What’s A Zip File?

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You can download a free trial version with limited functionality at winzip.com if you’d like to try before you buy.

Any file that ends in “.zip” is a zip file, or “archive”. You can think of an archive as a collection of individual files that are all being stored together in a single location, like putting a bunch of different papers into a file folder in real life to keep them all together.

How Are Zip Files Created?

A zip file is created using a special utility program, like WinZip, that allows you to combine a bunch of separate files into a single file and “compress” them, which makes the final, single file smaller in terms of file size than all the separate files added up together.

You can then send that final, “zipped” file to someone else, and they can “unzip” it, or “extract” the files in it, using either the same, or a similar, zip utility program. Note that some computer operating systems (like Windows 7) come with an unzip utility already installed.

You can tell if your computer is one of these by right-clicking on a zipped file (its icon looks like that picture on the WinZip box, a filing cabinet held in a compression bracket) and seeing if “unzip” or “extract” is one of the options that shows up in the pop-up file menu.

This YouTube video shows how to unzip files in Windows 7.

When the file is unzipped, all of the files that were combined to make it are broken out as separate, individual files again.

Why Would Anyone Make A Zip File?

The first reason is to be able to send an entire folder of documents or files in one attachment, rather than sending each individual document or file separately.

Zip and RAR files: like Space Bags for your data.

The second reason is for the “compression” aspect. I won’t get into the particulars of how zipped files are compressed, because it’s pretty technical and boring.

Suffice it to say that zipping a collection of files is sort of like cramming a bunch of bedclothes into a Space Bag and then sucking all the air out: all of your stuff takes up less space, but when you open the bag (or zip file) later, everything springs back out to its original size.

What About RAR Files?

Any file that ends in “.rar” is a RAR file, and RAR files are just another type of archive. It’s basically the same thing as a zip file, but it was created, and can only be opened, by a utility for RAR files.

Zip files are the more common of the two archive types.


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