I saw article tile ——"Compress and uncompress files (zip files)" from Windows 7 document here.

What's the difference between "zip" and "compress" and “pack”? Is it the same thing? I am so confused and need your help.

  • 1
  • 1
    in common parlance, they are the same. "Zip" invokes memories of a couple specific programs (gzip, pkzip and winzip in particular), but is colloquially equivalent to "compress". How equivalant the two terms are, depends on how specifically you are speaking of them. in a discussion of compression algorithms using the term generically may be out of place, but when talking to your grandma, its perfectly acceptable to gloss over the implementational details of a given algorithm. Dec 21 '15 at 15:32
  • "Pack" is not related to compression. "Packed structures" and "packed bytes" are usages that I'm familiar with, and it means that filler or padding has been removed so that each byte contains valid data.
    – sawdust
    Dec 21 '15 at 23:13
  • @sawdust, I believe that 'PACK' in this case, is in the context of tar. the combination of a number of files within a container (usually called an archive) from which the files may then be extracted. This is disctinct from compression itself, as is evidenced by the relationship between tar and gzip in your standard file.tar.gz Dec 22 '15 at 13:45

Compression is a general technique, and there are any number of compression programs out there. pkzip, WinRAR, 7-zip, etc are all examples for the Windows platform.

PK-Zip is one particular program that compresses files in the 'zip' format. Support for zip files is built into Windows, so many people conflate compression with zip files.


With no specific reference to the article that you cited I will tell you that zip [1] compress[2] and pack[3] are three commands used in different operative systems to compress and package files in different ways (see below for further details). In Unix you can find all even if not any more so used.

The "zip" term, with the diffusion of the related programs became soon a noon and a verb [4],[5] used to say in a concise way to compress different files and folders into a unique one.

  1. (Computer Science) computing (tr) to compress (a file) in order to reduce the amount of memory required to store it or to make sending it electronically quicker.
    From the free dictionary site [5]

It happens often that when a new technology spread in the common life, jargon (slang) terms became of common use even when they came from a different language [6].

Note that term zip can even be referred to the extension of a compressed file (e.g. MyFile.zip) as well as the specific algorithm used to compress the files.

Referring to the article you cited, over there it is reported Compressed (zipped) folder in a proper way, because the algorithm used in this case is the zip one.

When a programmer creates a tool that do something it is not uncommon that he tries to choose a name that will remember the action easier. So they firstly used pack, compress... When that name is yet used they invent other as zip, arj (that means Archived by Robert Jung), rar...

The confusion arises because with the same term you have a specific program and an action performed from that command: ideed in Unix it exists a command find to find the files. This confusion can be increased some times after if the command becomes obsolete but not the term chosen for it...

The further details, or at least some of them :-)

  • zip [1]

    The zip program puts one or more compressed files into a single zip archive, along with information about the files... has one compression method (deflation) and can also store files without compression...
    Deflation uses a combination of the LZ77 algorithm and Huffman coding

  • compress[2]

    The compress utility reduces the size of files using adaptive Lempel-Ziv coding. Each file is renamed to the same name plus the extension .Z

  • pack[3]

    pack compresses files using a Huffman minimal redundancy code on a byte basis. Each file is compressed in place; the resulting file has a .z extension appended to the file name, but keeps the same owner and permissions. The times of last access and last modification are also preserved.

  • I don't know if I'd call it "confusion" per se. For instance, is your boss objectively wrong for asking you to "Xerox" a meeting handout, even though he knows you have an HP copier? Is it wrong to go to the store for "Kleanex", and buy them in a box labeled "Puffs"? I would argue that this is not confusion, but a somewhat more universal instinct for name recognition. Dec 21 '15 at 15:41
  • @FrankThomas Aha my English is poor
    – LawrenceLi
    Dec 21 '15 at 15:43
  • I got it and what about another word "pack"? I forgot add "pack" to my question,sorry
    – LawrenceLi
    Dec 21 '15 at 15:44
  • @LawrenceLi, I can see how my examples might be difficult for non-english speakers. In the US at least, when a company produces a product that everyone comes to recognize, we often start refering to that product by the companies name, even if other companies produce a similar competing product. Xerox was the first company to commercialize the office copier, so we've been calling "copying" "Xeroxing" for decades now. Zip does mean somthing very specific, but over the years, people have started to use it in a less precise manner. Dec 21 '15 at 15:44
  • I've just rephrased before your comment. :) BTW In Russian language, to follow one of your examples, it is common to say to do a "Xerox" and it is almost not used the term photocopy (фотокопия). I agree it is a synecdoche, IMHO more then an antonomasia, that with the use becomes a common word, even if technically the difference remain... and in the ones that start to learn this can generate confusion.
    – Hastur
    Dec 21 '15 at 15:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.