Tar.jl

TAR files: create, list, extract them in pure Julia
Author JuliaIO
Popularity
51 Stars
Updated Last
1 Year Ago
Started In
November 2019

Tar.jl

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The Tar package can list, extract and create POSIX TAR archives ("tarballs") as specified in POSIX 1003.1-2001. It is designed to support using the TAR format as a mechanism for sending trees of files from one system to another, rather than for the historical use case of backing up files for restoration to the same system. Because of this design goal, Tar intentionally ignores much of the metadata included in the TAR format, which does not make sense for the data transfer use case. The package also does not aim to read or create legacy non-POSIX variants of the TAR format, although it does support reading GNU long name and long link extensions.

API & Usage

The public API of Tar includes five functions and one type:

  • create — creates a tarball from an on-disk file tree
  • extract — extracts a tarball to an on-disk file tree
  • list — lists the contents of a tarball as a vector of Header objects
  • rewrite — rewrite a tarball to the standard format create produces
  • tree_hash — compute a tree hash of the content of a tarball (default: git SHA1)
  • Header — struct representing metadata that Tar considers important in a TAR entry

None of these are exported, however: the recommended usage is to do import Tar and then access all of these names fully qualified as Tar.create, Tar.extract and so on.

Tar.create

create([ predicate, ] dir, [ tarball ]; [ skeleton ]) -> tarball
  • predicate :: String --> Bool
  • dir :: AbstractString
  • tarball :: Union{AbstractString, AbstractCmd, IO}
  • skeleton :: Union{AbstractString, AbstractCmd, IO}

Create a tar archive ("tarball") of the directory dir. The resulting archive is written to the path tarball or if no path is specified, a temporary path is created and returned by the function call. If tarball is an IO object then the tarball content is written to that handle instead (the handle is left open).

If a predicate function is passed, it is called on each system path that is encountered while recursively searching dir and path is only included in the tarball if predicate(path) is true. If predicate(path) returns false for a directory, then the directory is excluded entirely: nothing under that directory will be included in the archive.

If the skeleton keyword is passed then the file or IO handle given is used as a "skeleton" to generate the tarball. You create a skeleton file by passing the skeleton keyword to the extract command. If create is called with that skeleton file and the extracted files haven't changed, an identical tarball is recreated. The skeleton and predicate arguments cannot be used together.

Tar.extract

extract([ predicate, ] tarball, [ dir ];
        [ skeleton, ] [ copy_symlinks ]) -> dir
  • predicate :: Header --> Bool
  • tarball :: Union{AbstractString, AbstractCmd, IO}
  • dir :: AbstractString
  • skeleton :: Union{AbstractString, AbstractCmd, IO}
  • copy_symlinks :: Bool

Extract a tar archive ("tarball") located at the path tarball into the directory dir. If tarball is an IO object instead of a path, then the archive contents will be read from that IO stream. The archive is extracted to dir which must either be an existing empty directory or a non-existent path which can be created as a new directory. If dir is not specified, the archive is extracted into a temporary directory which is returned by extract.

If a predicate function is passed, it is called on each Header object that is encountered while extracting tarball and the entry is only extracted if the predicate(hdr) is true. This can be used to selectively extract only parts of an archive, to skip entries that cause extract to throw an error, or to record what is extracted during the extraction process.

Before it is passed to the predicate function, the Header object is somewhat modified from the raw header in the tarball: the path field is normalized to remove . entries and replace multiple consecutive slashes with a single slash. If the entry has type :hardlink, the link target path is normalized the same way so that it will match the path of the target entry; the size field is set to the size of the target path (which must be an already-seen file).

If the skeleton keyword is passed then a "skeleton" of the extracted tarball is written to the file or IO handle given. This skeleton file can be used to recreate an identical tarball by passing the skeleton keyword to the create function. The skeleton and predicate arguments cannot be used together.

