In the world of computing, managing and handling compressed files is an essential skill to have. Linux and Ubuntu users frequently come across ZIP files, which save storage space and allow faster file transfer by bundling multiple files into a single package. Knowing how to unzip these files makes tasks like sharing and archival much simpler.

Ubuntu comes with a built-in utility to handle ZIP files, and unzipping them can be performed with ease using the terminal or with a graphical user interface. In this article, we’ll cover the process of unzipping ZIP files in Linux/Ubuntu environments, making it easy for you to access the contents of compressed files. This knowledge will prove useful in various situations and make your experience with Linux/Ubuntu even more efficient.


Before you begin the process of unzipping a file in Linux or Ubuntu, ensure that you have the necessary tools and permissions. This section will cover the prerequisites needed to perform the task effectively.

First, check if the ‘unzip’ command is already installed on your system. To do this, open a terminal and use the following command: unzip --version. If it returns some details, it indicates that the ‘unzip’ utility is present. If you encounter an ‘unzip command not found’ error, you need to install the utility. In Ubuntu and Debian-based distributions, you can install ‘unzip’ using this command: sudo apt install unzip.

Next, ensure that you have the necessary permissions to access the ZIP file you intend to unzip. You should have read permissions for the ZIP file and write permissions for the directory where you want to extract the contents. If you lack permissions, you may need to acquire them from the system administrator.

Lastly, if the ZIP file is password-protected, make sure you have the correct password. While extracting a password-protected file, avoid directly specifying the password in the command line, as it could lead to security issues. Instead, opt for a method that does not require displaying the password.

Using File Manager

In addition to command-line methods, Linux and Ubuntu systems offer graphical user interfaces for extracting and managing ZIP files. Most file managers, such as Nautilus (in Ubuntu) or Dolphin (in KDE), provide built-in support for working with ZIP files.

To unzip a file using the file manager, follow these steps:

  1. Open the file manager and navigate to the folder containing the ZIP file you want to extract.
  2. Right-click on the ZIP file.
  3. Select “Extract Here” to extract the files in the current folder, or choose “Extract To” to extract the files to a different location.

Some file managers may also support password-protected ZIP files. To extract a password-protected ZIP file using a file manager, follow these steps:

  1. Right-click on the password-protected ZIP file.
  2. Select “Extract Here” or “Extract To” as explained above.
  3. When prompted, enter the password for the ZIP file.

If the built-in support for ZIP files is not available in your file manager or you want more advanced functionality, you may consider installing additional archive manager tools such as File Roller (GNOME) or Ark (KDE).

Using the Command Line (Unzip)

The command line in Linux/Ubuntu allows you to unzip files using a utility called “unzip.” First, ensure that the unzip utility is installed on your system. If it is not, install it using the following commands based on your distribution:

  • On Ubuntu, Debian, and Linux Mint: sudo apt install unzip
  • On Arch Linux and Manjaro: sudo pacman -S unzip

Once the utility is installed, you can unzip files by providing the name of the ZIP file as an argument. To extract a ZIP file in the current directory, use the following command:


The files will be extracted and listed in the terminal window. To extract the files to a different directory, use the ‘-d’ switch followed by the destination path:

unzip -d /home/user/destination

As per Linux Handbook, if you only wish to update (overwrite) existing files with newer versions from the archive, use the ‘-u’ option with the destination directory:

unzip -u -d target_directory zip_file

If the ZIP file is password-protected, you can use the ‘-P’ option followed by the password. However, typing a password on the command line is not recommended for security reasons, as stated on Linuxize. Instead, you can extract the file without providing the password and the utility will prompt you for the password:


Using the Command Line (Tar)

When working with Linux and Ubuntu systems, you can unzip files using the command line with the help of tools like tar, which is an archive utility. The tar utility is a versatile tool that can be used to create, extract, and manage archive files in various formats, including compressed ones. In this case, we will use tar to extract files from a .tar.gz archive.

First, open the Terminal by searching for “Terminal” in the application launcher or by using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Alt + T. Once the Terminal is open, navigate to the directory where the .tar.gz file is located using the ‘cd’ command, followed by the directory path. For example:

cd /path/to/your/tar.gz/file

Now that you’re in the correct directory, use the following command to extract the contents of the .tar.gz file:

tar -xf archive_name.tar.gz

The ‘-xf’ flags tell tar to extract the files (‘x’) from the archive and specify the file (‘f’) that follows as the input archive. Replace ‘archive_name’ with the name of the .tar.gz file you want to extract. If you want to see the progress of the extraction and a list of the extracted files, you can add the ‘-v’ (verbose) flag to the command as shown below:

tar -xvf archive_name.tar.gz

This command will extract the contents of the .tar.gz file into the current directory. If you want to extract the files to a specific directory, you can use the ‘-C’ flag followed by the target directory path. For example:

tar -xf archive_name.tar.gz -C /path/to/target/directory

Using these simple commands, you can quickly and easily extract .tar.gz files, manage archives and manipulate their contents from the Linux and Ubuntu command line.

Dealing with Common Errors

While unzipping files in Linux/Ubuntu, users may occasionally encounter errors. Most common errors can be resolved by following some simple steps.

One common issue is when the unzip command is not found. To check if the unzip command is installed on your system, run:

unzip --version

If it returns details about the installed version, you’re good to go. However, if you see an ‘unzip command not found’ error, you can install unzip using the following command:

sudo apt install unzip

Another common error occurs when the zip file is damaged or corrupted. You can test the file’s integrity with the -t option:

unzip -t

If errors are detected, try repairing the zip file using the zip command with the -F or -FF options:

zip -F --out
zip -FF --out

Once repaired, attempt to extract the files from the new zip file.

If you want to exclude files from being extracted, you can use the -x option followed by the file name or pattern you want to exclude:

unzip -x exclude_file.txt

This will extract all files from the zip file, except for the specified file.


In this article, we covered various methods and options for unzipping files in Linux and Ubuntu environments. From using the command line with unzip to GUI-based tools, users have a range of choices depending on their preferences and needs.

It’s essential to keep your system updated and install the latest versions of essential tools, such as unzip, to ensure a seamless experience when working with compressed files. Always follow best practices when working with password-protected files to preserve security and avoid risking sensitive data.

Linux and Ubuntu continue to evolve, making file management more accessible and efficient for users. Keep exploring and learning to make the most of these powerful operating systems.