Archiving and Compression with tar and gzip

By: O. Wolfson


Archiving and compressing files are essential operations in managing data and file storage. In this tutorial, we will explore two popular command-line tools: tar and gzip. We will learn how to use the tar command to create and extract archive files and the gzip command to compress and decompress files. This tutorial assumes that you have some basic knowledge of the command line in Unix-based systems (e.g., Linux and macOS).

Table of Contents

  1. Overview of tar and gzip
  2. The tar command 2.1 Creating archive files 2.2 Extracting archive files
  3. The gzip command 3.1 Compressing files 3.2 Decompressing files
  4. Combining tar and gzip
  5. Conclusion

Overview of tar and gzip

tar (Tape ARchive) is a command-line utility that allows you to create and manage archive files. It was initially designed for use with magnetic tape drives but has since become a popular tool for archiving files on various storage devices. gzip (GNU zip) is a compression utility designed to reduce the size of files using the Lempel-Ziv (LZ77) compression algorithm.

The tar command

Creating archive files

To create an archive file using the tar command, you can use the following syntax:

Copy code tar -cvf output_file.tar input_files Here, the -c option stands for "create", the -v option for "verbose" (to show the progress), and the -f option for "file". Replace output_file.tar with the desired name for your archive file and input_files with the files or directories you want to include in the archive. You can add multiple files or directories separated by spaces.


tar -cvf my_archive.tar file1.txt file2.txt folder1

Extracting archive files

To extract the contents of an archive file, use the following syntax:

tar -xvf input_file.tar

Here, the -x option stands for "extract". Replace input_file.tar with the name of the archive file you want to extract. The contents will be extracted to the current directory.


tar -xvf my_archive.tar

The gzip command

Compressing files

To compress a file using the gzip command, use the following syntax:

gzip input_file

Replace input_file with the name of the file you want to compress. The compressed file will have a .gz extension.


gzip file1.txt

Decompressing files

To decompress a gzip-compressed file, use the following syntax:

gunzip input_file.gz

Replace input_file.gz with the name of the compressed file you want to decompress. The decompressed file will have the same name as the original file.


gunzip file1.txt.gz

Combining tar and gzip

Often, tar and gzip are used together to create compressed archive files (with a .tar.gz or .tgz extension). To create a compressed archive, use the following syntax:

tar -czvf output_file.tar.gz input_files

Here, the -z option stands for "gzip". The tar command will create an archive and pipe it through gzip for compression.

To extract a compressed archive, use the following syntax:

tar -xzvf input_file.tar.gz


In this tutorial, we have explored the basics of archiving and compressing files using the tar and gzip commands. We have learned how to create and extract archive files with tar, compress and decompress files with gzip, and combine both utilities to create and extract compressed archives. These commands are widely used in Unix-based systems for managing data storage and transfer efficiently.

By mastering tar and gzip, you will be well-equipped to handle various file management tasks in your daily work or personal projects. As you gain more experience, you can explore additional options and flags provided by these tools to customize and optimize your archiving and compression processes.