1. Computing

What is a ZIP File?

By

Zip File Icon

Question: What is a ZIP File?

Did you find a ZIP file on your computer and wonder what program should open it? Maybe someone emailed you a ZIP file but you're not sure how to use it. Perhaps you tried to open the ZIP file but Windows told you that it could not open it.

Before you can open a ZIP file (assuming it's even a file format that's intended to be viewed or edited), you'll need to determine what kind of file the .ZIP file extension refers to.

Answer: A file with the ZIP file extension is a ZIP Compressed file.

Other types of files may also use the ZIP file extension. If you know of any additional file formats that use the .ZIP extension, please let me know so I can update this information.

How To Open a ZIP File:

The easiest way to open a ZIP file is to double-click on it and let your PC decide which default application should open the file. If no program opens the ZIP file then you probably don't have an application installed that can view and/or edit ZIP files.

Warning: Take great care when opening executable file formats received via email or downloaded from websites you're not familiar with. See my List of Executable File Extensions for a listing of file extensions to avoid and why.

ZIP files can be opened with just about every compression/decompression in existence. There's a reason they're commonly referred to as zip/unzip tools! See this List of Free File Extractors for reviews on the best free unzip programs out there.

Just about all program that unzip ZIP files also have the ability to zip them - in other words, they can compress one or more files into the ZIP format. If I had to recommend one or two, it'd be PeaZip or 7-Zip, both excellent and completely free programs that support ZIP.

If you know anything else useful about ZIP files, please let me know so I can update this page.

Tip: Use Notepad or another text editor to open the ZIP file. Many files are text-only files meaning no matter the file extension, a text editor may be able to properly display the file's contents. This is highly unlikely to be helpful for ZIP files, but if you think maybe yours isn't actually a ZIP compressed file, it might be worth a try.

If you find that an application on your PC does try to open the ZIP file but it's the wrong application or if you would rather have another installed program open ZIP files, see my How To Change the Default Program for a Specific File Extension guide for making that change in Windows.

How To Convert a ZIP File:

There are two main ways to attempt to convert a ZIP file to another file type:

The first option involving opening the ZIP file in its native program is preferable because it's both easier and will probably result in a more accurate file conversion. Of course if you don't have a program that opens ZIP files, a third-party file conversion tool (the second option) could be very useful.

Important: You cannot usually change a file extension (like the ZIP file extension) to one that your computer recognizes and expect the newly renamed file to be usable. An actual file format conversion using one of the methods described above must take place in most cases.

Still Having Problems Opening or Using a ZIP File?

See Get More Help for information about contacting me on social networks or via email, posting on tech support forums, and more. Let me know what kinds of problems you're having with opening or using the ZIP file and I'll see what I can do to help.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.