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Your guide to opening RAR files: All you need to know! 

Did you know that RAR file stands for Roshal Archive Compressed file? (Bring that up in conversation to amaze and delight boring people). Read on for a handy guide to the world of RAR files. Find out what they are, how to create and convert them, and explore the benefits. But…don’t let the drive for ultra-small files distract you from the large issue of online safety. Avira offers a range of free and premium solutions to help protect you from online threats (even the latest). You can also help keep your devices cleaner, leaner, and up to date.  


What are RAR files? 

You know those plastic containers that contain lots of smaller containers? You probably have a load stacked in a kitchen cupboard at home (with missing lids). They’re great for storage and because they’re stackable, they save space too. A RAR file is like a digital version of these. It’s a compressed archive file that holds other files or folders inside it (like a data “container”) in a compressed format to save space. RAR files can also be split into multiple smaller parts, making it easier to store and transfer large files. Unlike the “normal” folders that are probably scattered all over your desktop, a RAR file needs special software to open it. More on this later…  

This compressed file format was created by the Russian software engineer, Eugene Roshal, in 1993 and is currently licensed and maintained by the software company, WinRAR GmbH. RAR files are popular because they can compress files to a smaller size than other compression formats like ZIP, while maintaining the same quality of data. Impressive! 

Did you know that most file extensions are pronounced as their individual letters? RAR is spoken like the single word itself: Say “RAHR!” as if you were auditioning for the Lion King. 

What are RAR files used for? 

RAR files are used mainly for file compression, so they compress one or more files to save disk space. This is particularly useful when transferring large files over the internet or when storing them on a disk. It’s not just about squeezing data into a smaller format though! There are many other instances when RAR files come in very handy, including: 

Backup: RAR files can be used to create backups of important files and data. The compressed files take up less space, making it easier to store and transfer them. 

File archiving: RAR files can be used to store multiple files in a single archive. This makes it easier to manage and organize files. 

Distribution: If you’re downloading software, you may find that it’s a RAR file. Software distributors and file sharing websites use RAR formats so they can compress the files to a smaller size. You can then download them more quickly. Some RAR files are also split into different parts for even faster transmission.  

Security: The contents of RAR files can be encrypted and the entire folder protected with a password. If you don’t know the password, the contents remain hidden. Back to our box analogy: So RAR files are like locked boxes full of data. The password is the key. 

What is the difference between RAR and ZIP? 

If there was such a thing as a file compression battle, who would come out on top? RAR and ZIP go head-to-head. They’re both file compression formats and both support password protection, but they use different encryption methods and different compression algorithms to achieve this. RAR files are generally more efficient at compressing files than ZIP, so they can create smaller archives, but this usually takes longer. However, ZIP files are more widely supported by software and operating systems, which can make them the more popular and convenient choice. 

Another difference between RAR and ZIP files is that RAR files can be split into multiple smaller parts, which makes it easier to store and transfer large files. This feature is not available in ZIP files.  

When it comes to the power of compressing and organizing files, and fast transfer speeds, RAR just has the edge over ZIP. But don’t feel too bad about ZIP. They still win the popularity contest. If you do want to give RAR a whirl, you’ll need the specialist software outlined in the next sections.  

Before we leap into opening files, here’s a timely reminder: Only open files from trusted and verified sources as they could be packed with malware! A few years ago, a wave of malware famously abused RAR files. At the very least, please always ensure that you have online threat protection (and that it’s always up to date!).  


How do you open RAR files in Windows? 

To open files ending in .rar you need a special RAR file opener. Without the right software, you’ll feel like your files are packed in a tin and you’re standing there without a tin opener. Here are some of the most popular applications for opening RAR files in Windows only: 

Top tip! WinRAR:  This is a paid app from the developers who created the .rar file format but there’s also a free trial. It extracts and creates RAR files on Windows. Here’s how to get started:  

  1. Download an install the WinRAR app. 
  2. Right-click the RAR file you want to open and select “Open with WinRAR”. 
  3. Click “Extract To”, and then select a destination folder. Your RAR file has now been opened, and all the files are available in the destination folder you selected. 

A free alternative. 7-Zip: This free, open-source app offers a high compression ratio and its own archive format called 7z. It’s only available for Windows PCs. Follow these instructions:  

  1. Download and install the 7-Zip app. 
  2. Right-click the RAR file you want to open and click “7zip” on the menu. 
  3. On the expanded menu, click “Open archive” to open the 7zip file manager. 
  4. Click “Extract”.  
  5. Choose the destination location and then click “OK”. Your RAR file is now open and its contents available in the destination folder.  

How do you open RAR files on a Mac? 

WinZip is the most widely used software for converting RAR files on Apple machines, but if you’re looking for a Mac-only converter, here it is:   

The Unarchiver: This free app promises to extract any compressed formats on Macs in seconds. Get started fast:  

  1. Download and install it directly from The Unarchiver or get it on the App Store. 
  2. Open the app and select “RAR Archive” on the Archive Formats screen. 
  3. Click the “Extraction” tab from the three available tabs and select how you want the extracted folder to be saved. Choose from “Same folder as the archive” or “Ask for a destination folder”.  
  4. Right-click the .rar formatted file and select Open With > The Unarchiver. 
  5. Select a destination folder for the files. Click “Extract”. Your RAR file is now open and the folders it contains are available in the destination folder.  

