tar command examples

This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but this should give you a jumpstart on some of the common Linux commands. Bookmark this article for your future reference.

1. tar command examples

Create a new tar archive.

$ tar cvf archive_name.tar dirname/

Extract from an existing tar archive.

$ tar xvf archive_name.tar

View an existing tar archive.

$ tar tvf archive_name.tar

More tar examples: The Ultimate Tar Command Tutorial with 10 Practical Examples



Extract tar.bz2/bzip archives

Files with extension bz2 are compressed with the bzip algorithm and tar command can deal with them as well. Use the j option instead of the z option.

$ tar -xvjf archivefile.tar.bz2

2. Extract files to a specific directory or path

To extract out the files to a specific directory, specify the path using the “-C” option. Note that its a capital C.

$ tar -xvzf abc.tar.gz -C /opt/folder/

However first make sure that the destination directory exists, since tar is not going to create the directory for you and will fail if it does not exist.

3. Extract a single file

To extract a single file out of an archive just add the file name after the command like this

$ tar -xz -f abc.tar.gz "./new/abc.txt"

More than once file can be specified in the above command like this

$ tar -xv -f abc.tar.gz "./new/cde.txt" "./new/abc.txt"

4. Extract multiple files using wildcards

Wildcards can be used to extract out a bunch of files matching the given wildcards. For example all files with “.txt” extension.

$ tar -xv -f abc.tar.gz --wildcards "*.txt"

5. List and search contents of the tar archive

If you want to just list out the contents of the tar archive and not extract them, use the “-t” option. The following command prints the contents of a gzipped tar archive,

$ tar -tz -f abc.tar.gz

Pipe the output to grep to search a file or less command to browse the list. Using the “v” verbose option shall print additional details about each file.

For tar.bz2/bzip files use the “j” option

Use the above command in combination with the grep command to search the archive. Simple!

$ tar -tvz -f abc.tar.gz | grep abc.txt
-rw-rw-r-- enlightened/enlightened 0 2015-01-13 11:40 ./new/abc.txt

6. Create a tar/tar.gz archive

Now that we have learnt how to extract existing tar archives, its time to start creating new ones. The tar command can be told to put selected files in an archive or an entire directory. Here are some examples.

The following command creates a tar archive using a directory, adding all files in it and sub directories as well.

$ tar -cvf abc.tar ./new/

The above example does not create a compressed archive. Just a plain archive, that puts multiple files together without any real compression.

In order to compress, use the “z” or “j” option for gzip or bzip respectively.

$ tar -cvzf abc.tar.gz ./new/
The extension of the file name does not really matter. "tar.gz" and tgz are common extensions for files compressed with gzip. ".tar.bz2" and ".tbz" are commonly used extensions for bzip compressed files.

7. Ask confirmation before adding files

A useful option is “w” which makes tar ask for confirmation for every file before adding it to the archive. This can be sometimes useful.

Only those files would be added which are given a yes answer. If you do not enter anything, the default answer would be a “No”.

# Add specific files

$ tar -czw -f abc.tar.gz ./new/*
add ‘./new/abc.txt’?y
add ‘./new/cde.txt’?y
add ‘./new/newfile.txt’?n
add ‘./new/subdir’?y
add ‘./new/subdir/in.txt’?n

# Now list the files added
$ tar -t -f abc.tar.gz 

8. Add files to existing archives

The r option can be used to add files to existing archives, without having to create new ones. Here is a quick example

$ tar -rv -f abc.tar abc.txt
Files cannot be added to compressed archives (gz or bzip). Files can only be added to plain tar archives.

9. Add files to compressed archives (tar.gz/tar.bz2)

Its already mentioned that its not possible to add files to compressed archives. However it can still be done with a simple trick. Use the gunzip command to uncompress the archive, add file to archive and compress it again.

$ gunzip archive.tar.gz
$ tar -rf archive.tar ./path/to/file
$ gzip archive.tar

For bzip files use the bzip2 and bunzip2 commands respectively.

10. Backup with tar

A real scenario is to backup directories at regular intervals. The tar command can be scheduled to take such backups via cron. Here is an example –

$ tar -cvz -f archive-$(date +%Y%m%d).tar.gz ./new/

Run the above command via cron and it would keep creating backup files with names like –

Ofcourse make sure that the disk space is not overflown with larger and larger archives.

11. Verify archive files while creation

The “W” option can be used to verify the files after creating archives. Here is a quick example.

$ tar -cvW -f abc.tar ./new/
Verify ./new/
Verify ./new/cde.txt
Verify ./new/subdir/
Verify ./new/subdir/in.txt
Verify ./new/newfile.txt                                                                                                                              
Verify ./new/abc.txt

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