Command Tar

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How do I list files inside compressed tar ball (gzip’d tar’d) archive?

Tar command provides the option to list files inside compressed tar ball. However mtools includes command called lz which gunzips and shows a listing of a gzip’d tar’d archive without extracting files.
For example, display listing of file called backup.tar.gz type command:

$ lz backup.tar.gz

As you see lz provides a listing of a gzip’d tar’d archive, that is a tar archive compressed with the gzip command. It is not strictly necessary on Debian GNU/Linux (or other Linux/BSD/Solaris oses), because the GNU tar(1) program provides the same capability with the command:

$ tar -tzf backup.tar.gz

How To Extract a Single File / Directory from Tarball Archive

Question. How do I extract a single file or directory form a tarball under UNIX / Linux shell prompt? How do I restore a single file from /dev/st0 tape device?

Answer. tar command allows to extract a single file or directory using the following format. It works under UNIX, Linux, and BSD operating systems.

tar xvf /dev/st0 filename
tar xvf /dev/st0 directory-name
tar xvf mytar.ball.tar filename
tar -zxvf mytar.ball.tar.gz directory-name

Extract file to /tmp directory

tar -zxvf mytar.ball.tar.gz -C /tmp filename
tar -zxvf mytar.ball.tar.gz -C /tmp dir-name

Read tar man page for more information:

man tar

Tar Extract a Single File(s) From a Large Tarball

Question. I’m new to Linux. Over few days I found lots software distributed as .tar.gz file. How do I install tar.gz files under Linux?

Answer. tar.gz also known as tarball, an archive format for electronic data and software. Most Linux tarball contains a source code for software. If you are new to Linux I recommend using apt-get, rpm and yum command to install all binary packages.
Tarballs are a group of files in one file. Tarball files have the extension .tar.gz, .tgz or .tar.bz2. Most open source software use tarballs to distribute programs/source codes.

# 1: Uncompress tarball

To uncompress them, execute the following command(s) depending on the extension:
$ tar zxf file.tar.gz
$ tar zxf file.tgz
$ tar jxf file.tar.bz2
$ tar jxf file.tbz2

Now change directory
$ ls
$ cd path-to-software/

# 2: Build and install software

Generally you need to type 3 commands as follows for building and compiling software:
# ./configure
# make
# make install
  • ./configure will configure the software to ensure your system has the necessary functionality and libraries to successfully compile the package
  • make will compile all the source files into executable binaries.
  • Finally, make install will install the binaries and any supporting files into the appropriate locations.

# 3: Read INSTALL / README file

Each tarball comes with installation and build instructions. Open INSTALL or README file for more information:


Tar Extract a Single File(s) From a Large Tarball

Q. I’ve couple of large tarballs such as www.tar and images.tar. Is it possible to extract a single file or a list of files from a large tarball such as images.tar instead of extracting the entire tarball? How do I extract specific files under Linux / UNIX operating systems?
A. GNU tar can be used to extract a single or more files from a tarball. To extract specific archive members, give their exact member names as arguments, as printed by -t option.

Extracting Specific Files

Extract a file called etc/default/sysstat from config.tar.gz tarball:
$ tar -ztvf config.tar.gz
$ tar -zxvf config.tar.gz etc/default/sysstat
$ tar -xvf {tarball.tar} {path/to/file}

Some people prefers following syntax:
tar --extract --file={tarball.tar} {file}
Extract a directory called css from cbz.tar:
$ tar --extract --file=cbz.tar css

Wildcard based extracting

You can also extract those files that match a specific globbing pattern (wildcards). For example, to extract from cbz.tar all files that begin with pic, no matter their directory prefix, you could type:
$ tar -xf cbz.tar --wildcards --no-anchored 'pic*'
To extract all php files, enter:
$ tar -xf cbz.tar --wildcards --no-anchored '*.php'
  • -x: instructs tar to extract files.
  • -f: specifies filename / tarball name.
  • -v: Verbose (show progress while extracting files).
  • -j : filter archive through bzip2, use to decompress .bz2 files.
  • -z: filter archive through gzip, use to decompress .gz files.
  • –wildcards: instructs tar to treat command line arguments as globbing patterns.
  • –no-anchored: informs it that the patterns apply to member names after any / delimiter.


