Tar Extract a Single File(s) From a Large Tarball

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Q. I’ve couple of large tarballs such as www.tar and images.tar. Is it possible to extract a single file or a list of files from a large tarball such as images.tar instead of extracting the entire tarball? How do I extract specific files under Linux / UNIX operating systems?


A. GNU tar can be used to extract a single or more files from a tarball. To extract specific archive members, give their exact member names as arguments, as printed by -t option.

Extracting Specific Files

Extract a file called etc/default/sysstat from config.tar.gz tarball:
$ tar -ztvf config.tar.gz
$ tar -zxvf config.tar.gz etc/default/sysstat
$ tar -xvf {tarball.tar} {path/to/file}

Some people prefers following syntax:
tar --extract --file={tarball.tar} {file}
Extract a directory called css from cbz.tar:
$ tar --extract --file=cbz.tar css

Wildcard based extracting

You can also extract those files that match a specific globbing pattern (wildcards). For example, to extract from cbz.tar all files that begin with pic, no matter their directory prefix, you could type:
$ tar -xf cbz.tar --wildcards --no-anchored 'pic*'
To extract all php files, enter:
$ tar -xf cbz.tar --wildcards --no-anchored '*.php'


  • -x: instructs tar to extract files.
  • -f: specifies filename / tarball name.
  • -v: Verbose (show progress while extracting files).
  • -j : filter archive through bzip2, use to decompress .bz2 files.
  • -z: filter archive through gzip, use to decompress .gz files.
  • –wildcards: instructs tar to treat command line arguments as globbing patterns.
  • –no-anchored: informs it that the patterns apply to member names after any / delimiter.

Further readings:

  • GNU tar man page


Posted by: Vivek Gite

The author is the creator of nixCraft and a seasoned sysadmin, DevOps engineer, and a trainer for the Linux operating system/Unix shell scripting. Get the latest tutorials on SysAdmin, Linux/Unix and open source topics via RSS/XML feed or weekly email newsletter.

22 comment

  1. I suggest getting coffee especially, Extracting files from large tar files.
    Instead of using tar, it’s far better to use zip as methode. the reason for this is that zip knows where the files are.

    We have some 4 Gb tar files and extracting a couple of single files with tar can take up to 25 minutes.

    My 2 cents,


    1. good advice, I am waiting here for a file to be extracted from a 7GB tar file which is stored on a different computer. Its going to be a long night I think.

      1. I got ahold of a dataset that contains extracts of different research papers. After extracting them I went to verify them I saw one file was empty. Checked the rest of the files and for some reason this is the only one.

        Thinking there might have been a problem, I decided to reextract that file again.

        It’s a 65GB tar.gz file.

        It finished this morning. The file was indeed empty and it wasn’t an error. Days wasted for that…

  2. My problem is that i have downloaded a movie.
    But my mvie is corrupt in da end
    now i have downloaded 8th part of the movie.
    but when i extract it
    i gives me error
    is dere any way i can resole this n can only extract on file.

    1. I think you are talking about a multiple RAR archive downloaded from a torrent client. if it is, you have search the answer in other forum.


  3. On Solaris 10 if you have a tar ball called myTarfile.tar and you want to extract only one directory called my_dir from that tar file then below command workes

    tar -xvf myTarfile.tar -C my_dir

  4. For better speed and low cpu usage use pbzip2, very good work with big archives on hosting systems.

  5. there is need to type command in proper way with proper

    symbols and spaces tar -xvf {tarfile} {file} or {{path}/{file}}.

    Example: tar -xvf file.tar myfold/file

    same with tar.gz types just instead of -xvf , -xvzf should be

    typed. or if with -C option then:

    Example : tar -xvf file.tar -C /newfold myfold/file

  6. Thanks for the post!

    I have a 68gb tar.gz backup of our website, and I need to extract a single file from it..

    $ tar -zxvf config.tar.gz home/path/to/folder/*

    Is the above line correct?

    1. `tar tvzf config.tar.gz ` with the -t flag instead of -x will list the files in the archive. From this output it will be easier to extract specific files/folders, just copy & paste the path/file you want from it. `tar xvzf config.tar.gz path/to/file`

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