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Options Controlling the Overwriting of Existing Files

When extracting files, if tar discovers that the extracted file already exists, it normally replaces the file by removing it before extracting it, to prevent confusion in the presence of hard or symbolic links. (If the existing file is a symbolic link, it is removed, not followed.) However, if a directory cannot be removed because it is nonempty, tar normally overwrites its metadata (ownership, permission, etc.). The --overwrite-dir option enables this default behavior. To be more cautious and preserve the metadata of such a directory, use the --no-overwrite-dir option.

To be even more cautious and prevent existing files from being replaced, use the --keep-old-files (-k) option. It causes tar to refuse to replace or update a file that already exists, i.e., a file with the same name as an archive member prevents extraction of that archive member. Instead, it reports an error.

To be more aggressive about altering existing files, use the --overwrite option. It causes tar to overwrite existing files and to follow existing symbolic links when extracting.

Some people argue that GNU tar should not hesitate to overwrite files with other files when extracting. When extracting a tar archive, they expect to see a faithful copy of the state of the file system when the archive was created. It is debatable that this would always be a proper behavior. For example, suppose one has an archive in which usr/local is a link to usr/local2. Since then, maybe the site removed the link and renamed the whole hierarchy from /usr/local2 to /usr/local. Such things happen all the time. I guess it would not be welcome at all that GNU tar removes the whole hierarchy just to make room for the link to be reinstated (unless it also simultaneously restores the full /usr/local2, of course!) GNU tar is indeed able to remove a whole hierarchy to reestablish a symbolic link, for example, but only if --recursive-unlink is specified to allow this behavior. In any case, single files are silently removed.

Finally, the --unlink-first (-U) option can improve performance in some cases by causing tar to remove files unconditionally before extracting them.

  Published under the terms of the GNU General Public License Design by Interspire