So you just downloaded a file and it arrived as a RAR archive. You’ve never seen such a format before and, try as you might, you just can’t seem to crack it open to access the goodies waiting for you inside.
In this quick overview, you’ll learn everything you need to know about what RAR files are, why they exist, and how to open them and extract their contents on a Mac.
What Is a RAR File?
If you already know this, or if you just don’t care, feel free to skip down to the next section for the actual instructions.
A RAR file is similar to a ZIP file. Both are “archive” file formats that are meant for compressing many individual files into one single file. That way you only have to put one file up for download (or attach one file to an email), and receivers only need to download one file instead of a thousand separate ones.
Learn more about why RAR is better than ZIP.
RAR stands for Roshal ARchive, named after the Russian software engineer who created the format. The RAR format was created to address some of the flaws in the ZIP format and comes with several benefits: smaller file sizes, the ability to split a RAR into multiple chunks, and error recovery.
That said, we’ve come a long way since the days of ZIP and RAR, and we now have better ways to compress, encrypt, and transfer files. The 7-Zip format is poised to take over any time now, and once it does, you’ll start seeing fewer ZIP and RAR files. But until that day comes, you’ll still need to know how to handle RAR files.
How to Open and Extract RAR Files on Mac
The RAR format is proprietary, so it’s no surprise that Mac systems don’t come with a built-in utility for handling them. However, the solution is as easy as installing a free third-party tool that can open RAR files. Here are two options you can pick from.
Method 1: Using Keka
Keka is a compression and extraction tool that’s available in the Mac App Store and as a standalone installation. Once installed, all you have to do is double-click on a RAR file to extract it, or right-click on a RAR file and select Open.
The downside to using Keka, at least for some users, is that you can’t explore the contents of a RAR file without first extracting it. I never actually do this myself, and I know many users don’t. But if you like having the ability to peek at an archive’s contents and only pull out the files you need, Keka isn’t the right tool for you.
Note that Keka can create its own compressed archives, but does not support the RAR format. You’ll be limited to ZIP, 7-Zip, TAR, GZIP, and BZIP2 formats.
Download: Keka (Free)
Method 2: Using the Terminal
To extract a RAR file using the Terminal, you’ll need to install something called Homebrew, which is an all-in-one tool for installing other tools.
For example, with Homebrew you can install a RAR extraction tool with one command:
brew install unrar
You would type this into the Terminal, which you can access by opening Spotlight (using the Cmd + Space keyboard shortcut), typing “terminal”, and launching Terminal.app.
If you get a message saying that unrar needs to be built from source, you’ll have to first install the Xcode command line tools using this command:
Once unrar is installed, you can extract any RAR file by navigating to that file in Terminal and then typing this command:
unrar x example_file.rar
Don’t know how to navigate the command line? The Mac Terminal shares a lot in common with the Linux command line, so the first thing you should check is our article on essential Linux terminal commands. You should also read our article on installing software with Homebrew if you don’t feel comfortable with that yet.
More Mac Tips Coming Your Way
Opening and extracting RAR files is just the tip of it. There’s more you should know in order to be a productive Mac user, including these simple but essential Mac routines, these tiny but useful Mac features, and these awesome Mac productivity tricks.
And last but not least, you really ought to know about all the default apps that come installed on all Macs. RAR files withstanding, you may not actually need to download that third-party app you’re eyeing because Mac default apps are pretty good.