Linux User’s Guide | Installing and Using Zcat

Linux User’s Guide | Installing and Using Zcat

Setup of zcat in a Linux terminal a command for displaying compressed file contents

Are you looking to install zcat on your Linux system but aren’t sure where to start? Many Linux users might find the task intimidating. Yet, zcat is a powerful tool to view the contents of a compressed file without decompressing it; it’s a utility worth mastering. Installing zcat will make it easy to view gzip compressed text files via the Linux command line. Additionally, it is readily available on most package management systems, making it a straightforward process once you know-how.

In this tutorial, we will guide you on how to install the zcat command on your Linux system. We will show you methods for both APT and YUM-based distributions, delve into compiling zcat from source, installing a specific version, and finally, how to use the zcat command and ensure it’s installed correctly.

So, let’s dive in and begin installing zcat on your Linux system!

TL;DR: How Do I Install and Use the ‘zcat’ Command in Linux?

In most Linux distributions, the 'zcat' command comes pre-installed. You can verify this with, zcat --version. However, if it isn’t installed to your system, you can add it via the gzip package with the commands: sudo apt-get install gzip or sudo yum install gzip. To use it, simply type zcat filename.gz in the terminal, replacing ‘filename.gz’ with the name of your compressed file.

zcat example.gz

# Output:
# [Contents of example.gz]

This is a basic way to use the zcat command in Linux, but there’s much more to learn about zcat and its capabilities. Continue reading for more detailed information and advanced usage scenarios.

Understanding and Installing the ‘zcat’ Command

The zcat command in Linux is a utility that allows you to view the contents of compressed files, specifically gzip (.gz) files, without having to decompress them first. This can save you time and disk space when working with large compressed files.

To use zcat, you simply type zcat followed by the name of the compressed file you want to view. The command will then print the contents of the file to your terminal.

Installing ‘zcat’ with APT

If you’re using a Debian-based distribution like Ubuntu, you can install zcat using the Advanced Package Tool (APT). In most cases, zcat should already be installed as it is part of the ‘gzip’ package. You can check if it’s installed using the following command:

zcat --version

# Output:
zcat (gzip) 1.6
Copyright 2014 Free Software Foundation

If zcat is not installed, you can install it by installing the ‘gzip’ package:

sudo apt-get install gzip

# Output:
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information... Done
gzip is already the newest version.

Installing ‘zcat’ with YUM

If you’re using a Red Hat-based distribution like CentOS, you can install zcat using the Yellowdog Updater, Modified (YUM). Like with APT, zcat is part of the ‘gzip’ package and is likely already installed. You can check if it’s installed with the same zcat --version command.

If zcat is not installed, you can install it by installing the ‘gzip’ package:

sudo yum install gzip

# Output:
Loaded plugins: fastestmirror
Loading mirror speeds from cached hostfile
Package gzip-1.5-10.el7.x86_64 already installed and latest version
Nothing to do

By now, you should have zcat installed on your Linux system and ready to use. In the next sections, we’ll dive into more advanced installation methods, and basic usage scenarios.

Installing ‘zcat’ from Source Code

Sometimes, you might need to install zcat from its source code. This could be due to the absence of the ‘gzip’ package in your distribution’s repositories, or you might need a specific version that isn’t available through the package manager. Here’s how you can do it:


# Output:
# [Download progress and completion message]
zcat gzip-1.10.tar.gz | tar xvf -

# Output:
# [Extraction progress and completion message]
cd gzip-1.10
sudo make install

# Output:
# [Compilation and installation progress and completion message]

Installing Different Versions of ‘zcat’

From Source

To install a different version of zcat from source, you simply replace the version number in the download URL with the version number you need. For example, to download version 1.9, you’d use wget

Using Package Managers


On Debian-based distributions, you can use the apt-get command with the -t option to specify a distribution. For example, to install the ‘gzip’ package from the ‘stretch’ distribution, you’d use sudo apt-get install -t stretch gzip.


On Red Hat-based distributions, you can use the yum command with the --showduplicates option to list all available versions of a package. You can then install a specific version using sudo yum install gzip-1.9.

