If you’re a file hoarder, file compression is something you absolutely must know about. Although storage technology continues to improve at a rapid rate, efficiency is never a bad thing.

Not to mention, many of our file standards today dwarf those of the past—the 128 kbps MP3s we used to download on Napster have now been replaced with FLACs, where a single song can be the size of an entire MP3 album.

Many of us have files that we don’t want toget rid of but also don’t need immediate, dynamic access to. These can bephotos, videos, music, and much more. Creating an archive of these files cancut down on used disk space which can, in turn, result in better performance.It can also save your pockets—your 1 TB external hard drive can feel closer to2 TB if you archive properly!

Learning to compress your files isn’t veryhard, but what about all of those archive formats? Compressing files puts themin a “box” of a single file, but that file can have so many differentextensions: ZIP, RAR, 7Z, TAR, GZ—what do these all mean? Surely there’s adifference, right?

Of course there is! If there’s one thing PC excels at, it’s giving you options, and when it comes to archiving your files, you have many of them. In this article, let’s discuss the differences between the many popular compressed file archive formats .

What is a ZIP archive?

WinZip is one of the first file archivers thatgained widespread popularity, and it allows users to compress files as a ZIParchive.

Here are the main differences that the ZIP format has over other archive file types:

  • Files can be stored withoutcompression.
  • Each file within the archive iscompressed separately. This allows for the use of different algorithms and ahigher compression ratio but comes with the drawback of a larger archive filesize when compressing a large number of small files.
  • ZIP’s password-based encryptionwas criminally weak up until 2003 (when AES was added).
  • Up until extensions came around, therewas a 4 GB hard limit to everything: uncompressed file size, compressed filesize, and total archive size.
  • ZIP compression is faster and notas CPU-intensive as many of today’s popular alternatives.
  • ZIP is supported by the majorityof Linux distributions and all versions of Windows (since XP) out of the box.

What is a RAR archive?

WinRAR became famous for its never ending “trial” period. After 30 days, you’d begin getting a popup in WinRAR stating that your trial had ended, which you could then just… close. RAR, named after its developer, Eugene Roshal, is an incredibly popular archive format today.

Here’s how it differs from the crowd:

  • RAR allows for the modularization of archives into volumes, which is an efficient way to store massive files.
  • You can alternatively compress files into a single block (solid format).
  • AES encryption is standard.
  • Archives can be protected by a password.
  • Compression of audio files is especially efficient (up to 90%).
  • RAR archives can be embedded within other files. Did you know you can hide a RAR archive in a JPEG ?
  • Many RAR extraction routines have been rewritten as open-source software.
  • RAR has an overall better compression ratio when compared to ZIP, its biggest competitor.

What is a 7Z archive?

Unsurprisingly, the 7Z archive format wasintroduced by Windows application 7-Zip. That was all the way back in 1999!7-Zip and a library to read the 7Z file format are both publicly availableunder the GNU Lesser General Public License.

Here are some of 7Z’s features:

  • 7Z has an architecture that isboth modular and open, which allows compressing, converting, and encryptingfiles via various stacking methods.
  • Files can be compressed at ratiosaround 2–10%.
  • AES encryption is standard.
  • All of the archive headers arecompressed. Archive headers store information about how to handle blocks ofdata within the archive.
  • Extremely large (billions of GB)files are supported.
  • Supported compression algorithms(LZMA/LZMA2, PPMd, BZip2) can benefit from parallel computing on modernmulti-core CPUs.

What is a TAR archive?

TAR is the most popular archive file format onUnix and Unix-like systems. It’s important to understand that each TAR is onlyan archive file. It’s used in tandem with GZ, which is used to compress filesand has no archiving capabilities itself. Together, they create a“tarball” file (TAR.GZ format).

TAR enables receiving compressed HTTPresponses and sending compressed requests, allowing compression ratios to reachup to 80%. This archive format is most often used for backup and distributingcontent across Linux flavors. TAR archives preserve group permissions, dates,directory structures, and other important file system information.

As you can see, each archive format has itspros and cons—choose wisely depending on the type of files you’re compressingand the purpose of your archive. Compression ratio, speed, and security are allworth taking into account, and there’s a time and place for each of theseformats!