How to Extract Zip Files in Linux

Zip files aren’t as common as they used to be when download speeds were slower and every saved byte mattered. Still, it’s a fairly common file type. Sooner or later you’ll probably have to open one.

Depending on the distribution you use, it’s probably fairly easy to extract a zip archive. Even so, it can’t hurt to know some of the more advanced ways you can open zip files and deal with their contents.

Unzipping Using the GUI

On most Linux desktop environments, unzipping a file is easy. Just right click on the file, and you’ll see a few options. You’ll usually see the option to “Extract Here” or “Unzip Here.”

You’ll also see the option to “Extract To” a location. This is handy if you’re looking to unzip a file from your Downloads folder to somewhere else. Not every desktop environment is going to have these installed, but if they do, it’s the easiest method.


If your desktop doesn’t include these handy shortcuts, you can just open the zip file in a GUI archive program. This includes Gnome Archive Manager on the Gnome desktop, Ark on the KDE Desktop, and others.

If you don’t have a GUI archive utility available, or you’re looking for more powerful features, it’s time to head to the command line.

Unzipping Files Using the Command Line

While some Linux command-line utilities have arcane names, that isn’t the case here. The command to unzip a file on Linux is simply called unzip.

The simplest way to unzip a file on the Linux command line is to run the following:



This will unzip the file directly in the directory it is located in. If instead you want to unzip in a different directory, you can do that as well. Imagine that you have a file in your downloads directory that you want to extract in your home directory. To do this, run the following.

unzip -d ~/

Previewing Zip File Contents on the Command Line

On the desktop you can often double-click a zip file in order to see its contents before unzipping. Obviously, this isn’t possible on the command line.


That doesn’t mean you can’t preview the contents of a zip file. To do this, run the following:

unzip -l

The contents of the file will display one line at a time.

Selectively Extracting Parts of a Zip File

Now that you can preview the contents of a zip file, you might realize you don’t need everything in a file. You can approach this in two different ways. You can extract one or two files from a zip archive, or you can choose a file to exclude.

To extract a single file from a zip archive, you’ll need to provide the full path. This means that if there is a folder named Folder that contains everything, you’ll need to specify this.

unzip "Folder/file1.txt"


If you want to extract the file without creating a new directory, use the -j switch:

unzip -j "Folder/file1.txt"

Excluding a file works the same way but uses the -x switch. If you wanted to exclude “file.txt,” you would run the following:

unzip -x "Folder/file1.txt"


What About Compressing Files?

Now you know much more about extracting zip files, but that’s only part of the equation. What about when you want to send a few items to a friend or coworker all wrapped up in one file?

Compressing files can be as easy as opening a zip file, but it can also be a bit more complex. If you want to know more, we have a complete guide to compressing and archiving files on Linux.

Kris Wouk
Kris Wouk

Kris Wouk is a writer, musician, and whatever it's called when someone makes videos for the web.

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