Version Comparison

Different versions of zcat can have different features or bug fixes. For example, version 1.10 fixed a bug that caused zcat to fail when used with the --best option. Here’s a summary of the differences between some recent versions:

VersionKey Changes
1.10Fixed bug with --best option
1.9Added --keep option
1.8Improved performance

Basic Usage and Verification

Using ‘zcat’

The basic usage of zcat is to view the contents of a gzip compressed file. Here’s an example:

zcat example2.gz

# Output:
# [Contents of example2.gz]

Verifying Installation

You can verify that zcat is installed correctly by checking its version number:

zcat --version

# Output:
zcat (gzip) 1.10
Copyright 2018 Free Software Foundation

This should match the version number you installed. If it doesn’t, there may have been an error during the installation process.

Exploring Alternatives to ‘zcat’

While zcat is an effective tool for viewing compressed files, it’s not the only one available in Linux. There are a few alternative commands you can use, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Using ‘gzip -dc’

The gzip -dc command is another way to view the contents of gzip compressed files without decompressing them. The -d option tells gzip to decompress the file, and the -c option tells it to write the output to the terminal.

gzip -dc example3.gz

# Output:
# [Contents of example3.gz]

This command is almost identical to zcat. In fact, zcat is often a symbolic link to gzip -dc. The main difference is that gzip -dc can also work with other types of compressed files, not just gzip files.

Using ‘gunzip -c’

The gunzip -c command is another alternative. gunzip is simply another name for gzip -d, so gunzip -c is equivalent to gzip -dc.

gunzip -c example4.gz

# Output:
# [Contents of example4.gz]

Again, this command is very similar to zcat. The main difference is the name, which might be more intuitive to some users.

Comparison of ‘zcat’, ‘gzip -dc’, and ‘gunzip -c’

Here’s a comparison of the three commands:

zcatSimple and easy to useOnly works with gzip files
gzip -dcWorks with other types of compressed filesSlightly more complex command
gunzip -cIntuitive nameOnly works with gzip files

All three commands can be useful in different scenarios. If you’re mostly working with gzip files, zcat or gunzip -c might be the easiest to use. If you’re working with different types of compressed files, gzip -dc might be the best choice.

Troubleshooting ‘zcat’ Command Issues

While using the zcat command, you may encounter some common issues. This section will discuss these potential problems and provide solutions.

File Not Found Error

One common issue is the ‘No such file or directory’ error. This happens when the file you’re trying to view with zcat doesn’t exist in the current directory.

zcat non_existent_file.gz

# Output:
# zcat: non_existent_file.gz: No such file or directory

This error can be resolved by making sure you’re in the correct directory and the file exists. Use the ls command to list the files in the current directory.

Not a gzip File Error

Another common issue is the ‘not in gzip format’ error. This happens when you’re trying to view a file that is not compressed with gzip.

zcat not_gzip_file.txt

# Output:
# zcat: not_gzip_file.txt: not in gzip format

This error can be resolved by making sure you’re using zcat with a gzip compressed file. If you’re not sure whether a file is compressed with gzip, you can use the file command to check.

file example5.gz

# Output:
# example5.gz: gzip compressed data, was "example5", last modified: Tue Sep 14 15:07:36 2021, from Unix, original size modulo 2^32 10240

In this output, ‘gzip compressed data’ indicates that the file is compressed with gzip.

Permission Denied Error

You might also encounter a ‘Permission denied’ error. This happens when you don’t have the necessary permissions to view the file.

zcat protected_file.gz

# Output:
# zcat: protected_file.gz: Permission denied

This error can be resolved by changing the file permissions with the chmod command or viewing the file as a user with the necessary permissions.

Remember, the zcat command is a powerful tool for viewing compressed files, but it’s also quite literal. It expects gzip files and won’t work with other file types. So, always ensure that you’re working with the correct file type and have the necessary permissions.

Understanding File Compression in Linux

File compression is a crucial aspect of system administration and data management in Linux. It helps reduce the size of files, making them easier to store, transfer, and manage. File compression is particularly important when dealing with large amounts of data, as it can significantly reduce storage costs and transfer times.

