TAR - Unix File Archive

Last modified by Farooq Sheikh on 2019/07/17 07:55

Files with TAR extension are archives created with Unix-based utility for collecting one or more files. Multiple files are stored in an uncompressed format with the support of adding files as well as folders to the archive. TAR utility on Unix is Command based, but files hence created are supported by most file archiving systems on almost all operating systems. It was first created in 1979 by the AT&T Bell Laboratories and subsequent versions were published with the passage of time. 

TAR File Format

TAR is an open file format with full specifications available for developer's reference. Its file structure was standardized in POSIX.1-1988 and later in POSIX.1-2001. The data sets created by tar retain information about file system parameters such as:

  • Name
  • Time Stamps
  • Ownership
  • File Access Permissions
  • Directory Organization

A Tar file doesn't have any magic number. It contains a series of blocks where each block is of BLOCKSIZE bytes.

Each file archived is represented by a header block which describes the file, followed by zero or more blocks which give the contents of the file. At the end of the archive file there are two 512-byte blocks filled with binary zeros as an end-of-file marker. A reasonable system should write such end-of-file marker at the end of an archive, but must not assume that such a block exists when reading an archive. In particular GNU tar always issues a warning if it does not encounter it.

The blocks may be blocked for physical I/O operations. Each record of n blocks (where n is set by the `--blocking-factor=512-size' (`-b 512-size') option to tar) is written with a single `write ()' operation. On magnetic tapes, the result of such a write is a single record. When writing an archive, the last record of blocks should be written at the full size, with blocks after the zero block containing all zeros. When reading an archive, a reasonable system should properly handle an archive whose last record is shorter than the rest, or which contains garbage records after a zero block.


Like any other file headers, the tar file header record contains metadata about a file and is shown in the following table. 

Field offsetField size (Bytes)Field
0100File name
1008File mode
1088Owner's numeric user ID
1168Group's numeric user ID
12412File size in bytes (octal base)
13612Last modification time in numeric Unix time format (octal)
1488Checksum for header record
1561Link indicator (file type)
157100Name of linked file

Unused fields are filled with NUL bytes. A header comprises of 257 bytes which is padded with NUL bytes to make it fill to 512 byte record.


Created by Farooq Sheikh on 2019/07/10 12:48