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?

  • 15
    note you may have to install xz-utils if not already present Commented May 10, 2013 at 7:04
  • here's my little script that guesses tar flags for you: gist.github.com/shime/5908634
    – shime
    Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 12:06
  • 8
    tar --help lists tar flags. -xzf applies to gzip. -xjf to bz2. -xJf to xz.
    – noobninja
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 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
    Commented Mar 21, 2020 at 18:05
  • pypi.org/project/unp
    – Andrew
    Commented Jan 17, 2022 at 19:35

12 Answers 12


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

# The same command handles any compression format! Ex:

tar xf archive.tar.xz  # for .tar.xz files
tar xf archive.tar.gz  # for .tar.gz files
tar xf archive.tar     # for .tar files

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

  • 47
    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
    Commented Feb 29, 2012 at 2:20
  • 52
    if you run into tar: xz: Cannot exec: No such file or directory, install xz-utils: sudo apt-get install xz-utils Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 16:33
  • 12
    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' Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 9:41
  • 6
    What version of tar no longer requires the specific flag? Commented May 13, 2015 at 19:19
  • 10
    @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. Commented Sep 5, 2015 at 22:49


tar -xJf file.pkg.tar.xz

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

  • 76
    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
    Commented Jun 7, 2013 at 15:13
  • 26
    @Shiki: That's probably why it doesn't make you specify the compression format flag anymore. (See ramslök's answer.)
    – Nate C-K
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 3:37
  • 39
    – Wordzilla
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 13:21
  • 7
    This should totally be the accepted answer since it answers the question for any version of tar supporting .xz
    – pospi
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 12:21
  • 11
    In the year 2030 flags become Turing complete... 2040 they become sentient
    – user1359
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 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
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 18:43
  • 7
    I feel like you could just do unxz < file.tar.xz | tar x or similar. Commented May 16, 2014 at 14:39
  • 7
    this worked for me, where tar xf did not. ubuntu 12.04
    – philshem
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 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
    Commented May 25, 2017 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.

  • 2
    Best answer. xz doesn't need stdout redirection. Even better: unxz -k Commented Feb 27, 2017 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
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 7:44
  • 2
    This worked for me, but it should be noted that it will delete the original tar.xz file
    – Kelly Bang
    Commented Feb 29, 2020 at 3:05
  • Yes, this is a straight way to do. 1000 up votes.
    – le hien
    Commented Jun 25, 2021 at 6:07

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!


I like dtrx

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

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
    Commented Jan 3, 2012 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
    Commented Jan 3, 2012 at 0:19
  • It's almost like the answer was given in the question. :)
    – user8290
    Commented Jan 3, 2012 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. Commented Jan 3, 2012 at 0:28
  • 2
    Yup! The manual page is not in sync with the source: buffer.c uses -J for lzma.
    – user8290
    Commented Jan 3, 2012 at 0:45

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.

  • The tarfile documentation warns that filenames with an absolute path will extract to the specified directory, not relative to your current working directory as claimed in your answer. Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 17:04

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
    Commented Mar 21, 2020 at 18:07

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