Archive file

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In computing, an archive file is a computer file that is composed of one or more files along with metadata. Many archive formats also support compression of member files. Archive files are used to collect multiple data files together into a single file for easier portability and storage, or simply to compress files to use less storage space. Archive files often store directory structures, error detection and correction information, comments, and some use built-in encryption.[1][2][3]



Archive files are particularly useful in that they store file system data and metadata within the contents of a particular file, and thus can be stored on systems or sent over channels that do not support the file system in question, only file contents – examples include sending a directory structure over email, files with names unsupported on the target file system due to length or characters, and retaining files' date and time information.[4]

A single archive file may contain multiple member files; this can speed file transfers and other operations with processing overheads for each file,[5][6] in addition to gains due to compression.

Software distribution[edit]

Beyond archival purposes, archive files are frequently used for packaging software for distribution, as software contents are often naturally spread across several files; the archive is then known as a package. While the archival file format is the same, there are additional conventions about contents, such as requiring a manifest file, and the resulting format is known as a package format.[7] Examples include deb for Debian, JAR for Java, APK for Android, and self-extracting Windows Installer executables.


Features supported by various kinds of archives include:

Some archive programs have self-extraction, self-installation, source volume and medium information, and package notes/description.

The file extension or file header of the archive file are indicators of the file format used. Computer archive files are created by file archiver software, optical disc authoring software, and disk image software.[8]

Archive formats[edit]

An archive format is the file format of an archive file. Some formats are well-defined by their authors and have become conventions supported by multiple vendors and communities.[9]


  • Archiving only formats store metadata and concatenate files.
  • Compression only formats only compress files.
  • Multi-function formats can store metadata, concatenate, compress, encrypt, create error detection and recovery information, and package the archive into self-extracting and self-expanding files.
  • Software packaging formats are used to create software packages that may be self-installing files.
  • Disk image formats are used to create disk images of mass storage volumes.


Filename extensions used to distinguish different types of archives include zip, rar, 7z, and tar, the first of which is the most widely implemented.[10]

Java also introduced a whole family of archive extensions such as jar and war (j is for Java and w is for web). They are used to exchange entire byte-code deployment. Sometimes they are also used to exchange source code and other text, HTML and XML files. By default they are all compressed.[11]

Error detection and recovery[edit]

Archive files often include parity checks and other checksums for error detection, for instance zip files use a cyclic redundancy check (CRC). RAR archives may include additional error correction data (called recovery records).[12]

Archive files that do not natively support recovery records can use separate parchive (PAR) files that allows for additional error correction and recovery of missing files in a multi-file archive.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Archive File: What it's Used For". Lifewire. Retrieved 2022-06-17.
  2. ^ "Archive files". 2015-02-07. Retrieved 2022-06-17.
  3. ^ "What is Archiving And Why is it Important?". Secure Data MGT. 2015-03-23. Retrieved 2022-06-17.
  4. ^ "Data Portability and Platform Competition | Is User Data Exported From Facebook Actually Useful to Competitors?" (PDF). p. 22. Retrieved June 17, 2022.
  5. ^ "Why file transfer speeds of small vs large files could be different". NetApp Knowledge Base. 2020-06-17. Retrieved 2022-06-17.
  6. ^ "Why Small Files Take Longer to Copy Than Large Files". Dataquest. 2018-10-10. Retrieved 2022-06-17.
  7. ^ Manager, Amit Ashbel, Senior Marketing and Strategy. "Data Archiving: The Basics and 5 Best Practices". Retrieved 2022-06-17.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ "What Is a File Extension & Why Are They Important?". Lifewire. Retrieved 2022-06-17.
  9. ^ "What are Archive Files?". Retrieved 2022-06-17.
  10. ^ "Common file name extensions in Windows". Retrieved 2022-06-17.
  11. ^ Malefanem, Moses. "Learning Java Network Programming". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. ^ Drummond, James R. (1997). Parity, Checksums and CRC Checks (PDF) (1st ed.). Toronto. p. 13.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  13. ^ text. "What are PAR and PAR2 Files?". Easynews. Retrieved 2022-06-17.

External links[edit]