How to Zip and Unzip Files on Windows 11

Compressing (also known as “archiving” or “zipping”) multiple files into one makes the overall file size smaller, and easier to manage and download. Even if you never expect to zip your own files, others are already doing it to their files. These include documents, applications, or games you want to download. Knowing how to uncompress gives you access to the files within them.

This guide shows you how to unzip and unzip files using the built-in tools on Windows 11 and the popular and free archiving software, 7-Zip and WinRAR.

Compress and uncompress files using Windows 11’s built-in archive tools

Windows 10 and 11 come with built-in support to create and extract archives

How to zip files

To place multiple files or folders into a single compressed archive, follow these steps:

  1. Run File Explorer by pressing Windows Key + E. Select the files and folders you want to place into an archive. Right-click them and choose Compress to ZIP file.

    Win11 Archives Built In Compress
    Win11 built-in Compress To Zip option.
  2. Give your new archive a name that reflects its contents.
    Win11 Archives Rename
    Changing a Zip archive’s name on Windows 11.

    Note: the file created will be a .zip file

How to unzip files

  1. Open the folder containing your .zip files in it.
  2. Select your .zip file, right-click on it and select Extract from the menu. You can also choose Extract all from File Explorer’s toolbar. Win11 Archives Menu ExtractUsing Windows 11’s built-in Zip support to extract a Zip archive.
  3. Finally, choose a destination folder where you want to extract the archive’s contents.

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

Compress and uncompress files using third-party applications

After ZIP, the two most popular archive formats are 7z and RAR. The official tools for them, respectively, are 7-Zip and WinRAR.

7-Zip

7-Zip is free and open-source. Install it on your PC, then follow these steps:

Archiving files using 7-Zip

  1. Choose the files and folders you want to archive. Then, right-click on them, and select Show more options.

    Win11 Archives 7Zip Show More Options
    Select Show more options on Windows 11
  2. Go to the 7-Zip entry from the “classic” right-click menu that shows up. Choose Add to archive from the submenu.

    Win11 Archives 7Zip Add to Archive
    7-Zip’s right-click option to add all selected files and folders to a compressed archive.
  3. 7-Zip’s Add to Archive window will appear. Enter a name for your archive in the field next to Archive, and use the button with the three dots to choose the destination folder (where you want the archive saved). You can set your Archive format using the dropdown (e.g., .7z or .zip). You can configure the other options as you prefer (e.g., set a compression level and method).

    Tweaking the to-be-created archive's options from 7-Zip's Add To Archive window.
    Tweaking the to-be-created archive’s options from 7-Zip’s Add To Archive window.

Extracting files using 7-Zip

Extracting files from an archive with 7-Zip is straightforward.

  1. Right-click the archive you want to extract and go to Show more options > 7-Zip > Extract files or Extract here. Extract files allows you to choose a custom directory for the extracted files. Extract Here extracts them to the same folder as the archive.

    Win11 Archives 7Zip Extract
    Extracting a compressed archive with 7Zip.

WinRAR

WinRAR is available as a free trial that you can use indefinitely. Download it, then follow these steps:

Archiving files using WinRAR

  1. Choose the files and folders you want to add to a compressed archive. Then, right-click on one of the selected files or folders. Choose WinRAR, and then Add to archive. If you can’t see the option on Windows 11, select Show more options > WinRAR.

    Win11 Archives WinRAR Add to Archive
    Adding files to a compressed RAR archive with WinRAR’s right-click Add to archive option.
  2. Enter a name for your archive in the field under Archive name. Then, use the Browse button to choose the destination folder where you want to create it. You can also select an Archive format (RAR, RAR 4, or ZIP), a Compression method, and various other options. Finally, click OK to start compressing the selected content into an archive.

    Win11 Archives WinRAR Archive Name and Parameters
    Adjusting the archive’s name and parameters with WinRAR.

Extracting files using WinRAR

  1. To extract an archive with WinRAR, right-click on it and choose the extraction option you prefer from the WinRAR submenu.

    Win11 Archives WinRAR Extract
    Choosing WinRAR’s Extract Here option to “unpack” an archive’s contents in the same folder as the archive.

Incompatible Archives>

Most archive management solutions today support various archive formats. Therefore, tools like 7-Zip and WinRAR are not limited to a specific format.

While these applications can usually only compress to specific formats, they have greater compatibility with extracting different archive formats. For example, 7-Zip can extract RAR archives but not create them, and vice-versa.

Compression Master

Working with archives of any type on Windows 11 has been made simpler. The OS itself comes with support for basic archive management. When you need compatibility with more formats, there are free and, in many cases, open-source applications available.

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