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File Extensions

ZIP File Format

SUMMARY: Zip archives defined, including how they are created and unpacked.

The .ZIP extension signifies that a file is a ZIP archive. This allows people to package a complete game, screensaver, application, electronic book, or whatever as one larger file instead of multiple smaller files, for example before sending them via e-mail. ZIP files are used often in Windows environments, and you will also see them on Mac and Un*x-based machines.

ZIP files can be created by a third-party external creation tool, but most modern operating systems have the ability to create basic .ZIP files internally without downloading such software. The process takes a group of files and mashes them ("zips" them) together into one "archive" file, sometimes reducing the amount of space the ZIP file takes on the hard drive ("compressing"). After the ZIP file is transferred, the recipient takes the ZIP file and "unzips" it, causing the original files to appear on their hard drive. Again, while third-party unzipping tools exist, most operating systems can do so directly.


Creating a .ZIP file, or "Compressed Folder", in Windows 7 Explorer by selecting files, right-clicking, and selecting "Send To -> Compressed (zipped) folder



In certain cases, .ZIP files can be password protected. This way (theoretically) only the recipient, knowing the password, can unzip the file. You may wish to use a third-party package to perform compression, as different ones use their own compression mechanisms that may be easier/harder to break.

MalekTips has a list of software that supports zipping and unzipping files. You may also wish to try the following software packages:

* Info-Zip, a freeware ZIP/UNZIP software package that works on multiple platforms.

* PKWARE, the creator of the ZIP file format.

Note that ZIP files can contain virtually any type of file, including other ZIP files (you can place a ZIP archive inside of another archive). While most ZIP files contain legitimate text files, executables, photos, music, etc., it is possible for malicious people to distribute rogue ZIP files containing spyware, viruses, and more. Thus, never unzip and use a ZIP file from an unknown recipient!

Windows users: Note that unless you have configured your computer with the file extension viewing tweak, it is possible that a filename that looks like it ends with ".zip", especially one attached to an e-mail message, actually has a hidden OTHER extension, meaning that if you double-click the file, it may actually run a computer virus!

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The MalekTips website was created in 1998 by Andrew Malek of Envision Programming. The page's goal is to freely disperse computer-related tips, hints, and informative articles. Tips are organized to be easy to find, and are presented clearly, in easy-to-understand language. MalekTips also provides information and links to public-domain, open source, freeware, shareware, and commercial software available for download.