Most people know that .ZIP files are usually a collection of files and folders that have been packaged and shrunk down into a single file so they can be easily distributed for sharing.
.7z, .RAR and .ACE files in principle are the same as ZIP but they compress and store their packages using different methods.
.ZIP is the oldest of this lot and also happens to be the most common and widely supported format. Any modern operating system will naively work with a ZIP file without the need of an additional 3rd party program.
.RAR is a propriety format developed by a sole engineer. RAR compressed packages are commonly used with large files on online distributed networks such as BitTorrent where the hosting or transfer may not always be stable. The reason for this is that RAR supports redundancy data that allows the recovery of individual files within a package even when the package itself is not complete. RAR decompression software is free but file compression requires the commercial product WinRAR.
.ACE is another propriety format that was developed by a sole engineer. It offers slightly better compression than RAR but is the less popular competitor to RAR. Like RAR, ACE packages can be decompressed using free software but file compression requires the commercial product WinACE.
.7z is the youngest of the compression formats listed here. Unlike RAR or ACE it does not support redundancy so it is not all that popular on unstable distribution services. 7z and the 7-Zip software do have the advantage of being open source plus the format offers better compression rates and quicker compression times than either ACE, RAR or ZIP.
If you need one decompression tool that can handle all these file formats I would recommend 7-Zip, the native 7z application for Windows. Mac OS X users may wish to try Keka. Linux users should be able to find native 7z, RAR and ACE libraries for their favourite archive manager.
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