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ZIP File Access &

Using Zipped Files Transparently

The Typedef

The typedef ZZIP_FILE can serve as a replacement for a normal file descriptor. As long as it is only used for reading a file, the zzlib-user can actually replace the posix functions open/read/close by their counterparts from the zziplib library: zzip_open/zzip_read/zzip_close.

As long as the filename path given to zzip_open refers to a real file in the filesystem, it will almost directly forward the call to the respective posix open call. The returned file descriptor is then stored in a member-variable of the ZZIP_FILE structure.

Any subsequent calls to zzip_read will then be forwarded to the posix read call on the memorized file descriptor. The same about zzip_close which will call the posix close function and then free the ZZIP_FILE structure.

The real benefit of the zziplib library comes about when the filename argument does actually refer to a file that is zipped in a zip-archive. It happens that even both a real file and a zipped file can live under the same pathname given to the zzip_open call, whereas the real file is used in preference.

Zipped File

Suppose you have subdirectory called 'test/'. In this directory is just one file, called 'README'. Calling the zzip_open function with an argument of 'optional-path/ test/README', then it will open that file for subsequent reading with zzip_read. In this case the real (stat'able) file is opened.

Now you can go to the 'test/' directory and zip up the files in there by calling `zip ../ *`. After this, you can delete the 'test/' directory and the call to zzip_open will still succeed. The reason is that the part of the path saying 'test/README' will be replaced by sth. like '' - that is the real file '' is opened and searched for a contained file 'README'.

Calling zzip_read on the zipped 'README' file will return the very same data as if it is a real file in a real directory. If the zipped file is compressed it will be decompressed on the fly.

Zip Directory

The same applies to the use of opendir/readdir/closedir which can safely be replaced with their counterparts from the zziplib library - again their prototype follows the scheme of the original calls, just prepend zzip_ to the function calls and ZZIP_ to the struct-typedefs.

To call zzip_opendir on a real directory will then return a ZZIP_DIR whose member-variable realdir points to the actual DIR-structure returned by the underlying posix opendir-call.

If a real directory 'test' does not exist, then the zzip_opendir will try to open a file '' with a call to zzip_dir_open. Subsequent calls to zzip_readdir will then return information as being obtained from the central archive directory of the zip-file.


There are no differences between the posix calls and their counterparts from the zziplib library - well, just as long as the zip-file contains just the plain files from a directory.

If the zip-file contains directory entries you may be prompted with some awkward behaviour, since in zip-file a directory happens to be just an empty file. Note that the posix function open may also open a directory for reading - it will only return EISDIR if the open mode-argument included write-access.

What the current of version of the zziplib library can definitely not do: calling zzip_opendir on a directory zippend inside a zip-file.

To prevent the enrollment of directories into the zip-archive, you can use the -D option of the zip program. That is in any Makefile you may want to use `cd $(dir) && zip -D ../$(dir).zip *`.


Distribution of a set of files is much easier if it just means to wrap up a group of files into a zip-archive - and copy that zip-archive to the respective destination directory. Even more the files can be compressed and unlike a tar.gz archive there is no need to decompress the archive in temporary location before accessing a member-file.

On the other hand, there is no chance to scatter files around on the disk like it could easily happen with a set of gzip'ed man-pages in a single `man`-directory. The reader application does not specifically need to know that the file is compressed, so that reading a script like `share/guile/x.x.x/ice-9/popen.scm` is done by simple calls to zzip_read which works on zip-file named `share/guile/x.x.x/`.

A version mismatch between different files in a group is now obvious: either the opened file belongs to the distribution archive, or otherwise in resides in a real directory just next to the zip-archive that contains the original.


The zziplib library does not use any code piece from the zip programs, neither pkzip nor infozip, so there is no license issue here. The decompression is done by using the free zlib library which has no special issues with respect to licensing. The rights to the zziplib library are reserved to the copyright holders, there is a public license that puts most the sources themselves under the GNU Lesser General Public License, so that the use of a shared library instance of the zziplib library has no restrictions of interest to application programmers. For more details and hints about static linking, check the COPYING information.

The only issue you have with the zziplib library is the fact that you can only read the contained files. Writing/Compression is not implemented. Even more, a compressed file is not seekable at the moment although I hope that someone will stand up to implement that functionality someday. 1. June 2000