gzip reduces the size of the named files using Lempel-Ziv coding (LZ77). Whenever possible, each file is replaced by one with the extension ‘.gz’, while keeping the same ownership modes, access and modification times. (The default extension is ‘-gz’ for VMS, ‘z’ for MSDOS, OS/2 FAT and Atari.) If no files are specified or if a file name is "-", the standard input is compressed to the standard output. gzip will only attempt to compress regular files. In particular, it will ignore symbolic links.
If the new file name is too long for its file system, gzip truncates it. gzip attempts to truncate only the parts of the file name longer than 3 characters. (A part is delimited by dots.) If the name consists of small parts only, the longest parts are truncated. For example, if file names are limited to 14 characters, gzip.msdos.exe is compressed to gzi.msd.exe.gz. Names are not truncated on systems which do not have a limit on file name length.
By default, gzip keeps the original file name and time stamp in the compressed file. These are used when decompressing the file with the -N option. This is useful when the compressed file name was truncated or when the time stamp was not preserved after a file transfer. However, due to limitations in the current gzip file format, fractional seconds are discarded. Also, time stamps must fall within the range 1970-01-01 00:00:00 through 2106-02-07 06:28:15 UTC, and hosts whose operating systems use 32-bit time stamps are further restricted to time stamps no later than 2038-01-19 03:14:07 UTC. The upper bounds assume the typical case where leap seconds are ignored.
Compressed files can be restored to their original form using ‘gzip -d’ or gunzip or zcat. If the original name saved in the compressed file is not suitable for its file system, a new name is constructed from the original one to make it legal.
gunzip takes a list of files on its command line and replaces each file whose name ends with ‘.gz’, ‘.z’ ‘-gz’, ‘-z’, or ‘_z’ (ignoring case) and which begins with the correct magic number with an uncompressed file without the original extension. gunzip also recognizes the special extensions ‘.tgz’ and ‘.taz’ as shorthands for ‘.tar.gz’ and ‘.tar.Z’ respectively. When compressing, gzip uses the ‘.tgz’ extension if necessary instead of truncating a file with a ‘.tar’ extension.
gunzip can currently decompress files created by gzip, zip, compress or pack. The detection of the input format is automatic. When using the first two formats, gunzip checks a 32 bit CRC (cyclic redundancy check). For pack, gunzip checks the uncompressed length. The compress format was not designed to allow consistency checks. However gunzip is sometimes able to detect a bad ‘.Z’ file. If you get an error when uncompressing a ‘.Z’ file, do not assume that the ‘.Z’ file is correct simply because the standard uncompress does not complain. This generally means that the standard uncompress does not check its input, and happily generates garbage output. The SCO ‘compress -H’ format (LZH compression method) does not include a CRC but also allows some consistency checks.
Files created by zip can be uncompressed by gzip only if they have a single member compressed with the 'deflation' method. This feature is only intended to help conversion of tar.zip files to the tar.gz format. To extract a zip file with a single member, use a command like ‘gunzip <foo.zip’ or ‘gunzip -S .zip foo.zip’. To extract zip files with several members, use unzip instead of gunzip.
zcat is identical to ‘gunzip -c’. zcat uncompresses either a list of files on the command line or its standard input and writes the uncompressed data on standard output. zcat will uncompress files that have the correct magic number whether they have a ‘.gz’ suffix or not.
gzip uses the Lempel-Ziv algorithm used in zip and PKZIP. The amount of compression obtained depends on the size of the input and the distribution of common substrings. Typically, text such as source code or English is reduced by 60-70%. Compression is generally much better than that achieved by LZW (as used in compress), Huffman coding (as used in pack), or adaptive Huffman coding (compact).
Compression is always performed, even if the compressed file is slightly larger than the original. The worst case expansion is a few bytes for the gzip file header, plus 5 bytes every 32K block, or an expansion ratio of 0.015% for large files. Note that the actual number of used disk blocks almost never increases. gzip normally preserves the mode, ownership and time stamps of files when compressing or decompressing.
The gzip file format is specified in P. Deutsch, gzip file format specification version 4.3, Internet RFC 1952 (May 1996). The zip deflation format is specified in P. Deutsch, deflate Compressed Data Format Specification version 1.3, Internet RFC 1951 (May 1996).