I received a huge .tar.gz file from a client that contains about 800 mb of image files (when uncompressed.) Our hosting company's ftp is seriously slow, so extracting all the files locally and sending them up via ftp isn't practical. I was able to ftp the .tar.gz file to our hosting site, but when I ssh into my directory and try using unzip, it gives me this error:

[esthers@clients locations]$ unzip community_images.tar.gz
Archive:  community_images.tar.gz
  End-of-central-directory signature not found.  Either this file is not a zipfile, or it constitutes one disk of a multi-part archive.  In the latter case the central directory and zipfile comment will be found on the last disk(s) of this archive.
note:  community_images.tar.gz may be a plain executable, not an archive
unzip:  cannot find zipfile directory in one of community_images.tar.gz or community_images.tar.gz.zip, and cannot find community_images.tar.gz.ZIP, period.

What command do I need to use to extract all the files in a .tar.gz file?


8 Answers 8


Type man tar for more information, but this command should do the trick:

tar -xvzf community_images.tar.gz

To explain a little further, tar collected all the files into one package, community_images.tar. The gzip program applied compression, hence the gz extension. So the command does a couple things:

  • f: this must be the last flag of the command, and the tar file must be immediately after. It tells tar the name and path of the compressed file.
  • z: tells tar to decompress the archive using gzip
  • x: tar can collect files or extract them. x does the latter.
  • v: makes tar talk a lot. Verbose output shows you all the files being extracted.

To extract into a custom folder, add the -C option with a folder name of your choice:

tar -xvzf community_images.tar.gz -C some_custom_folder_name
  • 43
    Reminds me of xckd's article about tar. I have to come back every time.
    – mgarey
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 22:25
  • 100
    My mnemonic for this is: xtract ze v ***ing files.
    – Agargara
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 8:13
  • 1
    would it matter if z came before x? Or would it inteligently apply the expanders in the appropriate order, regardless?
    – ahnbizcad
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 17:58
  • 5
    @ahnbizcad order does not matter for most of the flags. the -f flag accepts an argument. i prefer to put it last, but tar -f community_images.tar.gz -zxv works just fine.
    – djeikyb
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 16:21
  • 5
    The full form of this command—which may be easier to remember—is tar --extract --file="community_images.tar.gz" --gzip --verbose. The quotation marks are optional if the filename doesn’t contain spaces. Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 8:07

If you want the files to be extracted to a particular destination you can add -C /destination/path/
Make sure you make the directory first, in this case: ~/Pictures/Community


mkdir ~/Pictures/Community
tar xf community_images.tar.gz -C /home/emmys/Pictures/Community/

You can easily memorize it if you consider telling tar to e X tract a F ile

gif of process done at terminal

Note: Remember you can search inside man pages with ?+term to look for, and then n and N to go to the next or previous instance of the term you are looking for.

  • 6
    don't forget C for "change directory"! also, i feel it's better not to mix hyphen and non-hyphen options (especially confusing when using ps).
    – djeikyb
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 23:45
  • 3
    Why is it not -o like every other command ever?
    – Jan M.
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 13:57
  • 12
    I love your hint 'tar to e X tract a F ile'
    – Nam G VU
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 7:11
  • 5
    1+ for the animated gif Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 1:18
  • 1
    One can also use --directory="/home/emmys/Pictures/Community/" (which I think is easier to remember than -C). Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 8:11

At some point tar was upgraded to auto-decompress. All you need now is:

tar xf community_images.tar.gz

The same explanation applies:

  • f: this must be the last flag of the command, and the tar file must be immediately after. It tells tar the name and path of the compressed file.
  • x: extract the files.

Note the lack of hyphen for the command flags. This is because most versions of tar allow both gnu and bsd style options (simplistically, gnu requires a hyphen, bsd doesn't).

  • 1
    Is there any documentation on this? I've been searching all over for a reference to this, I never use the -z flag and everything gets gzipped so I've been worried if I haven't been compressing my tarballs at all, haha. Thanks.
    – neurosnap
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 4:14
  • 2
    @neurosnap see the gnu manual and of the bsd's manual
    – djeikyb
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 20:49
  • 5
    Probably would have been better to edit your original answer.
    – Seth
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 18:04
  • 3
    @Seth it feels/felt distinct enough to be a separate answer, especially in context of the destructive edit that provoked it. I'll rethink it after work though, might be a simpler way to merge than I originally thought.
    – djeikyb
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 18:23
  • 2
    @EnricoMariaDeAngelis bsd tar since at least 2004 and gnu tar since at least 2010 have supported auto-selecting a decompressor. it's possible no "recent" (this century? nineties+?) version of tar requires manually selecting a decompressor.
    – djeikyb
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 4:39

Remembering all flags for tar can be tedious. Obligatory XKCD:

enter image description here

Therefore I made my own little script in Python to do that. Quick, dirty, cp-like in usage:

#!/usr/bin/env python3
import tarfile,sys,os
tf = tarfile.open(name=sys.argv[1],mode='r:gz')
where = '.'
if len(sys.argv) == 3:
    where = sys.argv[2]

Use it as so:

myuntar.py archive.tar

See also similar script for unzipping zip archives.

  • 4
    :) only two tar flags to remember -caf for creating based on the filename and -xf for extracting (AFAIK works on every type of tar).
    – Videonauth
    Commented Sep 20, 2018 at 7:31
  • @Videonauth I know, it's not that complex, but for some reason I never remember these options. Maybe because I don't deal with archives often enough. Commented Sep 20, 2018 at 7:33
  • will this only do gzipped tar files? api docs mention a mode for reading with transparent compression; would that behave more like tar xf <file>?
    – djeikyb
    Commented Apr 13, 2019 at 4:39

Quick Answer:

tar -xvf  <.tar file> or <.tar.xz file>
tar -xzvf <.tar.gz file>
tar -xjvf <.tar.bz2 file>


  • -v Verbosely list files processed.
  • -z Filter the archive through gzip.
  • -f Use archive file or device ARCHIVE.
  • -x Extract files from an archive.
  • -j bzip2.
  • tar -xf archive.tar # Extract all files from archive.tar.

In case you are not able to extract .tar.gz file using

tar -xvzf fileName.tar.gz

Try extracting using

tar xf fileName.tar.gz
  • 4
    if it is a gzipped tar file, the first command will always work. if it does not work, you do not have a gzipped tar file. the latter command is a great recommendation for folks who don't care what compression algorithm was used on their tar file.
    – djeikyb
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 2:37

You could do this too in first step:

gunzip community_images.tar.gz

Then you have the file: community_images.tar

Second step would be:

tar -xvf community_images.tar

And the *.tar file would be extracted.


tar xvf file.tar.gz

  • x for extract
  • v for verbose (list files)
  • f for filename is next

Any remotely modern version of tar should auto-detect that the archive is gzipped, and add "z" for you.

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