If copy_symlinks is true then instead of extracting symbolic links as such, they will be extracted as copies of what they link to if they are internal to the tarball and if it is possible to do so. Non-internal symlinks, such as a link to /etc/passwd will not be copied. Symlinks which are in any way cyclic will also not be copied and will instead be skipped. By default, extract will detect whether symlinks can be created in dir or not and will automatically copy symlinks if they cannot be created.

Tar.list

list(tarball; [ strict = true ]) -> Vector{Header}
list(callback, tarball; [ strict = true ])
  • callback :: Header, [ <data> ] --> Any
  • tarball :: Union{AbstractString, AbstractCmd, IO}
  • strict :: Bool

List the contents of a tar archive ("tarball") located at the path tarball. If tarball is an IO handle, read the tar contents from that stream. Returns a vector of Header structs. See Header for details.

If a callback is provided then instead of returning a vector of headers, the callback is called on each Header. This can be useful if the number of items in the tarball is large or if you want examine items prior to an error in the tarball. If the callback function can accept a second argument of either type Vector{UInt8} or Vector{Pair{Symbol, String}} then it will be called with a representation of the raw header data either as a single byte vector or as a vector of pairs mapping field names to the raw data for that field (if these fields are concatenated together, the result is the raw data of the header).

By default list will error if it encounters any tarball contents which the extract function would refuse to extract. With strict=false it will skip these checks and list all the the contents of the tar file whether extract would extract them or not. Beware that malicious tarballs can do all sorts of crafty and unexpected things to try to trick you into doing something bad.

If the tarball argument is a skeleton file (see extract and create) then list will detect that from the file header and appropriately list or iterate the headers of the skeleton file.

Tar.rewrite

rewrite([ predicate, ], old_tarball, [ new_tarball ]) -> new_tarball
  • predicate :: Header --> Bool
  • old_tarball :: Union{AbstractString, AbstractCmd, IO}
  • new_tarball :: Union{AbstractString, AbstractCmd, IO}

Rewrite old_tarball to the standard format that create generates, while also checking that it doesn't contain anything that would cause extract to raise an error. This is functionally equivalent to doing

Tar.create(Tar.extract(predicate, old_tarball), new_tarball)

However, it never extracts anything to disk and instead uses the seek function to navigate the old tarball's data. If no new_tarball argument is passed, the new tarball is written to a temporary file whose path is returned.

If a predicate function is passed, it is called on each Header object that is encountered while extracting old_tarball and the entry is skipped unless predicate(hdr) is true. This can be used to selectively rewrite only parts of an archive, to skip entries that would cause extract to throw an error, or to record what content is encountered during the rewrite process.

Before it is passed to the predicate function, the Header object is somewhat modified from the raw header in the tarball: the path field is normalized to remove . entries and replace multiple consecutive slashes with a single slash. If the entry has type :hardlink, the link target path is normalized the same way so that it will match the path of the target entry; the size field is set to the size of the target path (which must be an already-seen file).

Tar.tree_hash

tree_hash([ predicate, ] tarball;
          [ algorithm = "git-sha1", ]
          [ skip_empty = false ]) -> hash::String
  • predicate :: Header --> Bool
  • tarball :: Union{AbstractString, AbstractCmd, IO}
  • algorithm :: AbstractString
  • skip_empty :: Bool

Compute a tree hash value for the file tree that the tarball contains. By default, this uses git's tree hashing algorithm with the SHA1 secure hash function (like current versions of git). This means that for any tarball whose file tree git can represent—i.e. one with only files, symlinks and non-empty directories—the hash value computed by this function will be the same as the hash value git would compute for that file tree. Note that tarballs can represent file trees with empty directories, which git cannot store, and this function can generate hashes for those, which will, by default (see skip_empty below for how to change this behavior), differ from the hash of a tarball which omits those empty directories. In short, the hash function agrees with git on all trees which git can represent, but extends (in a consistent way) the domain of hashable trees to other trees which git cannot represent.