Written by Bradford

This website caters to both advanced and novice users. So in addition to articles like fixing cronjob errors I also need to hit the basics. One command that many webmasters know, have used in the past, but forget how to use is the tar command. How does one “untar” a file? What if it has been compressed with gzip or bzip2? Don’t some of you wish that you had a site where you could reference an easy to understand reference to these compression formats? Well, look no further! You could bookmark this particular post, but why bother when you can just bookmark the site as a whole and reference this later on in the Webmaster Wiki? Linux commands (done via command line or SSH) will be linked directly from the main page of the wiki and resides here. A guide to the Tar command can then be reached from there. So here are the basics that will help you extract those tar files you often download from places like Sourceforge:

What Is A Tarball?

A tarball is an archive of files and/or directories. If a tarball is gzip’d or bz2′d, then it has been compressed.

“Untar” A File

If you are dealing with a tarball (example.tar) file, you can extract the files from it using:

tar xvf example.tar

If the tarball has been gzipped(example.tar.gz), you can extract the files from it using:

tar xvfz example.tar.gz

If the tarball has been gzipped(example.tgz), you can extract the files from it using:

tar xzvf example.tgz

If the tarball has been compressed with bzip2(example.tar.bz2), then you will need to have bzip2 installed. ( Most servers will have this, but if yours does not, visit ) If all is well and bzip2 is installed, you can extract the files from it using:

tar yxf example.tar.bz2

Sometimes you only want to extract certain directories from the tarball. An example of doing so would be:

tar xvzf example.tar.gz */DIRECTORY_YOU_WANT_REPLACES_THIS_TEXT/*

List The Contents

If you would like to see what is inside a tarball, you can use the command:

tar tvf example.tar

If you would like to see what is inside a gzip’d tarball, you can use the command:

tar tzf example.tar.gz

Tar It Up!

If you would like to tarball some files, you can do so by using the command:

tar cvf filename.tar files/directories

If you would like to tarball some files AND compress them (with gzip), you can do so by using the command:

tar cfz blah.tar.gz files/directories

man tar

The man page for the tar command:

tar - The GNU version of the tar archiving utility

tar [options]

[-]A --catenate --concatenate
[-]c --create
[-]d --diff --compare
[-]r --append
[-]t --list
[-]u --update
[-]x --extract --get

Common Options:
-C, --directory DIR
-f, --file F
-j, --bzip2
-p, --preserve-permissions
-v, --verbose
-z, --gzip

All Options:
[ --atime-preserve ] [ -b, --blocking-factor N ]
[ -B, --read-full-records ] [ --backup BACKUP-TYPE ]
[ --block-compress ] [ -C, --directory DIR ] [ --check-links ]
[ --checkpoint ] [ -f, --file [HOSTNAME:]F ]
[ -F, --info-script F --new-volume-script F ]
[ --force-local ] [ --format FORMAT ]
[ -g, --listed-incremental F ] [ -G, --incremental ]
[ --group GROUP ] [ -h, --dereference ] [ --help ]
[ -i, --ignore-zeros ] [ --ignore-case ]
[ --ignore-failed-read ] [ --index-file FILE ] [ -j, --bzip2 ]
[ -k, --keep-old-files ] [ -K, --starting-file F ]
[ --keep-newer-files ] [ -l, --one-file-system ]
[ -L, --tape-length N ] [ -m, --touch, --modification-time ]
[ -M, --multi-volume ] [ --mode PERMISSIONS ]
[ -N, --after-date DATE, --newer DATE ] [ --newer-mtime DATE ]
[ --no-anchored ] [ --no-ignore-case ] [ --no-recursion ]
[ --no-same-permissions ] [ --no-wildcards ]
[ --no-wildcards-match-slash ] [ --null ] [ --numeric-owner ]
[ -o, --old-archive, --portability, --no-same-owner ]
[ -O, --to-stdout ] [ --occurrence NUM ] [ --overwrite ]
[ --overwrite-dir ] [ --owner USER ]
[ -p, --same-permissions, --pre-serve-permissions ]
[ -P, --absolute-names ] [ --pax-option KEYWORD-LIST ]
[ --posix ] [ --preserve ] [ -R, --block-number ]
[ --record-size SIZE ] [ --recursion ] [ --recursive-unlink ]
[ --remove-files ] [ --rmt-command CMD ]
[ --rsh-command CMD ] [ -s, --same-order, --preserve-order ]
[ -S, --sparse ] [ --same-owner ] [ --show-defaults ]
[ --show-omitted-dirs ]
[ --strip-components NUMBER, --strip-path NUMBER (1) ]
[ --suffix SUFFIX ] [ -T, --files-from F ] [ --totals ]
[ -U, --unlink-first ] [ --use-compress-program PROG ] [ --utc ]
[ -v, --verbose ] [ -V, --label NAME ] [ --version ] [ --volno-file F ]
[ -w, --interactive, --confirmation ] [ -W, --verify ]
[ --wildcards ] [ --wildcards-match-slash ] [ --exclude PATTERN ]
[ -X, --exclude-from FILE ] [ -Z, --compress, --uncompress ]
[ -z, --gzip, --gunzip, --ungzip ] [ -[0-7][lmh] ]

(1) tar-1.14 uses --strip-path, tar-1.14.90+ uses --strip-components

This manual page documents the GNU version of tar, an archiving program
designed to store and extract files from an archive file known as a
tarfile. A tarfile may be made on a tape drive, however, it is also
common to write a tarfile to a normal file. The first argument to tar
must be one of the options Acdrtux, followed by any optional functions.
The final arguments to tar are the names of the files or directories
which should be archived. The use of a directory name always implies
that the subdirectories below should be included in the archive.

tar -xvf foo.tar
verbosely extract foo.tar

tar -xzf foo.tar.gz
extract gzipped foo.tar.gz

tar -cjf foo.tar.bz2 bar/
create bzipped tar archive of the directory bar called foo.tar.bz2

tar -xjf foo.tar.bz2 -C bar/
extract bzipped foo.tar.bz2 after changing directory to bar

tar -xzf foo.tar.gz blah.txt
extract the file blah.txt from foo.tar.bz2

One of the following options must be used:

-A, --catenate, --concatenate
append tar files to an archive

-c, --create
create a new archive

-d, --diff, --compare
find differences between archive and file system

-r, --append
append files to the end of an archive

-t, --list
list the contents of an archive

-u, --update
only append files that are newer than the existing in archive

-x, --extract, --get
extract files from an archive

delete from the archive (not for use on mag tapes!)

-C, --directory DIR
change to directory DIR

-f, --file [HOSTNAME:]F
use archive file or device F (default "-", meaning stdin/stdout)

-j, --bzip2
filter archive through bzip2, use to decompress .bz2 files

-p, --preserve-permissions
extract all protection information

-v, --verbose
verbosely list files processed

-z, --gzip, --ungzip
filter the archive through gzip

donât change access times on dumped files

-b, --blocking-factor N
block size of Nx512 bytes (default N=20)

-B, --read-full-blocks
reblock as we read (for reading 4.2BSD pipes)

--backup BACKUP-TYPE
backup files instead of deleting them using BACKUP-TYPE simple or numbered
block the output of compression program for tapes

-C, --directory DIR
change to directory DIR

warn if number of hard links to the file on the filesystem mismatch the
number of links recorded in the archive

print directory names while reading the archive

-f, --file [HOSTNAME:]F
use archive file or device F (default "-", meaning stdin/stdout)

-F, --info-script F --new-volume-script F
run script at end of each tape (implies --multi-volume)

archive file is local even if has a colon

--format FORMAT
selects output archive format
v7 - Unix V7
oldgnu - GNU tar <=1.12
gnu - GNU tar 1.13
ustar - POSIX.1-1988
posix - POSIX.1-2001

-g, --listed-incremental F
create/list/extract new GNU-format incremental backup

-G, --incremental
create/list/extract old GNU-format incremental backup

-h, --dereference
donât dump symlinks; dump the files they point to

--help like this manpage, but not as cool

-i, --ignore-zeros
ignore blocks of zeros in archive (normally mean EOF)

ignore case when excluding files

donât exit with non-zero status on unreadable files

--index-file FILE
send verbose output to FILE instead of stdout

-j, --bzip2
filter archive through bzip2, use to decompress .bz2 files

-k, --keep-old-files
keep existing files; donât overwrite them from archive

-K, --starting-file F
begin at file F in the archive

do not overwrite files which are newer than the archive

-l, --one-file-system
stay in local file system when creating an archive

-L, --tape-length N
change tapes after writing N*1024 bytes

-m, --touch, --modification-time
donât extract file modified time

-M, --multi-volume
create/list/extract multi-volume archive

apply PERMISSIONS while adding files (see chmod(1))

