How to Extract or Unzip tar.gz Files from Linux Command Line?


Tar.gz files, also known as "tarballs," are a type of file format that is commonly used in Linux and other Unix-based operating systems. A tarball is essentially a compressed archive that contains one or more files or directories. These files are typically compressed using the gzip compression algorithm, resulting in a smaller file size than their uncompressed counterparts.

The purpose of using tarballs is to make it easier to transfer large amounts of data between different systems and to store backups of important data. In addition, they allow you to compress multiple files into a single archive, making it easier to manage large numbers of files.

Preparing to Extract or Unzip Tar.gz Files

Understanding the Linux Command Line Interface

The Linux command line interface (CLI) is a powerful tool for interacting with your computer. It allows you to execute commands and navigate through your file system using text-based commands rather than a graphical user interface. This can seem daunting at first, but once you become familiar with it, you will find that it is often faster and more efficient than using a GUI.

To access the CLI, open up the terminal on your Linux system. This can typically be accessed through the applications menu or by pressing Ctrl+Alt+T.

Once the terminal is open, you will see something like this −


The text before the "@" symbol is your username and the text after it is your hostname. The "~" character indicates that you are currently in your home directory.

Checking if Tar Is Installed on Your System

Before we can extract or unzip tar.gz files from the command line, we need to make sure that tar is installed on our system. To do this, we can use the following command −

tar --version 

If tar is installed, this command will output information about the version of tar that is installed on your system.

If tar is not installed, you will receive an error message indicating that the command could not be found. If tar is not installed on your system, you can install it using your package manager.

For example, if you are using Ubuntu or Debian-based distribution, you can install tar by running −

sudo apt-get install tar 

Creating a Directory for Extracted Files

When extracting files from a tar.gz archive, it's a good idea to create a new directory where all of the extracted files will be stored. This will help keep your file system organized and prevent the extracted files from cluttering up your home directory.

To create a new directory, you can use the following command −

mkdir extracted_files 

This will create a new directory called "extracted_files" in your current working directory. You can replace "extracted_files" with any name you like.

Extracting or Unzipping Tar.gz Files from Linux Command Line

Using the Tar Command to Extract Tar.gz Files

Tar is a command-line utility that is used to create, extract, and modify tar archives. This utility is commonly used in Unix and Linux systems to pack and distribute files.

To extract tar.gz files using tar command, you need to use the following syntax −

tar -zxvf file.tar.gz 

This command will extract the contents of the file.tar.gz archive in the current directory. The options used in this command are explained below −

  • `-z` – this option tells tar that the archive is compressed with gzip. - `-x` – this option tells tar to extract files from an archive.

  • `-v` – this option tells tar to be verbose while extracting files. - `-f` – this option specifies the name of the archive file.

Examples of extracting tar.gz files using tar command

To extract a specific file from an archive, you can use −

tar -xvzf file.tar.gz path/to/file 

If you want to extract all files contained within a subdirectory named "data", use −

tar -xvzf file.tar.gz data/ 

Using the Gunzip Command to Unzip Tar.gz Files

Gunzip is a Unix and Linux utility that decompresses gzip compressed files. To unzip a tar.gz file using gunzip command, you need to use one of these two commands −

gunzip filename.tar.gz 


gzip -d filename.tar.gz 

Both commands will result in an uncompressed `filename.tar` archive. You can then proceed with extracting or modifying its contents by using `tar` as shown above.

Examples of unzipping tar.gz files using gunzip command

To decompress a file and save the output to a new file, use −

gunzip -c file.tar.gz > newfile.tar 

If you want to decompress multiple files at once, use −

gunzip *.tar.gz 

Understanding how to extract or unzip tar.gz files from Linux command line is an important skill for any Linux user.

Using the `tar` and `gunzip` commands are two effective ways of doing so. By following the syntax and examples provided above, you can easily extract or unzip your own tar.gz files as needed.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Common errors that may occur when trying to extract or unzip a file

Even with the correct syntax and options, errors may still occur when trying to extract or unzip tar.gz files from the Linux command line. Some common issues include −

  • "No such file or directory" error − This error occurs when the specified file or directory does not exist in the current path.

    To resolve this issue, double-check that you are in the correct directory and that you have spelled the filename correctly.

  • "Permission Denied" error − This error occurs when you do not have sufficient permissions to extract or unzip a file.

    Check the permissions of the file by running −`ls -l filename.tar.gz`. If your user account does not have permission to access the file, try running the extraction command with sudo privileges.

  • "Unexpected end of archive" error − This error occurs when a tar.gz file is corrupted or incomplete, causing an extraction failure.

    To fix this issue, try downloading a fresh copy of the file and verify its integrity using checksums.

How to resolve common errors when extracting or unzipping a file

To resolve common issues with extracting tar.gz files from Linux command line, consider these solutions −

  • Verify syntax and options − Check that you are using correct syntax and options for your selected command (tar/gunzip). Be sure to include any necessary flags like --verbose (-v) for more detailed output.

  • Check your space usage − Ensure there is enough free space on your storage device before attempting extraction/unzipping operations; this can cause failures if there isn't enough space available.

  • Use appropriate tools − Consider using other tools like 7-Zip (for Windows) if you continue experiencing issues with .tar.gz archives. Using other tools may help resolve issues that the Linux command line tools cannot.

  • Repair corrupted files − If the tar.gz file is corrupted, try repairing it using utility programs like `gzip` or `tar`. Additionally, download a fresh copy of the file if the previous download was incomplete.

Understanding common errors that may occur when extracting or unzipping tar.gz files from Linux command line is important as they can cause frustration and lead to data loss.


Extracting or unzipping tar.gz files from Linux command line is a valuable skill that every Linux user should master. Knowing how to extract or unzip these files can save time and effort, especially when dealing with large amounts of data.

In this article, we have covered the basics of tar.gz files, how to prepare for extracting or unzipping them, and the various commands available for extracting and unzipping them.

Updated on: 09-Jun-2023

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