If a predicate function is passed, it is called on each Header object that is encountered while processing tarball and an entry is only hashed if predicate(hdr) is true. This can be used to selectively hash only parts of an archive, to skip entries that cause extract to throw an error, or to record what is extracted during the hashing process.

Before it is passed to the predicate function, the Header object is somewhat modified from the raw header in the tarball: the path field is normalized to remove . entries and replace multiple consecutive slashes with a single slash. If the entry has type :hardlink, the link target path is normalized the same way so that it will match the path of the target entry; the size field is set to the size of the target path (which must be an already-seen file).

Currently supported values for algorithm are git-sha1 (the default) and git-sha256, which uses the same basic algorithm as git-sha1 but replaces the SHA1 hash function with SHA2-256, the hash function that git will transition to using in the future (due to known attacks on SHA1). Support for other file tree hashing algorithms may be added in the future.

The skip_empty option controls whether directories in the tarball which recursively contain no files or symlinks are included in the hash or ignored. In general, if you are hashing the content of a tarball or a file tree, you care about all directories, not just non-empty ones, so including these in the computed hash is the default. So why does this function even provide the option to skip empty directories? Because git refuses to store empty directories and will ignore them if you try to add them to a repo. So if you compute a reference tree hash by by adding files to a git repo and then asking git for the tree hash, the hash value that you get will match the hash value computed by tree_hash with skip_empty=true. In other words, this option allows tree_hash to emulate how git would hash a tree with empty directories. If you are hashing trees that may contain empty directories (i.e. do not come from a git repo), however, it is recommended that you hash them using a tool (such as this one) that does not ignore empty directories.

Tar.Header

The Header type is a struct representing the essential metadata for a single record in a tar file with this definition:

struct Header
    path :: String # path relative to the root
    type :: Symbol # type indicator (see below)
    mode :: UInt16 # mode/permissions (best viewed in octal)
    size :: Int64  # size of record data in bytes
    link :: String # target path of a symlink
end

Types are represented with the following symbols: file, hardlink, symlink, chardev, blockdev, directory, fifo, or for unknown types, the typeflag character as a symbol. Note that extract refuses to extract records types other than file, symlink and directory; list will only list other kinds of records if called with strict=false.

Compression

It is typical to compress tarballs when saving of transferring them. In the UNIX tradition of doing one thing and doing it well, the Tar package does not do any kind of compression and instead makes it easy to compose it's API with external compression tools. The simplest way to read a compressed archive is to use a command-line tool to decompress it. For example:

Tar.list(`gzcat $tarball`)
Tar.extract(`gzcat $tarball`)

This will spawn the gzcat $tarball command, read the uncompressed tarball data from the output of that process, and then close the process. Creating a tarball with the gzip command is nearly as easy:

Tar.create(dir, pipeline(`gzip -9`, tarball))

This assumes that dir is the directory you want to archive and tarball is the path you want to create as a compressed archive.

If you want to compress or decompress a tarball in the same process, you can using various [TranscodingStreams packages:

using CodecZlib

tar_gz = open(tarball, write=true)
tar = GzipCompressorStream(tar_gz)
Tar.create(dir, tar)
close(tar)

This assumes that dir is the directory you want to archive and tarball is the path you want to create as a compressed archive. You can decompress in-process in a similar manner:

using CodecZlib

tar_gz = open(tarball)
tar = GzipDecompressorStream(tar_gz)
dir = Tar.extract(tar)
close(tar)

This assumes that tarball is the path of the compressed archive you want to extract.

