Edit 3: For people who will read this question: --verify mysteriously fails with "Warning: Cannot seek: Illegal seek", hence I recommend you look for alternative ways to verify your archives. My original question follows.

Short of restoring it, what is a proper way to ensure the integrity of a .tar.gz backup? I'm using GNU tar.

According to the man page of tar and to what I have read around, tar offers a --verify option while creating an archive and a --diff option to find differences between an existing archive and the file system.

Is a check with --diff redundant right after creating an archive with --verify? Or is --diff more reliable and hence a previous --verify is redundant, unless you want your backup procedure to fail fast?

Should we invoke gzip --test as well to verify the .gz archive, or does tar perform such a check on its own already, both with --verify and --diff? I would say it does.

Thanks for your attention.

Edit: As suggested by Lgeorget, I could store an hash of the archive as well, to check at restoration time that the archive has not been corrupted.

Edit 2: Hence, apparently --verify would be enough. Maybe I could use tar --list to check that the archive is readable and extractable. I also wonder whether --diff checks the contents of files or just their names (and possibly attributes).


Yes, a diff after a verify is redundant, and no, there is no point to gzip --test, as the first thing tar has to do to read the archive is ungzip it, so any problems with the compression would cause a failure there.


--diff is more intended for backups purposes. For example, to check if it's necessary to tar a directory again when you schedule a periodic backup.

I have no clue about the efficiency of the --verify option. If you have doubt about it, or want to be able to check the integrity of your tar later, you can use a hash.

For example:

> sha1sum etc.tar.gz 
b30d837c623274908de2ebaceb72b07c54037546  etc.tar.gz

Then store this line to a file (let's call it etc.tar.gz.checksum). And when you want to check the integrity, move this file to the directory where etc.tar.gz is and run:

> sha1sum -c etc.tar.gz.checksum 
etc.tar.gz: OK

sha1sum is provided with openssl.

  • Here, I am not concerned about the integrity of an archive: I'm concerned whether its content matches the file-system, while performing backups. Thanks for your suggestion about using an hash, though: I have added it to my question. – Elena Jul 11 '13 at 14:34
  • Well, I suppose I'm being extra careful, here, because most of the guides on backups - that I've read - don't bother to verify the generated archives. – Elena Jul 11 '13 at 14:45

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