How to Extract Files on Windows

How to Extract Files on Windows

Many files compressed into archives such as .zip, .rar, and .7z must be extracted or unzipped to access the content within. They are compressed because it makes it easier to “package” and send a group of files such as documents, games, or music. Even if you don’t compress your own files, you should learn how to extract such archives to gain access to the files within them.

This guide shows you how to unzip these files using the built-in Windows utility and free third-party apps that offer more versatility.

Method #1: Extract natively

There are two quick and straightforward ways to extract archives in Windows without downloading any additional software or tools. This method will work for .zip and .rar files.

Extract the file

To extract a file’s contents, right-click on it and select Extract from the menu.

Win11 Archives Menu Extract
Right-click the file and select Extract.

Finally, choose the destination folder where you want to extract the archive’s contents.

Win11 Archives Extract Destination Path
Select a destination path for the extracted files.

Double click the file to open it

You can “enter” any .zip archive by double-clicking on it in File Explorer. Any change you try to apply, like renaming or modifying a file, will have it extracted in the background and then re-added to the archive. That’s why managing the contents of an archive is a tad slower than working with standard folders. Still, it’s easier to check one or two files in an archive this way instead of fully extracting all its contents.

Win11 Archives Managing Contents
Checking a compressed Zip archive’s contents with Windows File Explorer.

Method #2: Extract using 7-Zip

7-Zip is a free, lightweight software that, according to their official website, can be used to unpack these file formats: 7z, XZ, BZIP2, GZIP, TAR, ZIP and WIM, APFS, AR, ARJ, CAB, CHM, CPIO, CramFS, DMG, EXT, FAT, GPT, HFS, IHEX, ISO, LZH, LZMA, MBR, MSI, NSIS, NTFS, QCOW2, RAR, RPM, SquashFS, UDF, UEFI, VDI, VHD, VHDX, VMDK, WIM, XAR, and Z.

First, download and install it using this link:

Then, follow these steps:

Right-click your archived file, then click on 7-Zip (you might have to select Show more options first). From the submenu, select Extract files to choose where you want the archive unzipped. Alternatively, you can select Extract Here to have everything extracted in the same folder as the archive.

Win11 Archives 7Zip Extract
Unpacking an archive using 7-Zip.

Method #3: Extract using WinRAR

WinRAR is a trialware software that is one of the most popular tools to pack and unpack archives. It supports unpacking the following file formats: RAR, ZIP, CAB, ARJ, LZH, TAR, GZ, Tar.GZ, TG,  XZ, BZ2, and TAR.BZ2, UUE, JAR, 7Z, Z and ISO.

First, download WinRAR using this link:

Then, follow these steps to extract your archive:

Right-click the file you want to extract, and choose the extraction option you prefer from the WinRAR submenu. You can choose Extract files… to choose where you want to unpack the archive. Alternatively, use the Extract Here option to unpack the contents within the same folder.

Win11 Archives WinRAR Extract
Extracting a file using WinRAR.

Erik is a full-time product quality engineer at the IBM who has a passion for teaching others (and always learning) about technology. He has a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science and Engineering from Eindhoven University of Technology. Erik is the chief editor for Windows, Linux and coding tutorials.

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