API comparison with command-line tar

It might be helpful to compare the Tar API with command-line tar. Unlike tar -c the Tar.create function does not include any of the path you tell it to bundle in the resulting TAR file: the location of the data is not part of the data. Doing Tar.create(dir, tarball) is roughly equivalent to running the following tar command:

tar -f $tarball -C $dir -c $(cd $dir; ls -A)

In other words, tar is told to change into the directory dir before constructing the tarball and then include all the top-level items in that directory without any path prefix. Note that the above command does not fully emulate the behavior of Tar.create: it does not sort entries in the same order and it still records user and group information, modification times and exact permissions. Coaxing command-line tar programs to omit this non-portable information and use a portable (and git-compatible sort order) is non-trivial.

On the extraction side of things, doing Tar.extract(tarball, dir) is roughly equivalent to the following commands:

test -d $dir || mkdir $dir
tar -f $tarball -C $dir -mx

Again, tar is told to change into the directory dir before extracting the tarball and to extract each path relative to that directory. The -m option tells tar to ignore the modification times recorded in the tarball and just let files and directories have their natural modification times.

If the current user has elevated privileges, the tar command will attempt to change the owner and group of files to what is recorded in the tarball, whereas Tar.extract will never do that. The tar command may also try to restore permissions without respecting the current umask if the user is an administrator. Again, Tar.extract will never do that—it behaves the same way for any users: by ignoring any user/group/permission information, aside from whether plain files are executable by their owner or not. To suppress these behaviors with GNU tar, you can use the --no-same-owner and --no-same-permissions options; these options are not broadly supported by other tar commands, which may not have options to support these behaviors.

Design & Features

Unlike the tar command line tool, which was originally designed to archive data in order to restore it back to the same system or to a replica thereof, the Tar package is designed for using the TAR format to transfer trees of files and directories from one system to another. This design goal means that some metadata fields supported by the TAR format and used by default by historical tar tools are not used or supported by Tar. In short, the choice of features and defaults for Tar are designed to support transfer of data, rather than backup and restoration.

The TAR format can, for example, record the name and ID of the user that owns each file. Recording this information makes perfect sense when using tarballs for backup: the tar program should run as root when restoring data, so it can restore the original owner of each file and directory. On the other hand, this ownership information is of no use when using the TAR format to transfer data from one system to another: the user names and IDs will not generally be the same on different systems, and the tool should not be run as root, so it cannot change the owner of anything it extracts. For data transfer, ownership metadata should be disregarded and need not be recorded in the first place.

Similarly, it makes little sense, when using tarballs for data transfer, to copy the modification time of each file from the source system. Those time stamps are unlikely to be relevant on the destination system, and in some cases, clock skew between the systems could mean that time stamps from the source appear to be in the future at the destination. This can confuse some programs and may even be perceived as an attempted security breach; most tar command line tools print warnings when extracting files with time stamps from the future. When using the TAR format for data transfer, it is better to ignore time stamps and just let the extracted contents have natural modification times.

The features and defaults of the Tar package are guided by the principle that it uses the TAR format for transmitting data, not as a tool for backup and restoration. If you want to use the TAR format for archival purposes, you are likely better off using a traditional command line tool like GNU tar. If, on the other hand, you want to use the TAR format to transmit data from one system to another, then you've come to the right place.

File Types

Since Tar is designed for transmission of file and directory trees, it supports only the following file types:

  • plain files
  • directories
  • symlinks
  • hardlinks (extracted as copies)

The Tar package does not support other file types that the TAR format can represent, including: character devices, block devices, and FIFOs. If you attempt to create or extract an archive that contains any of these kinds of entries, Tar will raise an error. You can, however, list the contents of a tarball containing other kinds of entries by passing the strict=false flag to the list function; without this option, list raises the same error as extract would.

Time Stamps

Also in accordance with its design goal as a data transfer tool, the Tar package does not record or set modification times upon tarball creation and extraction. When creating a tarball, it sets the time stamp of each entry to 0, representing the UNIX epoch (Jan 1st, 1970). When extracting a tarball, it ignores the time stamps of entries and lets all extracted content have "natural" modification times based on when each file or directory is extracted.

