Most of you are probably familiar with “ZIP” files, which are
compressed archives that pack one or more files into a single file. ZIP
files are often a convenient way to distribute large numbers of files
and folder structures in a single container.
You’re probably also familiar with Windows somewhat cumbersome
built-in support for ZIP files, as well as WinZIP, the shareware file compression utility that lets
you create and extract files from ZIP formatted archives.
7-zip is a free, open-source
utility roughly equivalent to WinZIP, that includes support for
multiple file formats as well as a command-line interface.
I highly recommend 7-zip.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
Some of you who’ve been around a little longer may remember the
grandfather of the zip file format: PKZip. PKZip was a command-line
utility for MS-DOS that, for all intents and purposes, defined the zip
file format and its use. It’s because of PKZip that zip files became as
ubiquitous as they are today.
However, after all this time, there are problems. Both PKZip and
WinZIP have gone to shareware models – meaning that they’re not free.
And neither have particularly good command line support.
7-zip is roughly equivalent to both WinZip’s graphical interface and
PKZip’s command line. Open up the program within Windows and you can
examine, create, and modify archive files, as you might expect.
Here’s 7-Zip examining the contents of “FileZilla.zip”, another
popular free tool:
7-Zip supports a full-featured command line, which, in all honesty,
is how I use it the most.
While “zip” files may be the most common among Windows users, there
are actually many compressed archive formats. Another of 7-Zip’s
selling points is that it can create many of them and can read and
unpack many more. From 7-Zip’s home page:
- Packing / unpacking: 7z, ZIP, GZIP, BZIP2 and TAR
- Unpacking only: RAR, CAB, ISO, ARJ, LZH, CHM, Z, CPIO, RPM, DEB and
You may not recognize most of those, but when you encounter one
knowing that 7-Zip handles it, it can be a very good thing. Here’s a
partial list of an archive of a MovableType distribution in “.tar”
format, a common Unix/Linux archive:
compression format supported.”
Note that full paths within the archive are listed. Redirect the
output of the 7z command to a file, and you’ll have the archive listing
in a text file:
[c:\]7z l [archive file name] >listing.txt
I do want to call out one particular archive format: 7z. As its name
implies, 7z format is 7-Zip’s own compression format. You can see
comparative numbers on 7-Zip’s home page, but 7z format is perhaps the
most effective compression format supported. The claim is that files
compressed with 7z format are significantly smaller than when using
I tend to shy away from 7z format, only because it’s unique to
7-Zip; I prefer a format on which I can use other tools should I need
to. (Although, as we’ll see in a moment, I don’t foresee that
7-Zip can also be better at some of the other compression formats
than the original tools. That means you may often end up with smaller
files even if you choose a more common compression or archival
The icing on the cake, for me, is the availability of “p7zip”, a
compatible command line version of 7zip available for several Linux
distributions as well as Mac OSX.
So before plunking down money on any of the other archive tools, I
recommend giving 7-Zip a try. It’s certainly meeting all my needs, and