easily.
https://github.com/mitsuhiko/unp || python-unpAUR
  • unpack — Wrapper script for handling multiple archive formats.
https://github.com/githaff/unpack || unpack-gitAUR

Determining archive format

To extract an archive, its file format needs to be determined. If the file is properly named you can deduce its format from the file extension.

Otherwise you can use the file tool, see file(1).

See also