XDA Basics: How to open and extract RAR files on your PC

XDA Basics: How to open and extract RAR files on your PC

At some point, everyone runs into a situation where they receive a file they’re not sure how to open. Windows doesn’t natively support all file formats, so sometimes, you need special software. The RAR format is one of the most common file types to have this problem, but we’re here to help. We’ll show you how to open RAR files on your Windows PC.

First off, let’s explain what RAR is. It’s a type of compressed archive file, similar to the ZIP files you can create with Windows. A RAR file can contain numerous other files, much like a folder, but those files are compressed to take up less space on a disk. This can make it easier to share folders with other people, since you only have to transfer a single file and it’s smaller in size overall.

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RAR was developed in 1993 by Eugene Roshal, and it’s a proprietary file format. To open it, you’ll need a program called WinRAR, which was also developed by Roshal. This program can open RAR files as well as various kinds of archives, including ZIP and others. It’s technically paid software, but you can use it for free if you don’t mind seeing some messages about how you should pay for it.

How to open RAR files with WinRAR

There are various programs that support opening or extracting RAR files, but for this guide, we’ll stick with the original one. WinRAR was designed specifically to work with RAR files, and it’s still one of the best ways to open them. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Go to the official WinRAR download page and download your preferred version of WinRAR. English versions are at the top, and they come in both 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) flavors. 32-bit versions will work on just about any PC, but the 64-bit version may offer more performance and security on modern PCs. Most laptops nowadays already have 64-bit processors, so we’d recommend trying the 64-bit version first.
    WinRAR downloads page with red arrow pointing to the 64-bit option
    You’ll also see programs for Mac and Linux here, but they’re only command-line based. There’s also RAR for Android, in case you want to open RAR files on your phone. And if you want WinRAR in a different language, there are various translated versions below that, too.
  • Once the file is downloaded, run the installer and follow the instructions. You’ll eventually see this screen:
    WinRAR default installation settings
    The list of file types on the left side shows all the files WinRAR will automatically open. There’s a reason why ISO and JAR aren’t selected, and we’d recommend leaving the settings as they are.
  • Click OK and finish up the installation process.
  • Now, you can go to the RAR file you have and double-click to open it. It’ll open in WinRAR. You may see a big message warning you to buy a WinRAR license, but you can just click OK on it. The file will be presented like this:
    A RAR file open in WinRAR
    You can see all the files and folders contained in the RAR archive. WinRAR gives you options to add more files to the archive, extract the ones in there, test their integrity, or even run virus scans using an antivirus engine installed on your PC.
  • You can double-click a file to temporarily extract it and open it immediately, or you can extract them to a permanent folder on your PC for easy access. If you want to extract all the files, select them all (Ctrl + A) or don’t select any, and then click Extract To in the toolbar at the top. If you select any files, only the selected ones will be extracted
  • You’ll see a window to choose the destination for your files. The extracted files will go directly into the location you select, so if you don’t want them to get mixed with other files, make sure to create a new folder for them. Click OK and the files will be extracted.
    Choosing where to extract a RAR file to
  • Once the process finishes, you can open the Windows File Explorer and navigate to the folder you extracted them to. You can also access these files with other software – say, if you want to open a picture in Photoshop.

And that’s all you need to know about how to open RAR files on your Windows PC. If you want to extract entire files without opening them, you can also right-click a RAR file in File Explorer, move your mouse over WinRAR in the context menu, and select one of the extraction options available. WinRAR already integrates with the new Windows 11 context menus, so it all works seamlessly.

You can also easily create RAR archives yourself with WinRAR. You can select the files or folders you want to compress, mouse over WinRAR and choose one of the options to add the files to an archive.

Looking for other kinds of help with your PC? We have guides on how to download YouTube videos, how to block websites, or even how to create fillable PDFs. Check them out if those are things you’re interested in.

About author

João Carrasqueira
João Carrasqueira

Editor at XDA Computing. I've been covering the world of technology since 2018, but I've loved the field for a lot longer. And I have a weird affinity for Nintendo videogames, which I'm always happy to talk about.

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