Use ASP.NET and DotNetZip to Create and Extract ZIP Files
This article shows how to use DotNetZip to create and extract ZIP files in an ASP.NET application, and covers advanced features like password protection and encryption.
In 1989, Phil Katz created the ZIP file format. Over the decades, it grew into one of the most
popular and widely-used data compression and archival file formats. Windows has long supported the ZIP file format, offering built-in support for creating, reading, and
extracting ZIP files. There are both commercial and free third-party applications for working with ZIP files, including WinZip, WinRAR, and 7-Zip.
Over the years I've
worked on a number of ASP.NET projects that required the ability to create and extract ZIP files. Unfortunately, the .NET Framework provides spotty support for working with ZIP
files. The ZipPackage class, added to the .NET Framework version 3.0,
can be used to create ZIP files; however, the ZIP files created by this class contain an additional manifest file as part of the archive. What's more, the
class cannot read or extract a ZIP file unless this manifest file is present. To boot, the
ZipPackage class provides suboptimal compression ratios and
lacks support for features like passwords, comments, and AES encryption.
The good news is that there is a feature-rich, free, open source ZIP implementation for .NET - DotNetZip. Using DotNetZip and a dash of C# code you can:
- Create a new ZIP file and add one or more files or folders,
- Read the contents of a ZIP file,
- Extract all (or some) of the contents of a ZIP file to a specified folder,
- Use advanced ZIP file format features, such as encrypting the contents of the ZIP and protecting them with a password.
To get started with DotNetZip you need to get your hands on the DotNetZip assembly, which can be downloaded from the DotNetZip project page on CodePlex. From the project’s Releases page you can
download the runtime, the developer's kit, or the source code. This runtime and developer's kit downloads include the DotNetZip assembly,
Ionic.Zip.dll, along with
examples and documentation. (If you download the source code you will need to compile DotNetZip yourself.)
You can also get your hands on the DotNetZip assembly by downloading the demo application for this article, which uses DotNetZip verison 1.9. You'll find
this assembly in the demo application's
This article shows how to use DotNetZip to create and extract ZIP files in an ASP.NET application, and covers advanced features like password protection and
Creating a ZIP File
Creating a ZIP file with DotNetZip involves three steps:
- Create a
- Add one or more entries to the
ZipFile object, and
- Save the ZIP file to disk or to a stream.
ZipFile class implements the IDisposable interface;
consequently, when creating a ZipFile object you should do so with a
using block, as the following code snippet illustrates:
Listing 1: Create a new ZipFile object.
ZipFile class offers a variety of methods for adding entries to the ZIP. The
AddFiles methods allow you
to add one or more existing files; use the
AddDirectory method to add all of the files in a specified directory to the ZIP. You can also add
programmatically-generated content to the ZIP using the
The code snippet below adds two entries to the ZIP file:
- The image file named
Sam.jpg and located in the website's
Images folder, which is added via the
AddFile method, and
- An entry named
ZIPInfo.txt, whose content is specified at runtime via the
Listing 2: Two entries have been added to the ZIP file.
After adding all of the entries to the ZIP file, the final step is to save it. You can save the ZIP file to a file on disk or to any stream using the
Save method. The code snippet below saves the ZIP to a file named
PictureOfSam.zip in the website's root folder.
Listing 3: The ZIP file has been saved to a file named PictureOfSam.zip.
Determining Where Entries are Located Within the ZIP File
If you are following along at your computer and have created the
PictureOfSam.zip file, you may be surprised when opening the ZIP and examining its structure.
There are two entries in the ZIP file -
ZIPInfo.txt - but the
Sam.jpg entry is likely contained within one (or more)
subfolders. For instance, when I ran the above code from my computer it created a ZIP file that contained a
My Projects folder, which contained a subfolder named
Writings, with another subfolder named
DotNetSlackers, and so on, all the way down to an
Images folder where the
entry is located. (The
ZIPInfo.txt entry is at the root of the ZIP folder, as you'd expect.) What's going on here?
By default, DotNetZip's
AddDirectory methods create a folder structure in the ZIP that mirrors their folder structure on disk. On my
Sam.jpg file resides in the folder
D:\My Projects\Writings\DotNetSlackers\...\Images, which explains the folder structure in the ZIP
You can override the default behavior and specify the folder the file should be added to in the ZIP by specifying the folder name as the second input parameter to
AddDirectory methods. Use
string.Empty to have the file added to the root of the ZIP.
following code snippet adds the
Sam.jpg file to the ZIP twice: once in the root of the ZIP and once in a folder named
Listing 4: The Sam.jpg image is twice added to the ZIP file - once in the root and once in a folder named My Images.
Firgure 1 shows a screen shot of the corresponding ZIP file when opened using WinRAR, a third-party ZIP program. Note how the ZIP's root folder contains two
ZIPInfo.txt - as well as a folder named
My Images, which also houses a copy of
Figure 1: The ZIP file now contains both Sam.jpg and ZIPInfo.txt in its root folder. There’s also a My Images folder.