-N, --after-date DATE, --newer DATE
only store files newer than DATE

--newer-mtime DATE
like --newer, but with a DATE
match any subsequenceof the nameâs components with --exclude

use case-sensitive matching with --exclude

donât recurse into directories

apply userâs umask when extracting files instead of recorded permissions

donât use wildcards with --exclude

wildcards do not match slashes (/) with --exclude

--null --files-from reads null-terminated names, disable --directory

always use numbers for user/group names

-o, --old-archive, --portability
like --format=v7; -o exhibits this behavior when creating an
archive (deprecated behavior)

-o, --no-same-owner
do not attempt to restore ownership when extracting; -o exhibits
this behavior when extracting an archive

-O, --to-stdout
extract files to standard output

--occurrence NUM
process only NUM occurrences of each named file; used with --delete,
--diff, --extract, or --list

overwrite existing files and directory metadata when extracting

overwrite directory metadata when extracting

--owner USER
change owner of extraced files to USER

-p, --same-permissions, --preserve-permissions
extract all protection information

-P, --absolute-names
donât strip leading â/âs from file names

--pax-option KEYWORD-LIST
used only with POSIX.1-2001 archives to modify the way tar handles
extended header keywords

like --format=posix

like --preserve-permissions --same-order

-R, --record-number
show record number within archive with each message

--record-size SIZE
use SIZE bytes per record when accessing archives

recurse into directories

remove existing directories before extracting directories of the
same name

remove files after adding them to the archive

--rmt-command CMD
use CMD instead of the default /usr/sbin/rmt

--rsh-command CMD
use remote CMD instead of rsh(1)

-s, --same-order, --preserve-order
list of names to extract is sorted to match archive

-S, --sparse
handle sparse files efficiently
create extracted files with the same ownership

display the default options used by tar

print directories tar skips while operating on an archive

--strip-components NUMBER, --strip-path NUMBER
strip NUMBER of leading components from file names before extraction

(1) tar-1.14 uses --strip-path, tar-1.14.90+ uses --strip-components

--suffix SUFFIX
use SUFFIX instead of default â~â when backing up files

-T, --files-from F
get names to extract or create from file F

print total bytes written with --create

-U, --unlink-first
remove existing files before extracting files of the same name

--use-compress-program PROG
access the archive through PROG which is generally a compression

--utc display file modification dates in UTC

-v, --verbose
verbosely list files processed

-V, --label NAME
create archive with volume name NAME

print tar program version number

--volno-file F
keep track of which volume of a multi-volume archive its working
in FILE; used with --multi-volume

-w, --interactive, --confirmation
ask for confirmation for every action

-W, --verify
attempt to verify the archive after writing it

use wildcards with --exclude

wildcards match slashes (/) with --exclude

--exclude PATTERN
exclude files based upon PATTERN

-X, --exclude-from FILE
exclude files listed in FILE

-Z, --compress, --uncompress
filter the archive through compress

-z, --gzip, --gunzip, --ungzip
filter the archive through gzip

--use-compress-program PROG
filter the archive through PROG (which must accept -d)

specify drive and density

The GNU folks, in general, abhor man pages, and create info documents
instead. The maintainer of tar falls into this category. Thus this man
page may not be complete, nor current, and was included in the Red Hat CVS
tree because man is a great tool :) . This man page was first taken
from Debian Linux and has since been lovingly updated here.

Please report bugs via

The full documentation for tar is maintained as a Texinfo manual. If
the info and tar programs are properly installed at your site, the command

info tar

should give you access to the complete manual.

Debian Linux
Mike Frysinger

GNU Oct 2004 TAR(1)

The Full Tar Manual

See The Wiki for the full manual.

Finishing Statements

That concludes today’s tidbit of command line reference! I hope that you found this useful. If you would like to see any further information added, you can do so by editing the Wiki right here.

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