How to Open GZ & TGZ Files in Linux

Unzipping files, especially in the Linux environment, is a routine task. With the frequent use of .gz and .tgz files, understanding the nuances of these file types and the tools used to manage them is crucial. This guide will delve deep into the world of GZ and TGZ files, offering insights and step-by-step instructions on how to handle them efficiently.

Understanding File Compression in Linux

File compression is pivotal in optimizing storage and ensuring efficient data transfer. In Linux, this is achieved using various tools and file formats, each with its unique characteristics. Let’s delve into it:

What Makes TAR, GZ, and TGZ Files Unique?

  • TAR Files Explained
    • TAR stands for Tape Archive. Its primary function is to bundle multiple files into a single entity known as a TAR file. Interestingly, TAR doesn’t compress these files; it merely groups them, ensuring their original size remains unchanged.
  • Diving into GZ Files
    • GZ files emerge from the Gzip compression tool. Unlike TAR, Gzip compresses the file, reducing its size. However, it’s worth noting that Gzip compresses individual files. So, if you have multiple files, Gzip will produce an equivalent number of GZ files. This compression method is a staple in Linux and Unix systems.
  • The Fusion: TAR.GZ Files
    • A TAR.GZ file is essentially a TAR file that’s been compressed using Gzip. It’s a hybrid, combining the grouping capability of TAR with the compression prowess of Gzip. This file type is predominantly found in Linux and Unix systems.
  • TGZ: A Synonym for TAR.GZ
    • Often, you’ll find TAR.GZ files referred to as TGZ files. They’re essentially the same, just named differently for convenience.
  • ZIP Files: A Quick Overview
    • ZIP files, like TAR, bundle multiple files. However, they also compress these files, similar to GZ. While ZIP files are ubiquitous across various operating systems, they’re most commonly associated with Windows.

Tarball or Tarfile: What’s in a Name?

The term tarball or tarfile is colloquially used to describe archive files in specific TAR formats:

  • TAR File: Essentially a Tape Archive file.
  • TAR.GZ or TGZ File: This is when the TAR file undergoes Gzip compression.
  • TAR.BZ2 or TBZ File: This format emerges when Bzip2 compression is applied to the TAR file.

A tarball is essentially a collection of files bundled together. The tar command produces these files. While tar doesn’t inherently support compression, it often collaborates with compression tools like Gzip or Bzip2 to save disk space. Given that these utilities typically compress single files, they synergize with tar to produce a singular file from multiple files.

For instance, if a tarfile undergoes compression via the Gzip utility, the resulting file will have a TAR.GZ extension. Linux aficionados can decompress TAR.GZ or TGZ files using the Gunzip command. Meanwhile, Windows users can leverage the 7-Zip compression tool to create and unpack tarball files.

Harnessing Tar & Gzip/Gunzip for GZ & TGZ Files in Linux

GZ and TGZ files are foundational to Linux systems, serving as the gold standard for file compression and archiving. Mastering the art of creating and decompressing these files can significantly streamline tasks like website backups and restorations. Let’s delve into the intricacies of Gzip and Tar utilities and their application in managing GZ and TGZ files.

The Mechanics of Tar & Gzip

Tar and Gzip are stalwarts in the Linux ecosystem, renowned for their file archiving and compression capabilities. While they often work in tandem, they serve distinct purposes:

  • The Role of the Tar Utility
    • Tar amalgamates multiple files into a singular archive, often termed a tarball. This archive retains the file system attributes, such as permissions and ownership, of the encapsulated files. Post-creation, users can still modify the archive, adding or removing files or tweaking filenames unless it’s compressed. The tar command is the go-to for managing TAR and TAR.GZ files in Linux, facilitating their creation, modification, and extraction.
    • Historically, tarballs were the preferred medium for backups, which were then transferred to local tape drives, hence the moniker Tape Archive (Tar). While Tar doesn’t compress files, modern usage invariably involves compression to save disk space and facilitate inter-system transfers.
    • Tar is versatile, supporting a plethora of compression methods. Among these, the Gzip/Gunzip and Bzip2/Bunzip2 utilities reign supreme, with the Tar-Gzip alliance emerging as the premier file archiving solution for Linux.
  • Gzip in the Linux Landscape
    • Gzip stands tall as Linux’s premier file compression utility. It can function independently, compressing individual files. When Gzip compresses a file, it births a new compressed variant, while the original is typically discarded. The resulting compressed file dons the GZ extension. Consequently, when Gzip collaborates with Tar, the compressed archive assumes the TAR.GZ or TGZ extension.
    • Gzip vs. Zip: While Gzip employs the same compression algorithm as the renowned Windows utility, Zip, there’s a fundamental difference. Gzip compresses singular files. Thus, Tar is invoked first to produce a tarball, which Gzip subsequently compresses. Conversely, Zip compresses each file before archiving them, resulting in a marginally larger archive size. This compression approach complicates the extraction of individual files without first decompressing the entire tarball.

