How to extract RPM or DEB packages

RPM and DEB packages are both containers for other files. An RPM is some sort of cpio archive. On the other hand, a DEB file is a pure ar archive. So, it should be possible to unpack their contents using standard archiving tools, regardless of your distribution’s package format. Under normal conditions, you should use your distribution’s standard package manager, rpm or dpkg and their frontends, to manage those files. But, if you need to be more generic, here is how to do it.


For RPMs you need two command line utilities, rpm2cpio and cpio. Extracting the contents of the RPM package is a one step process:

rpm2cpio mypackage.rpm | cpio -vid

If you just need to list the contents of the package without extracting them, use the following:

rpm2cpio mypackage.rpm | cpio -vt

The -v option is used in order to get verbose output to the stdout. If you don’t need it, you can safely omit this switch. For more information about the cpio options, please refer to the cpio(1) manual page.


DEB files are ar archives, which contain three files:

  • debian-binary
  • control.tar.gz
  • data.tar.gz

As you might have already guessed, the needed archived files exist in data.tar.gz. It is also obvious that unpacking this file is a two-step process.

First, extract the aforementioned three files from the DEB file (ar archive):

ar vx mypackage.deb

Then extract the contents of data.tar.gz using tar:

tar -xzvf data.tar.gz

Or, if you just need to get a listing of the files:

tar -tzvf data.tar.gz

Again the -v option in both ar and tar is used in order to get verbose output. It is safe not to use it. For more information, read the man pages: tar(1) and ar(1).

If anyone knows a one step process to extract the contents of the data.tar.gz, I’d be very interested in it!

Update 1

As Jon suggested in the comment area, the contents of data.tar.gz can be extracted from the DEB package in a one step process as shown below:

ar p mypackage.deb data.tar.gz | tar zx

Update 2 – Debian 8

As Vlad suggested in the comments below, starting with Debian 8, data.tar.gz inside .deb packages has been replaced with data.tar.xz (the xz format, which is based on LZMA2 offers better compression). So, if you are using Debian 8 or newer, the one-liner should be updated to something like this:

ar p mypackage.deb data.tar.xz | unxz | tar x

Moreover, tar is now able to handle xz compression and decompression (I also confirm tar supports this compression filter on CentOS), so the following one liner would do the trick as well:

ar p mypackage.deb data.tar.xz | tar xJ

That will do it.

Update: As Steve pointed out in the comments below, specifying the decompression filter in the tar command line arguments is no longer necessary with modern releases of tar, so the J switch above could be safely omitted.

How to extract RPM or DEB packages by George Notaras is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Copyright © 2008 - Some Rights Reserved

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About George Notaras

George Notaras is the editor of the G-Loaded Journal, a technical blog about Free and Open-Source Software. George, among other things, is an enthusiast self-taught GNU/Linux system administrator. He has created this web site to share the IT knowledge and experience he has gained over the years with other people. George primarily uses CentOS and Fedora. He has also developed some open-source software projects in his spare time.

29 responses on “How to extract RPM or DEB packages

  1. knud Permalink →

    Please also try these:
    ‘rpm -qpvl package.rpm’
    ‘rpm -qpvl package.rpm > textfile’
    ‘less package.rpm’
    ‘lesspipe… > textfile’
    ‘less package.deb’
    ‘lesspipe… package.deb > textfile’
    And of course The Midtnight Commander ‘mc’ will open both rpm and deb.

  2. Jon Permalink →

    One-liner to extract data.tar.gz:

    ar p package.deb data.tar.gz|tar zx

    1. znik Permalink →

      for unpack only data.tar.gz directly from deb:
      ar p package.deb data.tar.gz|tar xvzf –
      f – is strongly recommended because tar command have default archive file hardcoded into binary. of course this default can be changed by environment, but f – is the simplest way without calling env as envelop for setting temporary environment.

  3. Kilgore Trout Permalink →

    Is there a GUI program to do all this that will take any package and convert it to what you want?

