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I'm used to extracting tarballs with a -xfz flag, which handles gzip and bzip2 archives.

Recently I've run into a .tar.xz file and I would like to uncompress it in one step using tar, how can I do that?

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note you may have to install xz-utils if not already present –  Tobias Kienzler May 10 '13 at 7:04
here's my little script that guesses tar flags for you: gist.github.com/shime/5908634 –  shime Jul 2 '13 at 12:06

8 Answers 8

up vote 208 down vote accepted

Modern tar recognizes the format by itself! One command works with any supported compression method.

tar xf archive.tar.xz
tar xf archive.tar.gz
tar xf archive.tar


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I think that's with bsdtar :) –  medigeek Feb 26 '12 at 17:46
It's a feature of GNU tar. I don't know about competing implementations, but GNU tar should be the most relevant to ubuntu. gnu.org/software/tar/manual/tar.html#SEC131 –  ramslök Feb 29 '12 at 2:20
if you run into tar: xz: Cannot exec: No such file or directory, install xz-utils: sudo apt-get install xz-utils –  Collin Anderson Feb 11 '14 at 16:33
If you cant remember that, it stands for, and is the same as: tar --extract --file archive.tar.xx –  Felbus Jan 15 at 16:58
This is not an answer, it is a 'you don't care about the answer, even though you asked' response. Spare a thought for people who are not on 'latest' –  Sean Houlihane Jan 20 at 9:41


tar -xJf file.pkg.tar.xz

The -J is the flag that specifically deals with .xz files.

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I wonder how many flags will we have in 2020. Like... 45 different compressions? Knowing tar switches is already a black-belt in Linux-fu. :/ –  Shiki Jun 7 '13 at 15:13
@Shiki: That's probably why it doesn't make you specify the compression format flag anymore. (See ramslök's answer.) –  Nate C-K Oct 23 '13 at 3:37
xkcd.com/1168 –  Wordzilla Mar 25 at 13:21

If for some reason the tar solutions don’t work (perhaps because you’re using the OS X built-ins), try this:

unxz < file.tar.xz > file.tar

…which is equivalent to:

xz -dc < file.tar.xz > file.tar

Then use tar to untar the file.

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That should be constructable with a pipe. –  gerrit Mar 20 '14 at 18:43
I feel like you could just do unxz < file.tar.xz | tar x or similar. –  thirtythreeforty May 16 '14 at 14:39
this worked for me, where tar xf did not. ubuntu 12.04 –  philshem Aug 14 '14 at 20:57

xz is a lossless data compressor. You will have to extract the tar ball from xz and then extract the tar:

unxz my_archive.tar.xz      # results in my_archive.tar

Then you know to extract a tar

tar -xf my_archive.tar

Source: XZ Utils - Wikipedia.

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What about

tar -xvf package.tar.xz
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I had the same problem, the tar xf command was not able to extract it. To fix this, you need to install the xz-utils package. The solution was:

sudo apt-get install xz-utils


tar xf myfile.tar.xz
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Wow, that's a really good one. Was it done with 7zip on a Mac? Try this:

7z x -so file.tar.xz | tar xf -
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Requires 7z, which isn't what he wants - he wants to do it entirely in tar. –  jrg Jan 3 '12 at 0:08
Yes, thanks - the "xz" got me! Well, it's one step anyway :) And tar J = tar xz, so we might even write tar xzf file.tar.xz like "normal" tar xvfz file.tar.gz. So basically no difference. No dash needed before using the switch. –  user8290 Jan 3 '12 at 0:19
It's almost like the answer was given in the question. :) –  user8290 Jan 3 '12 at 0:26
I was thrown off too because tar zxf errored out on the .xz file, I suppose just using J all the time would be the way to go. –  Jorge Castro Jan 3 '12 at 0:28
Yup! The manual page is not in sync with the source: buffer.c uses -J for lzma. –  user8290 Jan 3 '12 at 0:45

If tar recognizes the compression format, you don't need a flag:

tar xvf *.tar.xz

If you need to decompress the input manually, for example because your tar is too old to recognize xz, or you need a special path:

xz -cd *.tar.xz | tar xvf -

Pipes are faster than making an uncompressed intermediate file, and use less disk space too!

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