In the future, optional support may be added for recording and restoring time stamps.

Users & Groups

Tar ignores user and group names and IDs when creating and extracting tarballs. This is due to two facts:

  • names and IDs on source and destination systems will generally not match;
  • names and IDs can only be changed if Tar is run with elevated privileges.

The first fact means that it probably doesn't make sense to try to restore ownership when transferring data, while the second fact means that it's probably not possible. Accordingly, Tar disregards user and group names and IDs when creating and extracting tarballs. During creation, the ID fields are recorded as 0 and names fields are recorded as the empty string. When extracting a tarball, the user and group fields are ignored entirely and all extracted content is owned by the current user.

It is unlikely that support will be added for recording or restoring ownership of files or directories since that functionality only makes sense when using the TAR format for backup, a purpose better served by using a command line tar tool.

Permissions

When it comes to permissions, Tar records and restores only one significant bit of information: whether plain files are executable by their owner or not. No permission information is recorded or restored for directories or symlinks. This one bit of information is supported on most file systems and platforms, and is (not by coincidence) the only information that git records. This choice makes Tar's behavior as portable as possible and means that it is safe to extract and use the contents of tarballs even if they were generated with unsafe permission combinations such as 0o777, i.e. world writable and executable. Modes are normalized in the following manner for both creation and extraction:

  • files not executable by owner are archived/restored with mode 0o644;
  • files executable by owner are archived/restored with mode 0o755;
  • directories and symlinks are archived with mode 0o755;
  • directories and symlinks are restored with default modes.

When extracting tarball contents, Tar respects the system umask (or similar administrative permission limits on non-POSIX systems), so the exact permissions of extracted tree contents may be less permissive than the above but should never be more permissive. If you observe Tar extracting any tarball contents with more permissive modes than this, please file an issue.

When using Julia versions prior to 1.6 on Windows, support for querying and setting the executable bit is broken, so all files are created as executable. Julia versions 1.6 and greater can correctly read and write executable permissions using Windows ACLs, so tarballs created and extracted on Windows should have apprpriate permissions.

In the future, optional support may be added for recording or restoring exact permission modes to the extent that such permissions are supported on those systems. On non-POSIX systems, permissions will necessarily be an approximation of POSIX mode strings as supported by those systems.

Reproducibility

The information that Tar records about permissions is the same information that git considers to be significant when recording and hashing tree contents (admittedly not by coincidence). As a result, an important and useful consequence of Tar's design is that it has the following properties:

  • if you create a tarball from a file tree and extract it, the new tree will have the same git tree hash as the original;
  • if you git checkout a file tree and archive it using Tar, the resulting TAR archive file is always the same.

One important caveat to keep in mind is that git ignores directories that recursively contain only directories—i.e. unless there's a file or a symlink somewhere, git will not acknowledge the existence of a subdirectory. This means that two trees with the same git tree hash can produce different tarballs if they differ by subdirectories containing no files or symlinks: git will ignore those subdirectories, while Tar will not. Therefore, they will have the same git tree hash, but produce different tarballs. Two identical file trees will always produce identical tarballs, however, and that tarball should remain stable in future versions of the Tar package.

Note: the canonical tarball format was changed slightly in the 1.10 release of the package. Since that release, the canonical format includes all directories in the canonical tarball format, whereas previously non-empty directories were omitted since their existence is implied by their contents. The absence of explicit directory entries in tarballs confused some external tooling, so it was deemed worth a small format change to avoid such problems.

The tree_hash function can be used to compute a git-style tree hash of the contents of a tarball (without needing to extract it). Moreover, two tarballs created by the Tar package will have the same hash if and only if they contain the same file tree, which is true if and only if they are identical tarballs. You can, however, hash tarballs not created by Tar this way to see if they represent the same file tree, and you can use the skip_empty=true option to tree_hash to compute the hash that git would assign the tree, ignoring empty directories.

Required Packages