My First Mac Archive

This article was first published on 2007-10-17. Due to the age of this article, it is included here for archive purposes only.

If you have recently switched, you may be wondering where the Mac equivalent of WinZip is and how the process works on a Mac. Or perhaps you’ve just heard of zip files and are wondering if that is something you need to know. I’ll review how you zip files on a Mac and why you would want to below.

What is a zip file?
A zip file is a single compressed file that contains one or more files and folders inside of it. Sometimes we also use the word zipped as a verb, to zip. That means taking a group of files and making a zip file from them.

Zipping files doesn’t alter your original files, but makes a copy of them when compressing them. When you open, or decompress, a zip file, you now have a copy in addition to the originals.

Why use a zip file?
The most common use for zip files these days is to reduce the complexity and size when sharing files with others. For instance, you might want to email 14 photos to your family. This makes for a cluttered email and it might end up being too big to send through your ISP. If you zip up a folder of photos and then attach the zip file to your email, it will be just one file and it will be smaller than the total size of all the separate files. Usually it’s at least half as small as what the total would be.

Another common use is when prepping some files to be sent via FTP or a substitute like YouSendIt. In this case, you make it easy to download by zipping many files into one file, AND the process takes less time because the overall file size is smaller. That makes for less time to upload and download, which can really add up with larger file sizes.

Lastly, sometimes I am trying to send a file over YouSendIt that is just over the 100MB free sending option. In this case I zip it to get the file size under 100MB to use the service.

What happens when a zip file is opened?
If you put a bunch of files in a folder and then zipped the folder, it will create a new file called When it is unzipped, there will be  a copy of that original folder sitting next to the zip file with copies of all the original files in there.

OK, how do I do it? Where’s the Mac version of WinZip?
As it turns out, the function is hidden in the Finder under the term "Archive". For some reason, Apple chose to use the term Archive instead of zip. Look in the File menu over half way down and you’ll see, "Create Archive of" whatever is selected. This is how you make a zip file.

For example, you have a folder of vacation photos called Hawaii. Select the folder and then go to the File menu and choose, Create Archive of Hawaii. There should be a little process bar window and then next to the folder in the Finder will be another file called That is your zip file.

In this example I used a folder, but you can just select one or more files and folders and then the menu item will read, Create Archive off 8 items. However, I suggest that you be kind to your recipient and put them in a folder first to help them reduce clutter on their end.

Leopard Update: "Archive" is now called "Compress" in the Finder menus.

How do I unzip a zip file?
This is the easiest one of all. Just double-click it in the Finder and it will decompress the file(s) and put them right nearby. If the originals weren’t put in a folder first, they may be scattered on your desktop or where ever the zip file was stored. You might need to look around.

Will PC users be able to open my zip files?
Yes, zip files are cross platform. Us long time Mac users are delighted that Apple finally sided with a cross platform standard for compressed files. There used to be issues exchanging compressed files with PC users, but no more. Whoo-hoo!

What about other compression formats?
There are other utilities that add options to zipping files and compress in other file formats. The old Mac standard was .sit files that a program called StuffIt worked with. Some of these other file formats may be more efficient, but zip seems to be the standard and works well for me.

What do you think? Still have questions or better answers? Let us know in the Comments section below!