How to open RAR files on an iPhone or iPad 

Put the power of RAR files in the palm of your hand with iZip. The free app handles both ZIP and RAR files on iPhones and iPads, but it’s also available for Mac, Windows PCs.  

  1. Download it from the App Store or at iZip directly.  
  2. Find the RAR file on your iPhone. Then tap the iOS share icon and select “iZip”. 
  3. When prompted, select “OK” and all files will be unzipped.  

How to open RAR files on an Android  

It’s not just for Android! WinZip can open RAR and ZIP files on Windows, Mac, and iOS too. It’s a paid app, and highly flexible. Here’s how to use WinZip on an Android phone:  

  1. Download it directly from WinZip or get it at the Google Play store.   
  2. Click the WinZip icon on your home screen to open the app. Tap “Start” and then select the free trial option. 
  3. Find the RAR file you want to open.  
  4. Tap the three dots next to the RAR file and select “Unzip to”. 
  5. Select a destination folder for the extracted files. Then click “Unzip here”. Your RAR file is now open. You’ll find the files available in a new folder with the same name as the original RAR file. 

Here’s how to create a RAR file 

It should come as no surprise at this stage that you’ll need file archiving software that supports the RAR format. There isn’t a huge selection to choose from because Alexander Roshal is the copyright owner of RAR, and software developers must have permission from him to re-create the RAR compression algorithm! WinRAR is generally considered the easiest and most effective choice. If you don’t regularly need to create RAR files, you could use the free trial version. At the time of writing (status: 06 May 2023), this is valid for 40 days. Simply follow these steps and you’ll be on your way in no time to creating your first RAR file! 

  1. Download and install WinRAR on your computer (if you don’t already have it). 
  2. Select the folders or files that you want to include in your RAR archive. 
  3. Right-click on the selected files or folders and then click on the “Add” button at the top of the WinRAR window—or select “Add files to archive” in the Commands menu. 
  4. Enter the destination name in the dialog box which appears or simply accept the default name.   
  5. In the “Archive name and parameters” window, select “RAR” as the archive format. You can also choose the compression level, volume size, and other archiving parameters. Higher compression levels will result in smaller file sizes but may take longer to compress.  
  6. Click on the “OK” button when you’re ready to create the archive.  
  7. The software will now compress the selected files or folders into a single RAR archive. During the archiving process, a window will be displayed that shows operation statistics. Press the “Background” button at any time to minimize the WinRAR window. If you want to stop the archiving process, click on the “Cancel” button. When archiving is complete, the command window disappears. Your newly created RAR archive is now the currently selected file.

All done? Once your RAR file has been created, you have a backup or archive of the files you compressed. You can also share it with others via email or apps like Facebook messenger. 

How to convert a RAR file 

Converting a RAR file means changing it into another archive format. So, a file with a RAR extension will become a file with another extension, such as a 7Z, ZIP, LGH, TGZ, TAR, or CAB. First up, it’s important to remember that you can’t convert a RAR file to a non-zipped format. Once it’s compressed, that’s it. If you’re thinking of converting a RAR to a PDF or a RAR to an MP3, we’ll have to crush those dreams now. 

The fastest way to convert a RAR to a ZIP, or another common archive format, is by using a free file converter like Zamzar or FileZigZag. These are online services, so you upload your RAR file to the website and it works its conversion magic: 

Convert RAR files online using Zamzar. Drag and drop files up to 50MB. Choose your format. Select “Convert Now” and you’ll receive an email when it’s done.  

Convert RAR files online using FileZigZag. Simply drag and drop or browse your files and you’re on your way.  FileZigZag claims that its sophisticated conversion engine delivers the best quality conversion, but you be the judge. If you want a conversion that they don’t currently offer, you can submit a recommendation and they’ll try to get it developed! 

A free online RAR converter is useful if the RAR file you’re using is small. There are drawbacks if you’re looking to convert larger files. First, you’ll have to wait for the RAR file to upload and then you’ll wait again for the converted file to download. Wait times for large files can be long, so have a drink (or cat) ready. For large files, consider upgrading to premium offers. Most providers have free and paid versions. MConverter, for example, requires that you choose its paid service for RAR files over 100MB. It promises faster, prioritized conversions in exchange though! 

Don’t download more than you intend to: Stay safe online! 

Downloading software and other files can put you at risk of malware, like viruses and spyware. It can even open a back door, giving others access to your computer and personal data without your knowledge. Only download files and apps from trusted sources and be especially cautious of free software offered online or via email! Avira offers a range of free and premium solutions to help keep you safer online. Avira Free Security helps block malware and comes with free VPN, PC cleaner, and software updater. It can even help manage passwords and help erase sensitive data securely.  


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