Tar Command in Linux with Examples

Tar Command in Linux with Examples

In Linux, managing files efficiently is a crucial skill for any webmaster or system administrator. One of the most common tasks you’ll encounter is the need to archive (or compress) files and directories, and then later extract them.

This is where the tar command comes into play. The tar command, short for “tape archive”, is a versatile tool used for creating and extracting archive files in Linux.

This tutorial will guide you through the process of using tar to archive and extract files, ensuring you have a solid grasp of this essential command. Whether you’re looking to backup data, transfer files between systems, or simply save space, understanding how to use tar is invaluable.

Let’s get started.

Understanding the Tar Command

Before diving into the practical steps, it’s essential to understand the basics of the tar command. At its core, tar allows you to create, maintain, modify, and extract files in a tape archive. The primary operations you’ll use with tar are:

  • Creating an archive
  • Extracting an archive
  • Appending files to an existing archive
  • Listing the contents of an archive

Creating a Tar Archive

To create a tar archive, use the following syntax:

tar -cvf archive_name.tar directory_or_file_to_archive

Here’s a breakdown of the options used:

  • c: Create a new archive
  • v: Verbose mode, showing the progress in the terminal
  • f: Use archive file. This option is always used because it tells tar to create a file rather than outputting the archive to standard output.

Extracting a Tar Archive

To extract a tar archive, use the following command:

tar -xvf archive_name.tar

The options used here are:

  • x: Extract files from an archive
  • v: Verbose mode
  • f: Use archive file

Listing the Contents of a Tar Archive

If you want to view the contents of a tar archive without extracting it, use:

tar -tvf archive_name.tar

Compressing and Decompressing Tar Archives with Gzip

To save space, it’s common to compress tar archives using gzip. To create a compressed archive, use:

tar -czvf archive_name.tar.gz directory_or_file_to_archive

To extract a compressed archive, use:

tar -xzvf archive_name.tar.gz

Tar Command Examples

The tar command is a powerful tool in the Linux arsenal, offering flexibility in archiving and extracting files. By understanding its various options and combinations, you can efficiently manage data, whether for backups, transfers, or storage.

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1. Using Tar with Bzip2 Compression

While gzip is a popular choice for compression, another tool you might come across is bzip2. It often provides better compression rates than gzip, albeit at the cost of slightly increased compression time. To create a tar archive compressed with bzip2, use:

tar -cvjf archive_name.tar.bz2 directory_or_file_to_archive

And to extract:

tar -xvjf archive_name.tar.bz2

2. Excluding Files or Directories

Sometimes, you might want to archive a directory but exclude specific files or subdirectories. The –exclude option comes in handy:

tar -cvf archive_name.tar --exclude='path_to_exclude' directory_to_archive

3. Archiving Multiple Directories or Files

You can archive multiple directories or files in a single command:

tar -cvf archive_name.tar dir1 dir2 file1 file2

4. Creating an Archive of a Specific File Type

Suppose you want to archive only the .txt files from a directory. You can do this using the find command in combination with tar:

find /path/to/directory -name "*.txt" | tar -cvf text_files.tar -T -

5. Archiving Files Modified in the Last 7 Days

If you want to archive files that have been modified in the last week:

find /path/to/directory -mtime -7 | tar -cvf weekly_backup.tar -T -

6. Splitting an Archive into Multiple Parts

For large directories, you might want to split the archive into smaller parts. Here’s how you can create an archive and split it into 100MB chunks:

tar -cvf - /path/to/directory | split -b 100M - archive_part.tar.

