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?

  • 12
    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
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    tar --help lists tar flags. -xzf applies to gzip. -xjf to bz2. -xJf to xz. – noobninja Nov 11 '16 at 19:27
  • Better Question to ask than how to do this with tar: Use unar or 7z and never worry about choosing the right program for your type of archive again. This is the only feasible solution looking forward with more and more archive types coming. Unless you care about the technical details... – masterxilo Mar 21 '20 at 18:05

12 Answers 12


Ubuntu includes GNU tar, which recognizes the format by itself! One command works with any supported compression method, per the manual.

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

etc. If tar gives a Cannot exec error, you may need to sudo apt install xz-utils first.

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    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
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    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
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    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 '15 at 9:41
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    What version of tar no longer requires the specific flag? – Mark Tomlin May 13 '15 at 19:19
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    @SeanHoulihane, it is not an answer because the OP asked a minor XY problem. ramslök gave the OP better than was asked for, and that included an effective "You don't care about the answer, even though you asked", which was appropriate because it was true. – Christos Hayward Sep 5 '15 at 22:49


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. :/ – Apache Jun 7 '13 at 15:13
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    @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
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    xkcd.com/1168 – Wordzilla Mar 25 '15 at 13:21
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    This should totally be the accepted answer since it answers the question for any version of tar supporting .xz – pospi Jul 8 '15 at 12:21
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    In the year 2030 flags become Turing complete... 2040 they become sentient – user1359 Feb 14 '17 at 19:46

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.

  • 3
    That should be constructable with a pipe. – gerrit Mar 20 '14 at 18:43
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    I feel like you could just do unxz < file.tar.xz | tar x or similar. – thirtythreeforty May 16 '14 at 14:39
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    this worked for me, where tar xf did not. ubuntu 12.04 – philshem Aug 14 '14 at 20:57
  • At least on my Ubuntu machine, unxz is not equivalent to xz -dc, but to xz -d. So to extract file.tar.xz to file.tar, you'd simply write unxz file.tar.xz. If you want an equivalent to xz -dc, decompressing to stdout, use xzcat. For example xzcat file.tar.xz | tar x. – nwellnhof May 25 '17 at 16:50

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.

  • 1
    Best answer. xz doesn't need stdout redirection. Even better: unxz -k – Mark Jeronimus Feb 27 '17 at 9:29
  • @MarkJeronimus I don’t find this so good since it creates an intermediate file. Using GNU tar or a pipe should demand less resources. – Melebius Jul 2 '19 at 7:44
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    This worked for me, but it should be noted that it will delete the original tar.xz file – Kelly Bang Feb 29 '20 at 3:05

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
tar -xvf package.tar.xz

-x - extract files

-v - verbosely list files processed

-f - use specified archive file


Just want to add that if you have an old version of GNU tar prior to version 1.22 when the --xz and -J options became available, you could compress or decompress tar.xz files by using --use-compress-program xz. For example,

tar --use-compress-program xz -cf example.tar.xz file1 file2 file3


tar --use-compress-program xz -xf example.tar.xz

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!


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 -
  • 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
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    Yup! The manual page is not in sync with the source: buffer.c uses -J for lzma. – user8290 Jan 3 '12 at 0:45

I like dtrx

sudo apt install dtrx
dtrx your-file.tar.xz

Ubuntu comes with Python (Python 2.7 and Python 3), which contains the necessary modules for extracting archives. So if for whatever reason tar command is missing (say your sysadmin has removed it and you don't have sudo privillege to install it), one can use:

python3 -c 'import tarfile,sys; b = tarfile.open(sys.argv[1]);print(b.extractall())' ./archive.xz 

As a short script,that's more readable as:

#!/usr/bin/env python3
import tarfile,sys

with tarfile.open( sys.argv[1] ) as fd:

Suppose I created an .xz file with tar cJf thing.xz /etc/passwd. The archive will contain etc directory with passwd file inside. Using the above script will result in etc directory created in your current working directory, and within it will be passwd file. Of course, this can always be extended by specifying path where you want to extract inside the extractall() function.


unar is quite a nice simple program and easy to type, to unarchive almost any format including 7z and RAR

it seems to be written in (GNU) Objective-C and so requires installation of some gnustep (GNU's Objective-C implementation) libraries (gnustep-base-runtime and libgnustep-base1.25)

if you use --install-suggests or have configured apt to install suggested packages, unar will suggest and install many GUI GNUStep programs which are not what you want

sudo apt install --no-install-suggests unar 
unar linux-source.tar.xz

it will create the output directory linux-source automatically.

  • 1
    Best answer (though the question specifically mentions using tar for the job...). Since installing this I never have to look up how to unpack archive X again. All that knowledge is encoded in that program. This is exactly how everything should just work together... – masterxilo Mar 21 '20 at 18:07

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