What is a TAR file? Learn about TAR files here
A TAR file is an archive file that contains one or more files inside. This is often done to ease distribution of a large set of files over the Internet.
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TAR file details
On its own a TAR file is not a compressed file, it is simply a format used for archiving files (merging several files into one). On Unix and Linux archiving and compression are normally done by two separate utilities.
TAR files are the most popular form of archive used on a Unix system. TAR actually stands for tape archive, and is the name of the type of file, and also the name of a utility which can be used to open these files.
The format was originally designed for backup purposes using tapes, however it is quite often used for downloads and application packages. It enables you to put a number of files together into one single file, which makes it much easier to either archive the files, or distribute them.
TAR files are not able to run a single file in the archive without first extracting the contents of the whole archive. This means that it can be a bit slow when only extracting part of the file.
Compressing TAR files
A TAR file is simply an archive, no compression techniques are used to reduce the size of the file. If the archive needs to be compressed then additional tools must be used. On Unix and Linux, other tools such as GZIP or BZIP2 can be used to compress the archive. This will create a file such as yourfile.tar.gz, yourfile.tgz or yourfile.tbz. On Windows, BitZipper will do it for you.
Opening TAR files, TGZ files and TBZ files
On Linux there are built in utilities to read TAR and TAR.GZ files, however if you want to open TAR files on Windows then you will need to download a tool supporting TAR files. BitZipper will both open and create TAR files for you.
If you are looking for technical details about the TAR file format, please refer to this Wikipedia article.