There are many tools available in Linux for file compression and decompression, but two of the most commonly used are gzip and gunzip. These tools use the DEFLATE algorithm to compress and decompress files.

‘gzip’ vs ‘gunzip’: What’s the Difference?

gzip stands for GNU zip, a file compression and decompression tool created by the GNU Project. gzip is commonly used to compress single files and concatenate them into a single archive file.

On the other hand, gunzip is simply the decompression counterpart to gzip. It’s used to decompress files compressed by gzip.

gzip example6.txt

# Output:
# example6.txt.gz

In the above example, we’ve compressed a file named ‘example6.txt’ using gzip. The resulting compressed file is ‘example6.txt.gz’.

gunzip example6.txt.gz

# Output:
# example6.txt

Here, we’ve decompressed ‘example6.txt.gz’ using gunzip. The resulting decompressed file is ‘example6.txt’.

The Role of ‘zcat’ in File Compression

zcat is another tool that’s part of the gzip suite. It’s used to view the contents of gzip compressed files without decompressing them. This can be particularly useful when you need to quickly view the contents of a file without going through the process of decompressing it and then recompressing it.

zcat example7.txt.gz

# Output:
# [Contents of example7.txt]

In this example, we’ve used zcat to view the contents of ‘example7.txt.gz’. The contents are printed to the terminal without decompressing the file.

Understanding these fundamental concepts is crucial to efficiently using tools like zcat, gzip, and gunzip in Linux.

Exploring the Importance of File Compression

File compression and decompression are not just technical processes; they have significant implications in system administration and data storage. As data continues to grow exponentially, efficient data storage becomes a critical concern. File compression helps address this concern by reducing the size of files, thereby saving storage space. This is particularly important in system administration where managing storage efficiently is key.

The Role of ‘gzip’ and ‘gunzip’

gzip and gunzip are two essential tools for file compression and decompression in Linux. They allow system administrators to manage storage effectively and transfer data efficiently. Understanding these tools and related concepts is crucial for anyone looking to delve into system administration or data management.

Diving Deeper: ‘gzip’ and ‘gunzip’

For those interested in going beyond zcat and exploring more about file compression and decompression in Linux, gzip and gunzip are excellent starting points. These tools provide more options and flexibility, allowing you to compress and decompress files with various settings.

Further Resources for Mastering Linux File Compression

To help you further your understanding of these concepts, here are some external resources that provide more in-depth information:

  1. GNU Gzip: The official documentation for gzip provides comprehensive information about the tool, including its various options and usage scenarios.

  2. Linux Command Library: This resource provides a detailed explanation of the gzip command and its options.

  3. This GeekFlare blog post provides a cheat sheet of various Linux commands, including gzip and gunzip, and is a great reference for anyone working with Linux.

Wrapping Up: Installing ‘zcat’ for Efficient File Viewing in Linux

In this comprehensive guide, we’ve navigated through the process of installing and using the zcat command in Linux, a powerful tool for viewing the contents of compressed files without decompressing them.

We began with the basics, learning how to install zcat using package managers like APT and YUM. We then delved into more advanced topics, such as installing zcat from source code and installing different versions. We also covered how to use zcat and verify its installation.

Along the way, we tackled common issues you might encounter when using zcat, such as ‘No such file or directory’, ‘not in gzip format’, and ‘Permission denied’ errors, providing you with solutions for each issue.

We also explored alternative commands to zcat, such as gzip -dc and gunzip -c, giving you a sense of the broader landscape of tools for viewing compressed files in Linux. Here’s a quick comparison of these commands:

zcatSimple and easy to useOnly works with gzip files
gzip -dcWorks with other types of compressed filesSlightly more complex command
gunzip -cIntuitive nameOnly works with gzip files

Whether you’re just starting out with zcat or you’re looking to level up your Linux skills, we hope this guide has given you a deeper understanding of zcat and its capabilities.

With its balance of simplicity and power, zcat is a valuable tool for anyone working with compressed files in Linux. Happy coding!