Bzip2 Command in Linux with Examples

Bzip2 Command in Linux

The bzip2 command is an important tool for compressing and decompressing files in Linux and UNIX-like operating systems. With its high compression ratios and versatile options, bzip2 enables effective file size reduction and space savings. This guide provides a comprehensive overview of bzip2, including its installation, usage, performance benchmarks, and best practices.

What is bzip2 and How Does it Work?

Bzip2 is a free and open-source data compression program that uses the Burrows-Wheeler block sorting text compression algorithm and Huffman coding for compression. This combination of algorithms allows bzip2 to achieve significantly higher compression ratios than more conventional compression methods like LZ77 and LZ78.

When a file is compressed with bzip2, it undergoes several steps:

  1. Burrows-Wheeler Transform: This rearrangement of characters puts similar substrings together to aid better compression.
  2. Move-to-Front Transform: This converts strings into indexes based on the frequency of the characters. Frequent characters get lower indexes.
  3. Run-length Encoding: This replaces repeated characters by the character value and count.
  4. Huffman Coding: Variable-length bit sequences are assigned to different characters based on frequency. More common characters get shorter bit sequences.

The compressed file with the .bz2 extension can then be decompressed into the original input file using the bzip2 command.

Installing Bzip2 in Linux

Since bzip2 is included in most Linux distribution repositories, installing it is straightforward using the default package manager:

  • Debian/Ubuntu:
sudo apt install bzip2
  • RHEL/CentOS:
sudo yum install bzip2
  • Arch Linux:
sudo pacman -S bzip2

Using the Bzip2 Command

The basic syntax for bzip2 is:

bzip2 [options] filename

Some commonly used options include:

  • -z: Compresses the file using bzip2 algorithm. This is the default operation.
  • -d: Decompresses the file.
  • -k: Keeps the original input file instead of deleting it after compression.
  • -t: Verifies file integrity by checking CRC checksums.
  • -<1-9>: Sets block size for compression. Higher number means more memory usage but better compression.

Compressing Files

To compress a file called file1.txt into file1.txt.bz2, use:

bzip2 file1.txt

This will replace file1.txt with the compressed file1.txt.bz2. To keep the original:

bzip2 -k file1.txt

You can also compress multiple files and entire directories.

Decompressing Files

To decompress a file1.txt.bz2 file back into file1.txt, use:

bzip2 -d file1.txt.bz2

This works for both individual and multiple compressed files.

Checking Integrity

To test whether a compressed file is intact and error-free:

bzip2 -t file1.txt.bz2

This prints out CRC checksums and verifies the file.

Compression Levels and Performance

Bzip2 enables configuring the block size used during compression with a digit from 1 to 9, like:

bzip2 -1 file1.txt

-1 is the fastest compression speed but -9 is the ultra-high compression mode. Although higher block sizes boost the compression ratio, they require more memory and time to process.

Here is a comparison of the compression levels in terms of speed vs efficiency:

Level Compression Ratio Compression Speed Memory Needed
-1 Low High Low
-5 Medium Medium Medium
-9 Ultra Low High

In benchmarks, bzip2 -9 can compress text, code, and binaries over 40% better than zlib’s max compression in gzip/zip but is 4-10x slower. Compared to LZMA, bzip2 has faster decompression speeds but LZMA compresses slightly better for some data types.

 So in scenarios where maximum compression is critical, despite slower speeds, bzip2 -9 is an optimal choice. But for daily compression needs, bzip2 -1 provides the best balance.

Compressing Multiple Files

You can compress multiple files or entire directories into a combined .tar.bz2 file. For example, to compress the files from myproject folder:

tar -cjf myproject.tar.bz2 myproject

The -j option calls bzip2 compression. To decompress the tar later:

tar -xjvf myproject.tar.bz2

Bzip2 can also compress directly to stdout and pipes:

cat file1.txt | bzip2 > compressed.bz2

Integrity Verification in Bzip2

An important feature of bzip2 is built-in integrity checks using CRC32 checksums. This allows compressed files to be tested for errors.

To verify a file manually:

bzip2 -t myfile.txt.bz2

This will print out OK if the file passes the checks else it will warn about errors. You can also use checksum tools like md5sum or sha256sum to generate hash digests of the compressed file for additional tamper detection.

Bzip2 Memory Requirements

Since bzip2 employs complex compression algorithms, the memory needed depends on the block size and the input data properties. Typical memory needs per thread are:

  • Size < 1 MB: 2.5 MB
  • Size > 1 MB: 5 MB + (1 MB * (Size / 1MB))

So compressing a 4 MB file requires around 9 MB RAM with default settings.

If your system does not have enough memory, bzip2 may crash or produce corrupted archives. In such cases, try a smaller block size like -1.

Automating Bzip2 Archives

You can automate bzip2 compression in Linux using cron jobs or scripts:

Cron job example to run daily backups:

0 1 * * * tar -cjf /backups/files_$(date +%F).tar.bz2 /home

Bash script to compress specific folders:


DT=$(date '+%Y-%m-%d_%H-%M-%S') 

tar -cjf $FOLDER-$DT.tar.bz2 $FOLDER
echo "Backup of $FOLDER created successfully" >> $LOGFILE

Such solutions let you build automated pipelines to compress, backup, and archive data on preset schedules.

Alternatives to Bzip2

Some alternatives to bzip2 include:

  • Gzip: Faster compression and decompression but lower compression ratio than bzip2.
  • Xz: Newer compression algorithm offering 30% better ratio than bzip2.
  • Zstandard: Extremely fast compression speeds but less efficient compression.
  • Lzip: Specialized for compressing large files across threads.

Each program has tradeoffs between speed vs efficiency. For everyday use, gzip and xz provide a good balance while retaining compatibility.


Bzip2 is a versatile, free compression tool that plays an integral role in file size optimization in Linux environments. With its high-density compression capabilities, self-integrity checks, and flexible options, bzip2 enables effective data compression and archival for system administrators and developers.

By understanding the right compression levels, performance benchmarks, and command-line usage of bzip2, you can build automated solutions to compress, backup, and archive Linux data as per your specific needs. This allows for saving substantial storage space through compression while retaining data integrity guarantees.


r00t is a seasoned Linux system administrator with a wealth of experience in the field. Known for his contributions to, r00t has authored numerous tutorials and guides, helping users navigate the complexities of Linux systems. His expertise spans across various Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, CentOS, and Debian. r00t's work is characterized by his ability to simplify complex concepts, making Linux more accessible to users of all skill levels. His dedication to the Linux community and his commitment to sharing knowledge makes him a respected figure in the field.
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