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Using the “tar” and “gzip” commands

In UNIX files are packed using the Unix Tape ARchive utility (derived from tape archive and commonly referred to as “tarball”), otherwise are compressed and stored using the GNU zip utilities.

The purpose of this post in not do a detailed and exhaustive description about “tar” and “gzip” commands, but present the essential to use it of an easy way. I hope you enjoy the post!

Basically the “tar”(Tape ARchive) command allows pack/unpack, and the gzip(GNU zip) command compress/uncompress files.


The “tar” command allows us group and ungroup( pack and unpack), a set of files and/or folders into a single file.


To pack some folders and files listed above into a single file, we can run the “tar” command with the following parameters.

tar -cvf application.tar *

tar –cvf application.tar java PERL requirements.txt config.xml

tar -cvf

tar -cvf

The parameters of this command can be specified without the hyphen:

tar cvf application.tar java PERL requirements.txt config.xml

Regardless of how the parameters can be referred, below is listed a description of the used parameters:

Option Meaning Description
-c Create Create a new archive
-v Verbose Verbosely list files which are processed
-f File=ARCHIVE Use archive file or device

Otherwise the “tar” command can be used to the reverse process: unpack or extract a set of files, directly from the “tar” file:

Option Meaning Description
-x eXtract Extract files from an archive

Un tar

Un tar


This command simply allow to compress a file: any type of file(with the “tar” extension or any other).

To compress a file we can use the following syntax:



As the “tar” command is used to pack and unpack, the “gzip” command also can be used to compress and uncompress a file.

After the execution of the previous command the result is the file “application.tar.gz”.

In order to perform the decompression can also be used the “gzip” command with the parameter “d”(that means: decompress):


To unzip also is usual to use the “gunzip” command:

gunzip myfile.tar.gz

The “tar” also allows compress the “tar” result file, by the “z” option as shown below:

tar cvzf archive_name.tar.gz dirname
The “z”option: compress and pack simultaneously, or simply filters the archive through “gzip”.

tar and gzip


Oftentimes can be confused to understand the meaning of “tar” and “gzip” commands, because they are used together at the same command line through the pipe operator “|”.

Tar and gzip - Extracted from "Wikipedia"
Example 1

tar cvf * | gzip > oracle.tar.gz

The first command(before the pipe) is the “tar”, which pack all files in the current directory.

After this, the ”tar” file is compress :”gzip”(after the pipe) and produce the final file(by the redirection operator “>”) : “oracle.tar.gz”.

Example 2

gunzip < oracle.tar.gz | tar xvf -

In this example the “oracle.tar.gz” file is unzip and the result is a “tar” file that is placed in the “tar” command to unpack. With the hyphen the data resulting from the “gunzip” command is used as input in the tar command.


Useful list


Below you can see a list of very useful actions included these commands:
  • List the contents of “tar” file
Listing the “tar” archive  contents without any extraction(only lists the contents).

tar tvf archive_name.tar
  • Extract a single file from “tar” file
This syntax allows to extract a single file:”java/MyLib.java”  from the  ”tar” file.

tar xvf oracle.tar  java/MyLib.java
  • Add a file  to an existing  ”tar” file
To add a file to an existing “tar” file, only is necessary to use  the “r” parameter:

tar rvf oracle.tar conf.cnf
  • Untar an archive to a different directory
To untar an archive to a different directory, use the following syntax:

tar -zxf oracle.tar.gz -C ora

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