Learning Linux Bash with tar command

In this post, I’ll use the tar command to reveal some secrets of the CLI-Universe.

You may have seen the following before but had no clue what the heck it meant:

tar -cvzf /tmp/backup.bzip.tar /tmp/example.txt

Not only am I going to show you what this means (give you a fish), but I’m going to teach you how to actually READ IT (teach you how to fish).


The beauty about this process I’m going to show you is that it can be done:

  • Mentally at the speed of thought (once you’ve done this a few times)
  • Or physically on good ‘ol fashion pencil and paper
# But first, lettuce create our example test file
echo "tar me baby!" > /tmp/example.txt

Kay, here we go..

1.) Expand Any Short-hand Notation

The first thing to notice is we have some short-hand notation to expand.

We re-write:

tar -cvzf /tmp/backup.bzip.tar /tmp/example.txt


tar -c -v -z -f /tmp/backup.bzip.tar /tmp/example.txt

2.) Convert to a Multi-line Command

Now, instead of having one long disgusting line 🤮, we take this command

tar -c -v -z -f /tmp/backup.bzip.tar /tmp/example.txt

and re-write it as:

tar \ [press enter]
> -c \ [press enter]
> -v \ [press enter]
> -z \ [press enter]
> -f /tmp/backup.bzip.tar \ [press enter]
> /tmp/example.txt [press enter]

Here’s a short video demonstrating the above transformations:

3.) Expand to Long-form Notation

If we came back to this “code” 6 months later, we would probably need the man page –  🤮 again – to remember what each parameter did.

Especially if we don’t use tar everyday.

So, as a best practice, we should convert the parameters to their long-form:

tar \ [press enter]
> --create \ [press enter]
> --verbose \ [press enter]
> --gzip \ [press enter]
> --file /tmp/backup.bzip.tar \ [press enter]
> /tmp/example.txt [press enter]

4.) Put Back to One Line

For contrast, if we put this back to one-line, we can see that:

tar -cvzf /tmp/backup.bzip.tar /tmp/example.txt 

is equivalent to:

tar  --create --verbose --gzip --file /tmp/backup.bzip.tar  /tmp/example.txt 

So What ?!…

This technique of deconstructing can be VERY helpful when you have commands to read.

This technique is also very helpful if you are trying to construct your own commands.


  1. Start with the long-form notations of the command
  2. Be very explicit, no short-hand or short-form notation
  3. Once you understand what you wrote, THEN convert it to short-form
  4. Then convert to short-hand if applicable
  5. Lastly, give the short-hand version to the new guy to read…for learning purposes of course 😉


  1. Expand any short-hand notations to short-form notations (-cv to -c -v)
  2. Transform to a multi-line command
  3. Expand any short-form notations to long-form notations (-c to –create)
  4. Put back to multi-line for contrast

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