How to Read Zip Files in R

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The R programming language offers a robust set of tools for data analysis and visualization. An important step before any analysis can be performed is importing the data. Oftentimes, data files are compressed in a .zip format to save space and make it easier to download large datasets. Therefore, understanding how to read .zip files directly into R can be a critical skill for any data scientist or analyst.

In this comprehensive guide, we will examine how to read .zip files in R using base R functions and additional packages that provide extended functionality.

Reading Zip Files in R: An Overview

In R, the unzip() function is commonly used to extract files from a .zip archive. However, extracting files to your local filesystem may not always be desirable, particularly if you are working with large files or want to keep your workspace tidy. In such cases, R provides methods to read data directly from .zip files without having to extract them first.

Extracting Zip Files with unzip()

Let’s start by using the unzip() function to extract a .zip file. This function is part of R’s utils package, which is automatically loaded in every R session. Here’s a simple example:

# Extract all files from a .zip archive

By default, unzip() extracts all files in the archive to the current working directory. You can specify a different location using the exdir argument:

# Extract all files to a specified directory
unzip("", exdir = "my_directory")

Reading a CSV File from a Zip Archive

If you have a .zip archive containing .csv files and you want to read one of those files directly into R, you can use the unz() function to create a connection to a file within the archive.

Here’s how you can read a .csv file from a .zip archive:

# Create a connection to a .csv file within a .zip archive
con <- unz("", "data.csv")

# Read the .csv file into a data frame
data <- read.csv(con)

# Close the connection

In this example, unz() creates a connection to “data.csv” within “”. read.csv() then reads the .csv file through this connection, and close() closes the connection after we’re done.

Reading Multiple Files from a Zip Archive

If you have multiple .csv files within a .zip archive and you want to read all of them into R, you can use a combination of unzip(), list.files(), and lapply():

# Extract .zip archive into a temporary directory
temp_dir <- tempdir()
unzip("", exdir = temp_dir)

# List all .csv files in the temporary directory
csv_files <- list.files(temp_dir, pattern = "\\.csv$", full.names = TRUE)

# Read all .csv files into a list of data frames
data_list <- lapply(csv_files, read.csv)

In this example, unzip() extracts the .zip archive into a temporary directory created by tempdir(). list.files() then lists all .csv files in the temporary directory, and lapply() applies read.csv() to each .csv file, resulting in a list of data frames.

Using the readr Package for Faster CSV Reading

The readr package provides a faster alternative to read.csv() for reading .csv files. To use readr, you first need to install it using install.packages("readr"), and then load it using library(readr).

Here’s how you can use readr to read a .csv file from a .zip archive:

# Load the readr package

# Create a connection to a .csv file within a .zip archive
con <- unz("", "data.csv")

# Read the .csv file into a tibble
data <- read_csv(con)

# Close the connection

Note that read_csv() from the readr package returns a tibble, which is a modern reimagining of the data frame.


In this article, we’ve explored how to read .zip files in R using the unzip(), unz(), read.csv(), and readr::read_csv() functions. With these tools in your toolkit, you should be well-equipped to handle .zip files in your data analysis projects. As always, be mindful of memory usage when working with large files, and remember to close any connections you open.

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