To extract these parts, you’d first combine them and then extract:

cat archive_part.tar.* | tar -xvf -

7. Removing Files After Archiving

If you want to archive files and then remove the original files (useful for moving files), you can use the –remove-files option:

tar -cvf archive_name.tar --remove-files directory_or_file_to_archive

8. Incremental Backups with Tar

You can create incremental backups using tar. First, create a full backup:

tar -cvf full_backup.tar /path/to/directory

For subsequent incremental backups:

tar --listed-incremental=/path/to/snapshot.file -cvf incremental_backup.tar /path/to/directory

9. Extracting Specific Files from an Archive

If you want to extract only specific files from a large archive:

tar -xvf archive_name.tar specific_file1 specific_directory1

10. Comparing Archive Contents with the File System

To check if the files in the archive match the current file system:

tar --diff -f archive_name.tar

11. Securing Archives with Encryption

For added security, you can encrypt your tar archives using gpg:

tar -cvf - /path/to/directory | gpg -c -o encrypted_archive.tar.gpg

To decrypt and extract:

gpg -d encrypted_archive.tar.gpg | tar -xvf -

12. Creating a Tar Archive with a Progress Bar

Using pv (Pipe Viewer), you can view the progress while creating an archive:

tar -cvf - /path/to/directory | pv | gzip > archive_name.tar.gz

These practical examples showcase the flexibility and power of the tar command. By understanding and combining various options, you can tailor the command to suit a wide range of tasks, making your work as a webmaster or system administrator more efficient.

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Best Practices

  • Regular Backups: Always ensure you have regular backups of important data. Using tar in combination with compression tools can make this process efficient in terms of storage space.
  • Check Archives: After creating an archive, it’s a good practice to list its contents and ensure everything was archived correctly.
  • Permissions: When extracting archives, be mindful of file and directory permissions, especially if the archive was created on a different system.
  • Storage: If you’re archiving data for long-term storage, consider using high compression ratios, even if they take longer. The space saved can be significant over time.

Commands Mentioned

  • tar -cvf – Creates a tar archive
  • tar -xvf – Extracts a tar archive
  • tar -tvf – Lists the contents of a tar archive
  • tar -czvf – Creates a compressed tar archive using gzip
  • tar -xzvf – Extracts a compressed tar archive
  • find … | tar -cvf – Archives specific file types or files modified within a certain timeframe
  • tar -cvf … | split – Splits an archive into multiple parts
  • tar -cvf … –remove-files – Archives files and then removes the originals
  • tar –listed-incremental – Creates incremental backups
  • tar –diff – Compares archive contents with the file system
  • tar -cvf … | gpg – Encrypts a tar archive
  • gpg -d … | tar -xvf – Decrypts and extracts an encrypted tar archive
  • tar -cvf … | pv – Creates a tar archive with a progress bar
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  1. What is the primary purpose of the tar command in Linux?

    The `tar` command in Linux is used for creating and extracting archive files. It stands for “tape archive” and is a versatile tool for managing files and directories in an archived format.

  2. How can I view the contents of a tar archive without extracting it?

    You can view the contents of a tar archive without extracting it using the `tar -tvf archive_name.tar` command. This lists all the files and directories contained within the archive.

  3. Why would one compress a tar archive with gzip?

    Compressing a tar archive with gzip helps in reducing the size of the archive, making it more efficient for storage and transfer. It’s especially useful when dealing with large datasets or backups to save space.

  4. Can I append files to an existing tar archive?

    Yes, you can append files to an existing tar archive using the `tar` command with the appropriate options. This is useful for updating archives without recreating them entirely.

  5. Is tar exclusive to Linux?

    While `tar` originated in Unix and is commonly associated with Linux, it’s also available on other operating systems, including macOS and various Unix-like systems. Some Windows utilities also support tar archives.


Mastering the tar command is essential for anyone working with Linux systems. Whether you’re a webmaster, system administrator, or just a Linux enthusiast, understanding how to efficiently archive and extract files can save you time and ensure data integrity.

This tutorial provided a comprehensive guide on using the tar command to manage archives in Linux. Remember, efficient file management is just one aspect of maintaining a robust online presence.

As you continue your journey in the world of web hosting and server management, always keep an eye out for the latest tools and best practices.

Thank you for following this tutorial. With the knowledge acquired, you’re now better equipped to handle file archiving tasks on Linux systems efficiently.


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