In a nutshell: More than three decades after its introduction, Microsoft has finally added native support for RAR files to Windows. The proprietary file archive format debuted in 1993 courtesy of Russian software engineer Eugene Roshal. Like ZIP, RAR – short for Roshal Archive – supports data compression but additionally adds error correction and file spanning capabilities to the equation. It is the latter functionality that most people likely remember RAR for.
In the earlier days of online file sharing before speedy Internet connections, RAR file spanning was commonly used to split large downloads like games or programs into several smaller chunks. This made them easier to acquire over slower connections. Once you had all of the individual pieces, a program like WinRAR was used to reconstruct the file to its original state.
If something happened during the download process, you simply re-downloaded that one piece instead of having to wipe the slate and download the entire file all over again.
At its annual developer conference this week, Microsoft quietly announced it has added native support for additional file formats including RAR, 7-zip, tar, and gz to Windows 11 using the libarchive open-source project.
Admittedly, native RAR support coming to Windows is not as big of a deal now as it would have been decades ago. Today's speedy Internet connections mean it takes minutes or hours to download large files instead of days. What's more, streaming has provided a viable and legal alternative to piracy for in-demand media without having to worry about the risk of infection. I personally can't remember the last time I interacted with a RAR file, but perhaps I am in the minority?
Microsoft is also very late to the game as other operating systems like ChromeOS have long since supported the format. But as they say, better late than never, eh?
Those on earlier versions of Windows still have plenty of alternatives when dealing with RAR files. If WinRAR isn't your jam, perhaps something like PeaZip or Zipeg would be worth a look. Both are free, support many formats, and are readily available to download.