How to Create and Open Tar File on Mac: 2 Easy Ways

Peter William
July 17, 2019 Preview 30.6K Preview 1
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You can easily group files or directories into one single archive file for convenient distribution, backup or other purposes. Tar is one of the mostly used archive file formats on Unix-like systems. This article will show you how to easily create tar file on Mac Catalina, Mojave, High Sierra and earlier and how to open it.

What is a tar file?

tar file iconA tar file is an archive file created with a software utility of the same name. Compatible with Unix, Unix-like and Microsoft Windows, it is used to collect multiple files into an archive file (which can be called a tarball). The name tar stands for tape archive, and the format was originally developed to save data to tape drives.

It is just a way of collecting data of all kinds (files, directories, etc.) together and doesn’t do any kind of compression. A basic tar file has a .tar extension. You may see files ending with .tar.gz or .tar.bz2. What are they? They are still tar files (or tarballs). In cases like these, files are not only packed but also compressed with compressors such as gzip or bzip2. By doing so, one can create a smaller tar file for more efficient backup or distribution.

How to create tar file on Mac

Method 1. Use professional software

The best way to make a .tar file on Mac is to use Cisdem Unarchiver. This tar file creator is extremely easy for everyone to use. It offers a batch mode, allowing you to create tar files in bulk, which helps improve efficiency. Versatile and powerful, it supports 13 archive formats and can also work as a tar file extractor. The app is compatible with OS X 10.7 Lion or later.

Step 1. Download and install Cisdem Unarchiver. Launch it.

Free Download

Step 2. In the toolbar, click iPack. To create tar file on Mac, click Add in the iPack window. Select the files or directories/folders you need to pack. Click Open.

select files to create a tar archive

Step 3. Click Compress. Name your tar archive file and select a location to keep it. Click the Format dropdown list and choose the option Compress these files into a tar file.

choose tar as the archive file format

Step 4. Click Save.

Method 2. Use Terminal

macOS comes with a built-in solution to create tar files. The instructions below will show you how to create a .tar.gz file. If you don't feel comfortable using Terminal, you can try the method above.

Step 1. Open Finder. Go to the top menu bar. Select Go > Utilities > Terminal.

Step 2. In Terminal, type syntax like:

tar -cvzf yourtarfilename.tar.gz itemstoarchive

For example, as shown in the screenshot below, to create tar file from all the files on desktop, you can type:

ar -cvzf desktoparchive.tar.gz /Users/YaphetS/Desktop/

create tar file on Mac in Terminal

Step 3. Hit Return. Now you should be able to find the .tar.gz file in Home.

How to open tar file on Mac

When it comes to opening a tar file, you can double-click the archive, and then your Mac (or Windows PC) will open it with an associated default or third-part app. However, if that doesn’t happen, you will need to open it using a different method.

Method 1. Use Cisdem Unarchiver

Cisdem Unarchiver can also be used to safely open and unzip tar files on Mac.

Step 1. Download this tar file extractor. Open it.

Step 2. In the tool bar, click Add. Select the tar file you want to open. Click Open.

Step 3. Now you can easily select file(s) to preview and extract. Here we will select the entire .tar file. Click Extract. Choose a folder. Click Save.

open a tar file on Mac

A new folder will be created, and you can find all the unzipped files there.

Method 2. Use Terminal

Step 1. To open tar file on Mac using command line, open Terminal.

Step 2. Type syntax like this:

tar xvzf desktoparchive.tar.gz

extract a tar file on Mac in Terminal

Step 3. Press Return.

To find the extracted files, open Finder and go to the toolbar at the top of your screen. Select Go > Home and find a folder called Users (which is newly created and contains a subfolder called Desktop). Click the said folder Desktop and you will find all the files that where once packed into the tar ball.

Note: Here’s an important note. A tar bomb can be created with using the tar command, which may lead to the risk of overwriting files. For more information, you can check out the tar bomb related content in this article.


It’s easy to create tar on Mac or untar such as an archive using software or in Terminal. If you often need to zip or unzip files, then it’s a good idea to use professional software like Cisdem Unarchiver. Of course, you can also choose to tar files by using command line.

Peter William
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Peter has always had great enthusiasm for writing, programming and web development. He likes writing about software and technology, his works are featured on some tech blogs or forums like Tom's Hardware, CNET, etc.

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  • Barlow

    It can also save tar files with password. thanks for your article, this is what I need.

    7 years ago commonReply

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