How to Unzip in Linux

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In the digital age, we often find ourselves working with large volumes of data. Whether you’re sharing files, backing up data, or simply trying to conserve storage space, compressing files can be extremely beneficial. This process of compacting multiple files into a single, smaller file is commonly referred to as “zipping,” and the reverse process is known as “unzipping.” In Linux, a popular and robust operating system, these operations are frequently carried out via command-line utilities. This post will walk you through the process of unzipping files in Linux, shedding light on the tools and commands you can use to do the job efficiently.


Before diving into the specifics of unzipping in Linux, there are a few foundational concepts and tools you should be familiar with:

  • Linux Command Line: A basic understanding of navigating and executing commands in the Linux terminal is essential. If you’re new to the command line, you might consider a beginner’s tutorial to get started.
  • The unzip Utility: While there are multiple tools available for unzipping files in Linux, this guide will primarily focus on the unzip command. Ensure you have it installed on your system, or be prepared to follow the guidelines in the next section.

Understanding the ZIP Format

The ZIP file format, originating in the late 1980s, was developed to support lossless data compression, meaning that all original data can be recovered when a ZIP file is decompressed. Its primary purpose is to bundle and compress multiple files into a single, smaller container file, making it easier to transport, share, or store.

Beyond its compression capabilities, the ZIP format also supports password protection and file encryption, ensuring the privacy and security of data. In the Linux environment, ZIP files are widespread due to their compatibility across different platforms, be it Windows, macOS, or various Linux distributions. Thus, having a good grasp of working with ZIP files in Linux becomes invaluable, especially when dealing with data transfers or storage management.

Installing the Unzip Utility

The unzip utility isn’t always installed by default on all Linux distributions. However, the installation process is usually straightforward. Here’s how you can install it on some of the popular distributions:


sudo apt update
sudo apt install unzip


sudo dnf install unzip


sudo yum install unzip

To check if unzip is already installed on your system, simply type unzip in the terminal. If it’s installed, you’ll see a prompt waiting for more command inputs. If not, you’ll likely receive a command not found error.

Basic Unzipping Commands

Once you have the unzip the utility installed, you can start decompressing ZIP files. Here are some basic commands to get you started:

Unzipping a File: To extract all the contents of a ZIP file, use:


Specifying a Destination Directory: If you want to extract the contents to a specific directory, use the -d flag followed by the destination directory:

unzip -d /path/to/directory/

Listing the Contents: To view the contents of a ZIP file without actually extracting them, use the -l flag:

unzip -l

Advanced Unzipping Options

For those looking to delve a bit deeper, the unzip command offers a variety of advanced options:

Overwriting Existing Files: By default, if there’s a file in the destination directory with the same name as one in the ZIP file, unzip will ask if you want to overwrite it. If you’d like to overwrite files automatically without being prompted, use the -o flag:

unzip -o

Unzipping Password-Protected ZIP Files: If the ZIP file is protected with a password, you can use the -P flag followed by the password:

unzip -P password

Selectively Unzipping Specific Files: If you only want to extract certain files from a ZIP archive, specify them after the ZIP file name:

unzip file1.txt file2.txt

Other Tools and Utilities

While unzip is a highly versatile tool for handling ZIP files, Linux provides a suite of other utilities that offer broader compression and decompression capabilities:

gunzip: Designed primarily for working with .gz files, which are compressed using the gzip compression algorithm.

To decompress a .gz file:

gunzip filename.gz

tar: A powerful tool to handle archive files. It is commonly paired with other compression utilities, such as gzip and bzip2.

For example, to extract a tarball compressed with gzip (*.tar.gz or *.tgz):

tar -xzf filename.tar.gz

7z: This is the command-line version of 7-Zip, a versatile compression utility that supports a variety of formats, including its native .7z format.

To extract a .7z file:

7z x filename.7z

When deciding on which tool to use, consider the file format you’re dealing with, as well as any specific requirements like encryption or multi-part archives.

Common Errors and Troubleshooting

Working with compressed files can sometimes lead to issues, either due to file corruption, missing utilities, or other unforeseen circumstances. Here are some common errors and potential fixes:

  • “End-of-central-directory signature not found”: This error usually indicates that the ZIP file is corrupted or incomplete. Try downloading the file again or using tools like zip -FF to attempt a repair.
  • “Command ‘unzip’ not found”: This suggests the unzip utility isn’t installed on your system. Refer back to Section 4 for installation instructions.
  • Password errors: If you’re certain the password you’re using is correct, yet encounter errors, the ZIP file might be using a newer encryption method not supported by the default unzip tool. In such cases, try utilities like 7z or pkunzip.

Best Practices

To ensure a smooth experience while working with ZIP files on Linux:

  • File Integrity: After downloading a ZIP file from the internet, especially from an untrusted source, it’s a good idea to verify its integrity (if the website provides checksums or signatures).
  • Security Precautions: Be wary of unzipping files from unknown sources. Malicious software can be packaged inside ZIP files, so always ensure you’re getting files from trusted sources.
  • Keep Tools Updated: As with all software, keeping your compression utilities up to date ensures you benefit from the latest features, performance improvements, and security patches.


Working with compressed files is an integral aspect of managing data on Linux. Whether you’re looking to conserve storage, share files more efficiently, or simply manage data backups, understanding how to unzip files becomes a valuable skill. Throughout this guide, we’ve explored the foundational unzip utility, delved into its basic and advanced features, and also looked at alternative tools for different compression formats. Always remember to prioritize data integrity and security, especially when working with files from external sources. With the knowledge from this guide, you’re well-equipped to navigate the world of file compression in Linux with confidence.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. Can I unzip files with a GUI tool in Linux?
Yes, several graphical tools like File Roller (Archive Manager in GNOME), Ark (in KDE), and PeaZip offer a user-friendly interface to zip and unzip files.

2. How do I zip files in Linux?
For ZIP format, you can use the zip command. For instance, to zip a folder named “data_folder”, you’d use:

zip -r data_folder/

3. What if the unzip command can’t handle a particular ZIP file?
In such cases, consider alternative tools like 7z. Some ZIP files might use newer compression or encryption methods that are not supported by older versions of unzip.

4. Is there a file size limit for ZIP files on Linux?
The traditional ZIP format has a 4GB file size limit and a 65,535 file count limit. However, the newer ZIP64 format, which is supported by many modern tools, overcomes these limitations.

5. How can I password-protect a ZIP file I create?
You can use the zip command with the -e flag. For example:

zip -e filename

You’ll then be prompted to enter and confirm a password for the ZIP file.

Atiqur Rahman

I am MD. Atiqur Rahman graduated from BUET and is an AWS-certified solutions architect. I have successfully achieved 6 certifications from AWS including Cloud Practitioner, Solutions Architect, SysOps Administrator, and Developer Associate. I have more than 8 years of working experience as a DevOps engineer designing complex SAAS applications.

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