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Is it possible to compress a very large file (~30 GB) using gzip? If so, what commands, switches, and options should I use?

Or is there another program (preferably one commonly available on Ubuntu distributions) that I can use to compress/zip very large files? Do you have any experience with this?

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up vote 17 down vote accepted

AFAIK there is no limit of size for gzip - at least not 30GB. Of course, you need the space for the zipped file on your disc, both versions will be there simultanously while compressing.

bzip2 compresses files (not only big ones :-) better, but it is (sometimes a lot) slower.

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bzip2 is especially good at compressing source code (and the like). It is a good competitor to gzip for generic use too. Availability for gzip across different operating systems is better than bzip2 – jippie Jun 3 '12 at 19:20
Is bzip2 lossless compression? Thanks. – Andrew Jun 3 '12 at 20:03
@Andrew Yes, gzip/bzip2/etc... are all lossless. – Renan Jun 3 '12 at 20:06
And there is pbzip, too - that will use more than one CPU-core. But still way slower than gzip. – Nils Jun 10 '12 at 20:45
@Nils: on my Ubuntu there is only pbzip2 – rubo77 Aug 29 '13 at 16:31

if you need a good compresion rate, you can try lzma. it is faster and more efficient than bzip2 and may be faster even than gzip (i don't know that for sure)


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lzma is deprecated in favour of xz now. Same algorithm, somewhat different (improved?) file format wrapped around it. LZMA is slower than gzip, but at max speed it's still fairly good compression on highly redundant stuff like JSON data. (xz -0) – Peter Cordes Aug 11 '15 at 19:41

If you are running into the limit, rearrange. Instead of:

gzip file


gzip < file > file.gz

Works just fine.

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The gzip format represents the input size modulo 2^32, so the --list option reports incorrect uncompressed sizes and compression ratios for uncompressed files 4 GB and larger.

So, take bzip2 (v1.0.2 and upwards) or xz.

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If it should precisely be gzip only, then your file has to be divided into smaller parts up to 4 Gb each. – cuneiform Sep 11 '14 at 7:29
There are file splitters available for this. – Vérace Mar 22 at 5:23
Well, it doesn't have to be split up, it's just that the reported sizes will be wrong. – Law29 Mar 22 at 7:05

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