I thought tar archive.tar /users/mylocation would work, but it doesn't. How can I do that?

  • Also, -C, --directory DIR\n change to directory DIR should rather be described as change output directory to DIR (will fail if DIR doesn't exist). Thanks @Mich. See also @Bryan_Larsen's answer. – valid Jul 13 '15 at 10:21
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    @Ujjwal Sing : Indeed, the tar man page is not that helpful. It describes "-C DIR" as "change to directory DIR" . Even worse: "tar -C mydir xf archive.tar " doesn't work, while "tar xf archive.tar -C mydir" does. – Pat Morin Aug 25 '16 at 15:46

To extract an archive to a directory different from the current, use the -C, or --directory, tar option, as in

tar -xf archive.tar -C /target/directory

Note that the target directory has to exist before running that command (it can be created by mkdir /target/directory).

Read the manual page (command: man tar) for other options.

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    You have to create the directory manually though. – Jürgen Paul May 16 '13 at 10:01
  • Can the path be stripped: i.e just retrieve the file – zzapper Aug 26 '14 at 14:52
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    If it's a larger file, when you run the command, all you get is no output for several seconds or even minutes while it's working. You can fix this by adding the -v flag (verbose mode) which lists the name of each file as it extracts it. – IQAndreas May 7 '15 at 6:15
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    @consultstan xkcd.com/1168 – Duncan X Simpson Nov 28 '16 at 21:15
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    Isn't it amazing that, after all these years, with all the options tar has accumulated, there still isn't an option to create the output directory if it doesn't exist? – EM0 Apr 13 '18 at 8:21

Note that if your tarball already contains a directory name you want to change, add the --strip-components=1 option:

tar xf archive.tar -C /target/directory --strip-components=1
  • Thank you. Downloads via wget/etc always have a 'parent' directory. This is the complete answer imo - or should be noted in answer above. – bshea Apr 28 '17 at 16:51

Combining the previous answers and comments:

To simply extract the contents and create target directory if it is missing:

mkdir -p /target/directory && tar xf archive.tar -C /target/directory

To extract and also remove the root(first level) directory in the zip

mkdir -p /target/directory && tar xf archive.tar -C /target/directory --strip-components=1

Another option is to use --one-top-level. This will automatically create a directory based on the filename of the original.

tar zxvf filename.tgz --one-top-level

Additionally if you want, you can specify your own and tar will create it automatically.

tar zxvf filename.tgz --one-top-level=new_directory
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    I'm using GNU tar 1.26 and I get an unrecognized option error for --one-top-level – Emma Strubell Sep 24 '18 at 14:29

What I found interesting in relation to extraction is, that it depends how you created the archive, see this example

cd /tmp
mkdir folder
touch folder/file.txt

when you do tar -zcvf folder.tar.gz folder everything is as expected = when you untar it now it will be untarred (folder will be create, if you removed it) as /tmp/folder/.

But, when you will create tar as tar -zcvf tmp-folder.tar.gz /tmp/folder and you untar it in /tmp folder, the result will be /tmp/tmp/folder directory ! In such case you have to untar it to / - tar -xf tmp-folder.tar.gz -C /


With tar 1.29, we can just add the directory name after the tar filename. For instance,

tar zxvf tar-file directory-name/

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