If you use an iOS device then you know it’s a pretty complete system and works very well. But, you may have had problems opening compressed zip files, so we’ll talk today about how to best handle zip files on your iPhone or iPad.

Apple’s iOS actually has had support, albeit limited, for zip files since iOS 7 but it only works with Messages and Mail. For example, you’re chatting with a friend and they attach a zipped file full of their vacation pics. Or, a colleague at work emails you some documents that they need you to look at right away.

It’s not a perfect solution, but it works without necessitating any add-on software.

Update: You can now open zip files via the built-in Files app.

Opening Zip Files in Mail or Messages

When you get a zipped attachment in Mail for instance, you can view it using Mail without leaving the app. Here, in the following screenshot, we receive a message with a zipped attachment.

You can open the zipped file to view its contents. iOS does a pretty good job of displaying text files, pdf, images, Word documents, and even Excel spreadsheets.

Viewing zip files in Messages or Mail is, however, only just that, viewing. If you want to actually extract a file and edit it, you’ll need an appropriate helper application. You can tap the “Share” button and pick the application you want to use.

Here, we have a spreadsheet, so we want to select Excel or some other application that can handle .xls files.

You’re not limited solely to opening the file. You can also print it or Airdrop it to your Mac or another iOS device.

As this method would imply, if you want to view zip files without ever visiting the App Store, then you’ll have to e-mail archives to yourself and then open them with Mail. This is a little impractical, which is why we recommend trying a traditional zip-handler app like WinZip or iZip.

Opening Zip Files with Additional Software

Obviously, you’re not always going to encounter zip files in mail or instant messaging. Sometimes, you have them stored on your cloud folder, or they could be stored locally, or you might want to AirDrop one onto your iOS device. Regardless of the delivery method, the options outlined above only work for attachments in Mail and Messages.

There are a couple of applications in the App Store, which are equipped to handle zip files: iZip being one, and the venerable WinZip. Both are fairly similar in design and function and both will handle local zip files for free. But, if you want more functionality like unzipping, or plugging into your cloud folders, then you’ll have to pay for the full programs. iZip Pro costs $3.99 while WinZip (Full Version) will set you back $4.99.

Regardless of the app you use, if you don’t want to pay for the full versions, you will need to first export your zip file to your iOS device and then use the free zip app to handle the file.

In this example, when we use the free version of WinZip, we first select our zip file from our cloud app first, then we click the “Share” button.

From the Share menu, we’ll select “Open in…” to show us a list of apps that can handle this type of file.

Next, we choose our free zip app. In this case its WinZip but iZip will work just as well.

Our archive now open, we can view its contents such as we did when we were viewing an attachment.

If we want to actually open a file, we need to again tap the “Share” icon and then choose the appropriate app from the “Open in…” menu selections.

If this is just too many steps, then you can purchase full versions of either zip app and plug your cloud service right into it, among many other features. WinZip Full Version, for example, has support for Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and iCloud while iZip Pro has support for iCloud, Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive.

If you want to know the differences between the free version of WinZip and WinZip Full Version, here is a handy chart you can peruse. Similarly, here’s a comparison between iZip and iZip Pro. Note, iZip has a Pro version for iPhone that is $2.99, the iPad version is a dollar more.

Here’s our archive on our Dropbox. With the full version of WinZip we can access it right from the application.

You have a few options from here. You can tap the arrow next to the zip file and send it as a link, copy the link (and then paste it into a message), AirDrop it to another iOS device or a Mac, or you can actually extract (unzip) the file’s contents.

If you unzip a file, you can unzip it in the parent folder or create a new folder. Regardless of how you handle zip files, if you actually want to open their contents, you will still need the correct app to handle it.

This isn’t an issue for things like images and music files, but for stuff like documents, presentations, and spreadsheets, you will probably need something like Microsoft Office to handle them.

Using either the free or pay version of a zip app will also allow you to directly address opening archives via AirDrop. When you AirDrop an archive from your Mac for instance, you’ll see a list of choices for how you can handle it.

Choose your preferred zip app and you’re good to go. You can then manage the archive’s contents in any manner detailed above.

We hope this helps with clarifying how to open zip files on an iPhone or iPad. Unfortunately, a perfect native iOS solution doesn’t exist as of yet, however, even with a free app you can access zipped contents with fairly little hassle. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about dealing with zip archives on iOS devices, please leave your feedback in our discussion forum.

Profile Photo for Matt Klein Matt Klein
Matt Klein has nearly two decades of technical writing experience. He's covered Windows, Android, macOS, Microsoft Office, and everything in between. He's even written a book, The How-To Geek Guide to Windows 8.
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