What is WinRAR – Quick WinRAR Tutorial

Events seem to happen in bunches. What is WinRAR? is a question that arrived in our inbox a couple of times over the last few weeks. One of our readers mentioned that she’d heard about this archiving tool and got interested, because it sounded like a very useful tool.

In her experience, people were talking about it in a way that made her believe she was the only one on the planet that didn’t know what this digital file cruncher was all about.

She wanted to find out more, but was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs about downloading stuff from the internet. She’d just recently recovered from a nasty computer malware infection after having downloaded this great tool from the internet to speed up her pc.

So, what is WinRAR and is it safe to download?

The quick answer is: WinRAR is a file compression and archiving tool. And yes, it’s safe to download. The fact that it was developed by a Russian software engineer called Eugene Roshal might not be on the top of your “things to talk about at cocktail parties”-list, but hey, you never know who you might impress with this knowledge.

WinRAR can be downloaded free from the internet. Do a quick Google search and you’ll find the rarlab.com website where it is available for download. You can download WinRAR free, but actually, it’s not free. There’s a free trial version, but after the trial period, you’ll need to buy a license in order to keep using this popular file archiver.

Why would I need a file compression and archiving tool? My files are just fine un-compressed and un-archived.

Well, while the above statement might be true, there are situations where you might be happy to have WinRAR on your pc. The most obvious one being when you have just finished downloading an archive file from the internet, that has landed on your hard disk in the shape of a .rar archive (.rar is the file extension of WinRAR archives).

If you have WinRAR installed on your pc, you probably won’t even notice that these .rar files are archive files. Your .rar files will present themselves in your Windows Explorer with their default icon (which looks like a small stack of 3 books in purple, blue and green) and you will be able to simply double-click on them in order to open the archive and see what’s in there.

You see, an archive file is a, well um, file, that holds one or more other files, all combined and compressed into one.

This has one great advantage:

  1. The files take up less space because they are compressed
  2. It’s a lot easier copying (or downloading) one single file instead of a bunch of files

(ok, that’s two advantages, but hey, who’s counting :-)

You see, if your friend has packed together a bunch of photos from your latest trip in an archive file and heedlessly sent them your way to share them with you, you’ll need WinRAR to open the archive file and extract the photos.

Or of course, the other way around, if you are sending over 50 files to a relative, it’s also much easier to pack them together in one archive and send over that one, compressed file instead of the 50 separate files. The fact that the files are being compressed brings you the additional advantage of staying out of trouble with attachments that are too big to send via e-mail. (Having trouble sending large attachments via e-mail? Read our article about transferring large files).

WinRAR in action – Quick WinRAR tutorial

Opening archive files – Extracting files

What is WinRAR like when it’s installed on your computer?

One of the great things about WinRAR is that it’s so transparent. Once installed, it will live on your system and you won’t even notice that it’s there (well, almost). Opening up archive files is as simple as double-clicking the file and WinRAR will automatically open up and show you the contents of the file. Need one specific file or a few files out of the archive? Simply select the files you need and drag them into any folder on your computer.

Or, alternatively, you can click the “Extract” button in WinRAR and use the extraction path dialog box to navigate to the desired location where you want the resulting files to end up.


What is WinRAR


What is WinRAR like when it comes to creating archives?

Very much like opening compressed or archived files with WinRAR, creating archives is also a breeze. Simply select and right-click the files you need and the resulting context menu will allow you to create an archive on the fly.


WinRAR context menu


What is WinRAR useful for if my correspondent doesn’t have WInRAR?

You might be wondering if there’s a better alternative than sending your friend an archive file and running the risk that your friend frowns upon your attachment, not knowing how to open it. Well, actually there is. When creating the archive, you can select the option “Create SFX archive” (Self Extracting Archive).


WinRAR Self Extracting Archive


That will create an executable file (with extension .exe rather than .rar). You can use this type of archive file on any computer, even if there’s no WinRAR installed. Simply double-clicking the self-extracting archive will extract the contents of the archive file.

More Options

What is WinRAR besides an ordinary file archiver? As you can see in the dialog screen above, there are a few other options to experiment with as well. The compression method allows you to choose between higher compression rates (which take up more time to process) and lower compression rates (quicker). There’s also the option to split the archive to volumes if you want to span the archive over multiple volumes. There are a number of preset volume sizes, for instance for when you want to span a large archive file over multiple cd-roms. Selecting the 700MB cd-rom volume size will make sure that the capacity of your cd-roms is used maximally.


WinRAR Spanning Archives

What is WinRAR password protection?

You’ll sometimes find archive files that you can download from the internet which are password-protected (you’ll need to enter a password in order to extract the files from the archive). That’s achieved by setting a password in the “advanced” tab of the archive parameters dialog box.


WinRAR Password Protected Archives

Other file formats

What is WinRAR able to open up when it comes to different file formats? WinRAR isn’t the only file compression or archiving tool. Other file archiving tools often work with their own legacy file formats, and WinRAR is able to open a whole bunch of different file archive formats, such as CAB, ARJ, LZH, TAR, GZ, ACE, UUE, BZ2, JAR, ISO and 7Z.

Another very popular file compression tool is WinZip, which works with .zip files instead of .rar files. Similar to WinRAR, WinZip also offers a free trial version, but you have to purchase a license if you want to continue using the program beyond the trial period. Windows XP and more recent Windows versions have built-in capability for the .zip format that WinZip offers, but there’s no support for spanning, password protection and self-extracting archives.

What many people don’t know is that there’s also a completely free alternative for WinZip: 7-Zip. 7-Zip is completely free and offers support for .zip and .rar files and even many other file compression types.
In fact, if you find yourself struggling with .zip or .rar archive files, I’d highly encourage you to take a few moments and explore the great possibilities of 7-Zip. It’s a very complete, very functional, very useful file archiving program and it’s completely free (although users are asked to make a donation in order to keep the project alive). It’s a completely valid alternative for commercial tools like WinRAR and WinZip; it’s a miracle that not more people know about it and recommend it to their friends.

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