Creating & Decompressing GZ & TGZ Files in Linux

Armed with the Tar and Gzip/Gunzip commands, system administrators can effortlessly create and decompress GZ and TGZ files. These utilities, like their Linux counterparts, come equipped with a suite of flags, enhancing their functionality and allowing for tailored usage. Given that Gzip/Gunzip and Tar are integral to most Linux distributions, all that’s required is SSH access and rudimentary Linux command line knowledge.

Utilizing Gzip/Gunzip for GZ File Management

While the Gzip and Gunzip commands can decompress GZ files in Linux, they falter when confronted with compressed Tar archives. For instance, a TAR.GZ file, despite being a Gzip-compressed TAR archive, mandates the Tar command for decompression and file extraction.

Compressing Files with Gzip

Gzip facilitates the compression of individual files, producing a new GZ-extended variant while retaining the original file’s permissions and ownership. By default, the original file is jettisoned post-compression. However, this behavior is mutable. Let’s explore the compression of three files located in the current directory using Gzip:

# Compress multiple files with GZIP
gzip -kv example1 example2 example3

Here, the -k flag ensures the original files remain intact, while the -v option provides a real-time compression percentage and file name display. The command yields three new GZ files in the directory. In scenarios where the -k flag is inapplicable, the -c option can be invoked to preserve the original file.

The -c flag can also be harnessed to modify the directory of the newly compressed file or even rename it:

# Compress a file without deletion and relocate it to a different directory
gzip -c example1 > /home/temp/compressed_example1.gz

Inspecting GZ Files Without Decompression

The zcat command in Linux offers a sneak peek into a compressed file’s contents without necessitating decompression:

# Display the contents of a GZIP compressed file
zcat compressed_example1.gz

Decompressing GZ Files

GZ files can be decompressed in Linux by appending the -d flag to the Gzip/Gunzip command. All previously discussed flags remain applicable. By default, the GZ file is discarded post-decompression, unless the -k flag is invoked. Let’s decompress the GZ files we previously compressed in the same directory:

# Decompress GZ file
gzip -dv compressed_example1.gz

In this context, the following commands are synonymous:

Using the gunzip command:

# Decompress GZ file
gunzip example.gz

Using the gzip -d command:

# Decompress GZ file
gzip -d example.gz

Leveraging Tar for TGZ File Management

The tar command is pivotal for managing TGZ files in Linux. Users can opt to decompress an entire archive or cherry-pick specific files or directories.

Crafting a TAR.GZ Archive

Before embarking on the creation of a Gzip-compressed Tar archive, it’s essential to identify the files for inclusion and their grouping strategy. Users can either manually specify files or archive an entire directory, inclusive of its subdirectories. Contrary to Gzip’s operation on individual files, creating a Gzip-compressed Tar archive doesn’t result in the original files’ deletion.

# Construct a TGZ archive of a directory and relocate it to a different folder
tar -czvf archive.tar.gz directory_name -C /home/temp

In this command:

  • c initiates archive creation.
  • z triggers Gzip compression.
  • v activates verbose mode, offering a detailed command execution output.
  • f designates the new archive’s filename.
  • C specifies an alternate target directory.

Inspecting Archive Contents

The -t flag facilitates the examination of an existing TGZ archive file’s contents. Additionally, users can employ pipes to pinpoint specific files, especially in expansive archives:

# Enumerate the contents of a TGZ archive
tar -tvf archive.tar.gz

Decompressing TAR.GZ Files

Gzip-compressed Tar archives can be decompressed using the -x (extract) flag provided by the tar command. By default, Tar extracts the TGZ file’s contents to the current working directory. However, users can specify an alternate directory for extraction:

# Decompress Tar Gz file and relocate uncompressed files to a different directory
tar -xzvf archive.tar.gz -C /home/temp

Often, users might need to extract specific files or folders from a TGZ archive. The tar command facilitates this:

# Validate the desired file's presence in the archive
tar -tvf archive.tar.gz | grep desired_file

Given that the file resides in the archived directory, direct extraction without restoring the entire directory is challenging. The strip-components option circumvents this hurdle, allowing users to extract desired files or directories without their parent folders. Users must specify the file or directory’s full path for extraction:

# Extract a specific file from the Tar Gz archive
tar -xzvf archive.tar.gz path/to/desired_file --strip-components=2


Managing GZ and TGZ files is an integral skill for Linux users. These file formats are pivotal for data compression and archiving in Linux ecosystems. By mastering the Gzip and Tar commands, users can efficiently manage, compress, and decompress their data, ensuring optimal storage and data transfer. Whether you’re a seasoned Linux user or a novice, understanding these commands and their nuances can significantly streamline your tasks and enhance your Linux experience.

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