I use unix distros every day and I started using them a long time ago but I never thought about the provenience of the word "tarball". I tried to search it on the dictionary but I didn't find anything. At this point it could also be a completely invented term but I thought "better to ask".

  • *tarball` comes from the tar (tape-archive) software. It refers to the file archives that include several files. If you use zip files, tarballs are something similar.
    – perror
    Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 21:34
  • It rolls easier off the tongue than "tar archive" -- and unix geeks would detest the latter on general principle for being redundant as tar stands for Tape ARchive... Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 21:36
  • @perror thanks for the answer but maybe you missed "I use unix distros every day and I started using them a long time ago". I know what they are, i was just trying to figure out where the Tarball term comes from. Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 21:47
  • 3
    @shadur yes I know that tar stands for Tape Archive, but what tarball stands for? why that "ball" Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 21:47
  • 2
    Ir's a bit like a "furball" with cats, it's a pack of things glued together by cat's fur. So, here, it's a pack of files glued together by tar... I guess... But, there is probably no deep meaning behind the scene, just a small joke made by computer scientist (at this time they were really funny, not as "corporate" as today! :-)).
    – perror
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 6:26

1 Answer 1


It's a joke.

tar (Tape ARchive) is the name of the program used to create an archive that contains several files, all glued together.

Tar is also a black and sticky substance obtained from hydrocarbons. It translates to catrame in Italian (from your name, I suppose you're Italian).

Therefore, if you take a bunch of files and stick and roll all of them together via the tar program, you obtain a tar ball or tarball.

  • oh yes I'm italian and thank you for your explanation! Since there is no official meaning for the word "tarball" I'd prefer to take as "true" the answer of perror about cats :DDDD Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 8:43
  • 3
    Also, in real life a tar ball is a lump of solidified crude oil found in or on the sea, or washed up on shore.
    – jonk75
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 20:13
  • i thought it was a more dirty joke that linus torvalds made XD
    – eddym
    Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 9:10

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .