What is a TAR File?

How to Open, Edit, Create, & Convert TAR Files

TAR Files
TAR Files.

Short for Tape Archive, and sometimes referred to as tarball, a file that has the TAR file extension is a file in the Consolidated Unix Archive format.

Because the TAR file format is used to store multiple files in one single file, it's a popular method for both archiving purposes and for sending multiple files over the internet, like for software downloads.

The TAR file format is common in Linux and Unix systems, but only for storing data, not compressing it.

TAR files are often compressed after being created, but those become TGZ files, using the TGZ, TAR.GZ, or GZ extensions.

How To Open a TAR File

TAR files, being a relatively common archive format, can be opened with most popular zip/unzip tools. PeaZip and 7-Zip are my favorite free file extractors that support both opening TAR files and creating TAR files, but check out this list of free file extractors for a number of other choices.

B1 Online Archiver and WOBZIP are two other TAR openers but they run in your browser instead of through a downloadable program. Just upload the TAR to one of these two websites to extract out the contents.

Unix systems can open TAR files without any external programs by using the following command:

tar -xvf file.tar

...where "file.tar" is the name of the TAR file.

How to Make a Compressed TAR File

What I've described on this page is just how to open, or extract files from a TAR archive.

If you want to make your own TAR file from folders or files, the easiest way would be to use a graphical program like 7-Zip.

Another option, so long as you're on Linux, is to use a command-line command to build the TAR file. However, with this command, you'll also be compressing the TAR file, which will produce a TAR.GZ file.

This command will make a TAR.GZ file out of a folder or a single file, whichever you choose:

tar -czvf name-of-archive.tar.gz /path/to/folder-or-file

This is what this command is doing:

  • -c: Create an archive
  • -z: Use gzip to compress the archive
  • -v: Enables verbose mode to show the progress of the creation process
  • -f: Lets you specify the name of the archive

Here's an example if you want to make a file called files.tar.gz from a folder named /myfiles/:

tar -czvf files.tar.gz /usr/local/myfiles

How To Convert a TAR File

Zamzar and Online-Convert.com are two free file converters, both web services, that will convert a TAR file to ZIP, 7Z, TAR.BZ2, TAR.GZ, YZ1, or CAB, among other formats. Most of these formats are actually compressed formats, which TAR is not, meaning that these services act to compress the TAR as well.

Keep in mind that if you use one of those online converters, you'll need to first upload the TAR file to one of those websites. If the file is large, you might be better off with a dedicated, offline converting tool.

All things considered, the best way to convert TAR to ISO would be to use the free AnyToISO program. It even works via the right-click context menu so you can just right-click the TAR file and then choose to convert it to an ISO file.

Considering that TAR files are single-file collections of multiple files, TAR to ISO conversions make the most sense since the ISO format is basically the same sort of file. ISO images, however, are much more common and supported than TAR, especially in Windows.

Note: TAR files are just containers for other files, similar to folders. Therefore, you can't just convert a TAR file to CSV, PDF, or some other non-archive file format. To "convert" a TAR file to one of those formats really just means to extract the files out of the archive, which you can do with one of the file extractors I mentioned above.