    1. George Notaras Post authorPermalink →

      None that I know of. There is a command line tool though, called alien, which can convert packages between the RPM and DEB formats. Its use is very straightforward. I highly recommend you give it a shot.

  4. Steven Li Permalink →

    to extract RPM, I recommend p7z

  5. Benjamin Permalink →

    The easiest way to extract a Debian package is with dpkg-deb. To extract the content run “dpkg-deb –extract mypackage.deb foobar”. If you want to modify the package:

    dpkg-deb –extract mypackage.deb foobar
    dpkg-deb -e mypackage.deb foobar/DEBIAN
    modify files in foobar directory
    dpkg-deb -b foobar

    1. George Notaras Post authorPermalink →

      Hi Benjamin,

      Having used RPM-based distributions, I was not aware that it was so easy to modify the contents of a DEB package and then repackage the modified files. Thanks for the tip!

      As for the method of extracting the contents of RPM or DEB I describe in that post, it is meant to be a generic method without requiring any distribution specific tools, but generic archive managers.

      I had decided to write it because I once needed to extract a DEB package under CentOS; I cannot recall why.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  6. asfd Permalink →

    ar is rare to find already installed. Please revise this to use dpkg-deb or at least show it as an option.

    dpkg-deb -x

  7. George Notaras Post authorPermalink →

    This article describes how to extract a DEB or RPM package using generic archive decompressors. The fact that utilities like rpm or dpkg are not used is intentional. Thanks

  8. Jonathan Permalink →

    “An one-step process” should be “a one step process.” This is because a/an is decided based on the pronunciation of the following word, not on the spelling.

    Thanks for the article :-).

  9. George Notaras Post authorPermalink →

    Hi Jonathan. Thanks for pointing it out! The same mistake probably exists in several posts throughout the web site.

    It has been corrected in the current post. Thanks :-)

  10. toto Permalink →

    good tutorial and very clear description and how to solve my problem. Thank for your tutorial. My problem about how to extract rpm file is solve :)

  11. Eruva Permalink →

    It’s good to mention that ar is in binutils package.

    1. George Notaras Post authorPermalink →

      Hi and thanks for your feedback. The binutils package is installed by default even in minimal installations on RHEL, Fedora, CentOS and Scientific Linux, so it was kind of impossible for this package to be missing. Also the following command reveals the containing RPM package:

      yum provides /usr/bin/ar
  12. srm Permalink →

    What is the use of :


    in a .deb package. Dont we need to extract files in them too ?

  13. foo Permalink →

    Any way to convert .deb packages to .rpm and vice versa, without losing the post-install scripts?

  14. vamsi Permalink →

    Benjamin, awesome!! That’s exactly what I was looking for. So I wanted to make few changes to the priority level in control file and your process is what I wanted.

    Thanks George for posting good stuff.

  15. gracias Permalink →

    Thanks, worked for me!

  16. Mark Permalink →

    just came in very handy, my dpkg and tar binaries were incompatible (dpkg calling tar with an unknown option), so I couldn’t use the famed dpkg-deb, I guess this is a good reason to have another way to unpack these things.

    Got the tar.deb and unpacked it to get the newer tar binary, so my dpkg would work again.

  17. Hanspeter Permalink →

    On OS X (and presumably *BSD), bsdtar can handle ar archives natively.

  18. Vladimir Permalink →


    Starting with Debian 8, data.tar.gz inside .deb packages has been replaced with data.tar.xz (far better compression).
    Therefore, the one-liner extractor should be updated at least to something like this:

    ar p mypackage.deb data.tar.xz | unxz | tar x

    Hope it helps!


    1. George Notaras Post authorPermalink →

      Hey Vlad, thanks for your feedback. Much appreciated.

      I’ll add an update to the post, ASAP.

      1. cspenceiv Permalink →

        Tar understands xz as well:

        ar p mypackage.deb data.tar.xz | tar Jx

        1. George Notaras Post authorPermalink →

          Hi, thanks for your feedback. I have updated the post and added this information.

  19. Steve Permalink →

    Modern tars are capable of working out the archive format so using z, j or J is optional.