The Archive Browser: Adding Features to Extracting

There are a lot of ways to extract archive files, but if you want to see what’s inside of them first, you’re options are going to become more limited. And if you want to see inside something like a RAR, the field is going to narrow considerably. There are plenty of ways to do it from a command line, but for those of us who want to preview archives with a GUI, we haven’t had a lot of choice. Now The Archive Browser, successor to the popular extraction application The Unarchiver, let’s you do all of that with just about any archive file you can name. Is this just a rehash of its predecessor app or can The Archive Browser hold its own?

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Old Dog, New Tricks

As soon I downloaded The Archive Browser, it had already associated itself with all of my archive files. I had a bunch of ZIP, TAR, TGZ, 7Z, and RAR files on my desktop, waiting to get the special treatment from The Archive Browser, but I thought I was going to have to tell the application which filetypes to be on the lookout for. That’s how it was in The Unarchiver, Dag Ågren’s previous file extraction star. Not so with The Archive Browser, though.

The contents of a TAR archive in The Archive Browser.

The contents of a TAR archive in The Archive Browser.

After that, all you have to do is double-click an archive, and it’ll open up in The Archive Browser. The nifty thing is, it’s not going to automatically extract. Instead, you’ll get a sort of file browser window. Everything inside the archive is going to be listed in this browser, which is pretty spiffy if you don’t want to extract everything in the archive or aren’t even sure what’s in there to begin with.

Navigating and Extracting

The browser window is broken down into three panes. The far left pane just gives you a bit of information about the archive itself. You’ll see the filename and the kind of encoding used on the archive. The Archive Browser also lets you know how compressed the archive was and the total number of files contained. It’s over here that you can choose to extract all of the archived files or just some, and whether they should go into the same folder as the original archive.

The center pane displays the list of files that live in your archive. You’ll see their individual filenames, the size of each file, and what kind of file you’re working with. This is a pretty spiffy feature, because until now archive extraction apps that allowed you also to browse some of the more obscure archive types before extracting were thin on the ground. Specifically, RAR archives, less well-traveled than the ubiquitous ZIP but still fairly prolific, were almost impossible to see inside of until you’d actually gotten them extracted. If you wanted to pick and choose what to pull out of a RAR or other similarly less pervasive archive, you were out of luck. But it’s all laid out for you in The Archive Browser.

Looking inside a RAR archive with a GUI like a boss.

Looking inside a RAR archive with a GUI like a boss.

The far right pane gives you some great drill down information about each file. You can again see the name and size of the file, along with when it was last modified. The Archive Browser also gives you the chance to preview the files inside the archive. We’re not just talking about looking at a list of the filenames, but viewing a preview of an image or listening to an MP3, right in The Archive Browser.

The Archive Browser let me listen to the song inside the archive before I extracted it.

The Archive Browser let me listen to the song inside the archive before I extracted it.

It Can Do Everything

Because The Archive Browser will find all your compatible archives as soon as you download the app, before you even launch it for the first time, there’s not a lot of startup. Just download the app, and you’re ready to go. Let’s say, on the other hand, you don’t want The Archive Browser handling every archive type that’s ever going to land in your Downloads folder, and, boy, it really does seem to handle every type. Well, that’s easy to change. Just launch the The Archive Browser and open up the application preferences.

Every compatible archive type is going to be checked. You can just go through and uncheck all the archives you want other applications to handle. If you only want The Archive Browser to handle a few types, click Deselect All, and then check the few that you need to app to be in charge of. When you exit the preferences, your settings will go into effect.

If you ever want The Archive Browser to take back over, just open up its preferences again, and click Select All.

Let The Archive Browser handle whatever archive files you want.

Let The Archive Browser handle whatever archive files you want.

You can decide what you want The Archive Browser to do with extracted files here, whether you want the application to create a new folder for the files or not and if it should modify the creation date on extracted files. If you’d like, The Archive Browser will navigate to the extracted folder in Finder, or close the browser window, and you can choose how and when these actions happen.

Final Thoughts

The Archive Browser goes a step further than its predecessor, The Unarchiver, giving users the option to view the insides of archives before extracting them. I’d been burned by The Unarchiver, though. It was a great app, but it didn’t play nice with Mountain Lion’s Sandbox feature, causing all applications extracted by The Unarchiver to be permanently “sandboxed” for some users. This meant that OS X would think your perfectly fine app, downloaded direct from the developer, was malicious software. I thought my still youngish MacBook Pro was on its way out when it seemed to stop launching any new applications at all.

So I was understandably wary when I launched The Archive Browser for the first time. No need, though. Everything I’ve extracted so far seems to be working a-okay. I’ve sought out apps in ZIP archives just so I could assure you that there’s no rogue sandboxing happening on Mountain Lion.

What The Archive Browser doesn’t do is compress files. You can browse them and you can extract them, but you sure can’t create an archive. The ability to browse archives, especially when it’s every archive I can personally imagine, is certainly a huge skillset addition for an app like The Unarchiver. That doesn’t change the fact, though, that I still need two applications to work with archives, one to compress them and one to extract them.

If the developer of The Archive Browser could get together an app that does everything we already have in this app with some simple compression features, he’d really have something on his hands. That said, it’s still a great app for browsing and extracting just about every archive type out there, and it’s not a bad looking way to do it, either.


A spectacular app for previewing and extracting archive files. All it's missing is compression.