How to extract or decompress a compressed file

Updated: 04/26/2017 by Computer Hope

Before extracting the data from a compressed file, you must first determine the compressed file type. On an IBM compatible computer running Windows, this can be determined by the file extension. Most compressed files are either .ZIP, .RAR, .GZ, or .TGZ files. Below are some examples of what some of the different compressed icons look like in Microsoft Windows.

Compressed file types

Once the compressed file type has been determined, use the appropriate program. For example, many users use WinZip and Pkzip to extract ZIP files and WinRAR to extract RAR files in Windows. However, we recommend Windows users use 7-Zip since this program is free, open source, and supports all major compressed file formats.

Download 7-Zip

Note: 7-Zip is capable of opening most of the more common types of compressed files, including .ZIP, .GZ, .TAR, .WIM , and .XZ

Tip: If you are using Microsoft Windows XP, Vista, 7, or later your computer should already be cable of extracting the contents of ZIP files.

Tip: If you do not want to or cannot install a program on your computer you can also compress and decompress files online.

Once a compression program has been installed on the computer, you can extract the contents from the compressed file. Below are some basic steps on how you can extract files.

Microsoft Windows users

Tip: If you are extracting a file in e-mail, save the file to a folder on the computer first.

In Microsoft Windows, locate the compressed file and right-click the file. This should open a menu that gives you the options to 'Extract' or Extract all' the file. Click one of these options to extract the file. This should open a program with additional options such as the location to where you want to extract the files. If you have installed 7-Zip, click 7-Zip and then Extract to "xxxx\", where xxxx is the name of the compressed file.

Caution: When extracting the files, pay attention to where you are extracting the files. Extracting the files to the incorrect location such as the Desktop can extract dozens of files to the desktop.

After the files have been extracted from the compressed file open the folder containing the extracted files and run the setup to start the installation of the program.

MS-DOS and Windows command line users

MS-DOS users need to extract the files using the command line. We recommend users use the pkzip and pkunzip utilities to compress and uncompress their files. Additional help and information about how files can be extracted from the command line can be found on our PKZIP and PKUNZIP page.

Linux and Unix users

Unlike other operating systems, almost all variants of Linux and Unix come pre-installed with some form of command capable of compressing and uncompressing files. Linux and Unix users are likely to be dealing with file extensions such as .TAR, TGZ, .Z or .TAR.GZ. See the below Linux and Unix command pages for additional information about the commands used to create compressed files and to uncompress files.


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