ARC (compression format)

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File Format
Name ARC (compression format)
Extension(s) .arc, .ark
UTI public.archive.arc
Wikidata ID Q296496
Released 1985

ARC is a compressed archive format. It supports a number of different compression schemes, the most common of which are based on LZW.



ARC was for a time (1985-89) the leading file archiving and file compression format in the BBS world, replacing the formats used by earlier utilities which generally only did one of the two functions (either combining multiple files in one file for convenient download, or shortening the file length to take less download time and disk space). Combining the two functions in one utility simplified the process of preparing files for download and extracting them at the other end, leading to a rapid rise in popularity for the utility (also called ARC) and format both.

However, the ARC format suffered an equally rapid decline in its popularity after the company that published the ARC utility (called System Enhancement Associates or SEA, run by Thom Henderson who was very active in FidoNet) brought a successful trademark and copyright suit against rival Phil Katz, whose PKARC and PKXARC utilities were compatible with the ARC file format. The lawsuit was widely regarded by the BBS community as being a "David vs. Goliath" case of a faceless corporation bullying a "little guy", though in fact both companies were small, home-based operations. Nevertheless, the fallout from the suit led to rapid adoption of the competing ZIP format, introduced by Katz in 1989, and ARC files are no longer commonly encountered.

The fact that archives from an early period of BBSing are often in this format encourages bad puns referring to those who trawl such old archives as "Raiders of the lost ARC."


There are, unfortunately, also several other incompatible file formats that have been used over the years with an "ARC" designation or file extension, so it's possible that a data set that is purportedly of type "ARC" is not actually of this format. Others include the FreeArc format and the Internet Archive ARC format, as well as a Commodore ARC that's similar in concept but not compatible to any of the other ARCs.

Format details

An ARC file consists of a sequence of zero or more archive members, followed by an end-of-archive marker: the bytes 0x1a 0x00. It is common for ARC files to have padding or other irrelevant data after the end-of-archive marker.

Each member begins with a 0x1a byte, then a byte indicating the compression scheme used for that member file. The usual compression schemes are 0x01 through 0x09.

PK-style comments

The PKARC/PKPAK software supports comments, apparently using a custom ARC format extension that appears after the end-of-archive marker.

Information based on reverse engineering: An ARC file with comments ends with an 8-byte trailer that begins with the signature 'P' 'K' 0xaa 0x55. This is preceded by a sequence of 32-byte "records", each containing a comment, except for one that has a special purpose. The last 4 bytes of the file contain the offset of the special record. The special record somehow indicates whether an archive comment and/or file comments are present. An archive comment, if present, is in the record preceding the special record. File comments come after the special record, in the same order as the members appear in the ARC file.


  • File extension: .ARC (or conventionally .ARK on CP/M)
  • MIME type (Internet media type): Has no specific registered type; generic binary application/octet-stream is generally used, or perhaps unregistered custom types with an x- prefix
  • Uniform Type Identifier (Apple): public.archive.arc

Sample files

Programs and Utilities


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