tar option... [name]...tar letter... [argument]... [option]... [name]...
The second form is for when old options are being used.
You can use tar to store files in an archive, to extract them from
an archive, and to do other types of archive manipulation. The primary
argument to tar, which is called the operation, specifies
which action to take. The other arguments to tar are either
options, which change the way tar performs an operation,
or file names or archive members, which specify the files or members
tar is to act on.
You can actually type in arguments in any order, even if in this manual
the options always precede the other arguments, to make examples easier
to understand. Further, the option stating the main operation mode
(the tar main command) is usually given first.
Each name in the synopsis above is interpreted as an archive member
name when the main command is one of --compare
(--diff, -d), --delete, --extract
(--get, -x), --list (-t) or
--update (-u). When naming archive members, you
must give the exact name of the member in the archive, as it is
printed by --list. For --append (-r) and
--create (-c), these name arguments specify
the names of either files or directory hierarchies to place in the archive.
These files or hierarchies should already exist in the file system,
prior to the execution of the tar command.
tar interprets relative file names as being relative to the
working directory. tar will make all file names relative
(by removing leading slashes when archiving or restoring files),
unless you specify otherwise (using the --absolute-names
option). See absolute, for more information about
If you give the name of a directory as either a file name or a member
name, then tar acts recursively on all the files and directories
beneath that directory. For example, the name / identifies all
the files in the file system to tar.
The distinction between file names and archive member names is especially
important when shell globbing is used, and sometimes a source of confusion
for newcomers. See Wildcards, for more information about globbing.
The problem is that shells may only glob using existing files in the
file system. Only tar itself may glob on archive members, so when
needed, you must ensure that wildcard characters reach tar without
being interpreted by the shell first. Using a backslash before ‘*’
or ‘?’, or putting the whole argument between quotes, is usually
sufficient for this.
Even if names are often specified on the command line, they
can also be read from a text file in the file system, using the
--files-from=file-of-names (-T file-of-names) option.
If you don't use any file name arguments, --append (-r),
--delete and --concatenate (--catenate,
-A) will do nothing, while --create (-c)
will usually yield a diagnostic and inhibit tar execution.
The other operations of tar (--list,
--extract, --compare, and --update)
will act on the entire contents of the archive.
Besides successful exits, GNU tar may fail for
many reasons. Some reasons correspond to bad usage, that is, when the
tar command is improperly written. Errors may be
encountered later, while encountering an error processing the archive
or the files. Some errors are recoverable, in which case the failure
is delayed until tar has completed all its work. Some
errors are such that it would not meaningful, or at least risky, to
continue processing: tar then aborts processing immediately.
All abnormal exits, whether immediate or delayed, should always be
clearly diagnosed on stderr, after a line stating the nature of
GNU tar returns only a few exit statuses. I'm really
aiming simplicity in that area, for now. If you are not using the
--compare--diff, -d) option, zero means
that everything went well, besides maybe innocuous warnings. Nonzero
means that something went wrong. Right now, as of today, “nonzero”
is almost always 2, except for remote operations, where it may be
Published under the terms of the GNU General Public License