I've searched for multiple forums for this questions and have seen different answers but so far, nothing have worked yet even from the ones I've seen here.

I want to extract a single file from a tar to a different directory.

I've tried this:

tar xvf file.tar -C /home/dir/ filename

or this:

tar -x filename -f file.tar -C /home/dir

But got these errors respectively:

x filename, 14826 bytes, 29 media blocks.
File -C not present in the archive.
File /home/dir not present in the archive.


tar: /dev/rmt0: A file or directory in the path name does not exist.

The first extracted the file but in the same directory, not to the folder I wanted.


1 Answer 1


In most versions of tar, there are two different modes, depending on whether you put a minus before your options.

The top of the AIX tar man page summarizes the differences:

Berkeley Standards:

tar {c|r|t|u|x} ... [ Archive ] Directory | File ...

X/Open Standards:

tar {-c|-r|-t|-u|-x} ... [-f Archive] ... [-C Directory] File | Directory...

Without the minus, tar works in Berkeley compatibility mode. In this mode, the options don't follow now-standard UNIX command line conventions. Instead, all the flags must be placed together (in any order). The f flag means that the first word after the flags is a file name that should be used instead of the tape drive, /dev/rmt0. (The t in tar stands for tape, and the defaults reflect this.) Also note that there is no -C option in compatibility mode.

With the minus, tar works like most UNIX commands. All the flags (and their arguments) must be specified first, then the non-flags come after. -f takes a file name as an argument (essentially, the file name belongs to the -f flag), so the file.tar must come immediately after the -f. That's why the man page says [-f Archive] with Archive next to the -f. But -x takes no arguments (filename does not belong to the -x). Again, looking at the man page, filename in your example corresponds to File | Directory..., which are all the way at the end of the command line.

The fixed versions of your commands look like

(cd /home/dir; tar xvf /path/to/file.tar filename)


tar -x -f file.tar -C /home/dir filename

GNU tar does something similar. The Three Option Styles does a good job of explaining the differences.

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