How to create and open compressed files on iPhone, iPad

Many enterprises rely on zip files to exchange data, particularly confidential data. So, how can you move beyond the limits of iOS?

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Many enterprises rely on zip files to exchange data, particularly confidential data. And compression helps keep information safe, even against inquisitive ads trackers lurking inside “free” email or online storage services. How do you handle these things on iPad or iPhone?

How to handle zip files on iPhone

While it isn’t especially obvious, iOS provides some limited features that let you archive and decompress zip files. You can even create a nice little Shortcut to do this for you:

  • Open Shortcuts, Tap Create Shortcut.
  • In the search bar, type Extract Archive: That shortcut should appear in the list below; tap it to add it to your workflow.
  • Returning to the search bar, type Save File. When it appears, tap it to add it to the workflow you are building.
  • Tap the switch button at top right of the shortcut name.
  • In the next pane, you can name the shortcut and give it an icon. The most important change you should make is to enable Show in Share Sheet (flick to green).
  • You can create a second Shortcut to make archives. Just type Make Archive to find the relevant flow and then add Save File and Show in Share Sheet as decribed above. Remember to give it a name, such as Make Archive.
  • Shortcuts can work with multiple compression formats, including .tar, .zip and .iso.

How to use the zip files shortcut:

In future, when you receive a compressed zip file you’ll be able to unzip it from your Share sheet.

However, you still won’t be able to open or create password-protected zip files, you’ll be limited in how you can combine files for a single archive, and you won't be able to create or open files stored in different compression formats. Don’t give up hope because (drum roll):

There’s an app for that

There are numerous apps to help you handle compressed files on iOS, including solutions that will let you open and create password-protected files:

Archives

Developed by MacPaw, Archives is based on excellent Mac archiving app, Unarchiver. The app can handle most compression formats, and it will let you preview contents of archive files and let you open them from within Safari or Mail.

PDF Expert (or Documents)

Readdle’s PDF Expert is an excellent app that once won Apple’s coveted App of the Year award. What’s interesting about it is that alongside its PDF handling features, it is also perfectly capable of creating and opening zip files, saving their content to online and network storage drives. Readdle’s Documents app is also an excellent and easy-to-use solution.

WinZip

One of the most widely distributed solutions for handling compressed files on iOS, WinZip is a highly capable tool to happily handle all your zip and rar compressed files. It can browse compressed attachments in mail, save data locally and connect merrily with cloud services, once you unlock the paid version ($5). The only reason I don’t recommend it is that the free version is so packed with ads I think it’s more or less unusable, in addition to being functionally limited.

iZip

iZip is another capable tool, and while its free version does subject you to ads and limited functionality, these are far more bearable than some. I find the instructions clear and easy to follow, and the app is highly capable of doing what I need it to do.

What about Macs?

Mac users seeking extra features and compression tools (including a way to create password-protected zip files without using Terminal) may also want to take a look at Keka or the Unarchiver.

What about working with password-protected zip files?

I find the process of working with compressed zip files to be way too opaque on both Mac and iOS devices, though iZip, WinZip and Archives will open password-protected items on iOS once they are unlocked.

On a Mac, I use Keka.

The iOS apps will also create password-protected archives, though in all three cases you need to do so by opening Settings from inside the app and choosing to create password-protected zips. 

This works, but I do feel that developers should make this feature easier to find and use given so many enterprise professionals need to make use of it.

I also urge Apple to improve its support for this on a system level, since so many users in its emerging enterprise market desperately need to be able to create, share, and access password-protected archives easily given the value of the personal data they might be handling.

Privacy isn’t just a feature; it’s also a tool — and protection of digital assets will become more of a challenge, not less, in the future.

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