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Why I still use RAR instead of 7z

WinRAR

Nerdy computer crap time.

Long ago back in the days before the modern internet, I used BBSes. And pretty much every BBS had a files area where you could upload or download stuff. The vast majority of that stuff was in archive files.

First it started with ZIP files, then LHA and then finally ARJ before the BBS fell out of favor with the masses once internet came around.

Even though ARJ was vastly superior compared to more or less everything else at the time, ZIP became popular again because of Windows. Specifically, it was Windows XP because that OS and every Windows since has native support to extract ZIP archive files where you can just double-click on one to open it up.

Time goes on, and two other formats start getting popular, RAR and 7-Zip or 7z for short.

RAR was never free unless you use the mobile version. 7-Zip has always been free...

...but I'm still using RAR, and I'll explain why.

7z, while the superior format that crunches data better and does it faster, suffers from a few things that make it inferior compared to WinRAR.

First, you can't preview images in a 7z file. If you have a 7z archive full of JPG images, open it up and double-click, you'll get an error in Windows that says the image can't be viewed. WinRAR on the other hand has no problem previewing images.

This has been a very longstanding complaint of 7z users, and to date, nothing has been done about it, and it's probably true nothing will be done about it.

Second is the ridiculous .001, .002, .003 file extension crapola for 7z archives split into volumes.

The way RAR does it is that when you split an archive into volumes, the file names are file.part01.rar, file.part02.rar, and so on. And the cool thing is that with all the files in the same directory, you can click on any one of them and the whole archive will be opened up.

The way 7z does it is file.7z.001, file.7z.002, and so on. And, of course, .001 is not an automatically associated extension when you install 7-Zip, so double-clicking on the file doesn't do anything. You have to know to go into 7-Zip options and set that .001 association.

All 7z archive files should end with .7z, period. But they don't. When you split, you get the numbered crap.

Third - and this is a biggie - 7z has no internal way of making a recovery record. This one takes a bit to explain.

The absolute best feature of RAR is that you can add in a recovery record that allows the archive to be repaired if the overall file(s) get corrupted. When you select the option to use a recovery record, it will increase the size of the archive by a percentage you specify (usually 1% or 2%). If at some point the archive gets damaged, it can read the recovery portion and fix it so the archive works again.

7z has no recovery record option whatsoever. The only way to do it is by creating a PAR file and then appending it to the 7z. Screw that. I mean, yeah, it works, but why bother when it's built right in to RAR?

Why bother archiving anything?

Whether you use RAR, 7-Zip or something else, there are a few good reasons to archive things.

  1. It's the easiest way to put a bunch of files into a single file. Collections of photos, videos, documents, a combo of all three, whatever.
  2. It's the easiest way to archive projects. For example, recording sessions usually produce a good amount of files. After making a bunch of them, your hard drive gets clogged up with these things. Putting each project in an archive and then dumping elsewhere (DVD, memory card, external drive, etc.) makes managing that stuff a whole lot easier.
  3. It's the easiest way to securely store stuff. If you have sensitive documents you don't want other people seeing, stuffing them into an archive with a strong password in front of it and file encryption on top of that (which both RAR and 7z have) would be a very tough thing for someone to bust into. Not impossible, but really difficult. If there is anything you're putting in webmail or the cloud right now you consider sensitive, archive it first, choose to use a password and encrypt the file names, then upload it to the cloud.
  4. It offers better file stability. Old files suffer from a thing known as bit rot, especially if they're files that get used often. You've most likely experienced bit rot from an MP3 you downloaded where a chunk of the data was corrupted and had "chirping" noises when played back. That's bit rot. Files in an archive - even if no recovery record is present - have a "protective shell" around them of sorts that will allow it to extract correctly, even if the archive has some slight bit rot going on with it. This is, incidentally, why a really, really old ZIP file still works, even if it was sitting on a web server and had been downloaded millions of times.

There are legitimate reasons to use archive files. RAR makes it easier for me to archive stuff.

Said honestly, if 7-Zip had the ability to preview images properly, I'd probably switch to it even though it doesn't have a recovery record option. When I archive my digital camera photos, I like easy preview access from within the archive, but 7-Zip just doesn't do that. I could deal with the no-recovery-option and the stupid .001 files, but no image previews? Total deal-breaker.

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