To indicate where entries added by the
AddEntry method should go, specify the folder path in the entry name. For example, in the ZIP file
ZIPInfo.txt entry is added to the root. To have it placed in the
My Images folder instead, you would specify the entry name as
Images\ZIPInfo.txt like so:
Password Protecting and Encrypting ZIP File Entries
By default, the entries in a ZIP file are not encrypted nor password protected. You can secure the contents of a ZIP file by applying a password and encryption scheme to one
or more ZIP file entries. This is accomplished in DotNetZip by setting the
Keep in mind that while the
Encryption properties are defined on the
ZipFile object, they apply to the individual
entries added to the ZIP file. You can have a ZIP file that contains some entries that are not protected, some that are protected with a particular password and encryption
scheme, and others that are protected with a different password and encryption scheme. What password and encryption scheme is applied to an entry depends on the values of the
Encryption properties at the time the entry is added to the ZIP. Therefore, to have the entire ZIP file
protected with the same password and encryption scheme, set these two properties prior to adding any entries.
The following snippet shows how to set a password and
encryption scheme for a ZIP file. Here we are adding two entries,
ZIPInfo.txt, but only
Sam.jpg is protected. By design, the
ZIPInfo.txt entry is not protected because it is added before the
Encryption properties are set.
Listing 5: The Sam.jpg entry is encrypted and protected with a password.
Alternatively, I could have made the
ZIPInfo.txt entry unprotected by:
- Setting the
Encryption properties to
- Adding the
- Setting the
Password property to
null, and then
- Adding the
In short, whenever you add an entry to a ZIP file the current
Encryption property values are used to protect that entry; if
null then the entry is not protected. For more information on how password and encryption settings are applied to ZIP file entries, refer
to the Password property technical
All password protected entries are encrypted; which algorithm is used to encrypt a protected entry is determined by the value of
Encryption property at the time the entry is added. By default, the
Encryption property is set to the
PkzipWeak value when a
password is specified. This instructs DotNetZip to encrypt the entry using the Zip 2.0 encryption algorithm defined in the ZIP file format specification. DotNetZip also supports
128- and 256-bit AES encryption.
Zip 2.0 is known to be a weak encryption algorithm. Unfortunately, Zip 2.0 is the only standard encryption algorithm that is supported across all ZIP file
readers. For example, WinRAR can read and extract AES encrypted ZIP file entries. However, Windows Explorer cannot extract AES encrypted ZIP file entries. For further
discussion, refer to the Encryption property technical
Putting It All Together: Building a Multi-File Download Service
The download for this article includes a demo application that provides a real-world use for creating ZIP files in a web application - allowing users to select and download
multiple files as a single ZIP file.
The demo application contains a folder named
TaxForms with six PDF documents I downloaded from the Internal Revenue Service’s website. From
CreateZIP.aspx the user is prompted to select one or more forms to download.
They can also choose to password protect the forms being downloaded by entering a password. Figure 2 shows a screen shot of
CreateZIP.aspx after selecting the
forms to download and entering a password. Clicking the "Download Forms" button brings up a Save As / Open dialog box, allowing them to save or open the ZIP file that contains
the selected forms.
Figure 2: The user has selected four forms to download.
When the user clicks the "Download Forms" button there is a postback, at which point the ZIP file is created.
The selected forms are added to the ZIP file in a folder named
Requested Forms. Additionally, a
README.txt file that provides details about the forms
IS added to the root of the ZIP file. This ZIP file is then sent back directly to the client (without being saved to disk), prompting the user's browser to display the Save As /
Open dialog box.
The following code performs the tasks detailed above. To start, a
Content-Disposition HTTP header is added to instruct the browser to
display the Save As / Open dialog box. Next, the
Response.ContentType property is set to
application/zip, which tells the browser it is receiving a
The ZIP file is then created. Note how the
Encryption properties are set only if the user supplies a password. The items
in the CheckBoxList of forms are enumerated; the corresponding form for each selected checkbox is added to the ZIP file. Once the requested forms have been added to the ZIP, the
Password property is set to
null and the
README.txt entry is added. (Recall that setting the
Password property to
null ensures that the following entries will not be protected. Consequently, the
README.txt file will not be protected, regardless of whether the
user specified a password.)
Finally, the contents of the ZIP file are saved to the
OutputStream. This has the effect of
sending the contents of the ZIP file directly to the visitor's browser.
Listing 6: A ZIP file containing the requested tax forms is created and streamed back to the visitor’s browser.
Reading and Extracting ZIP Files
Like with creating a ZIP file, reading or extracting a ZIP file's contents is accomplished using the
ZipFile class. Use the
Read method to load an
existing ZIP file into a
ZipFile instance. Using the
Read method you can load a ZIP file from disk, from a byte array, or from a stream. The code
snippet below shows how to read the contents of a ZIP file named
LINQDemos.zip, which resides in the website's root folder.
Entries property returns a collection of
ZipEntry objects, which model the entries in the ZIP file.
ZipEntry class offers properties like
CreationTime, and so on.
Note that folders in the ZIP file are considered entires and therefore appear in the
Entries collection. To determine if an entry is a folder or a compressed file,
The following code snippet enumerates the entries in the
For each non-folder entry, the entry's name, compressed size, and original size are appended to a StringBuilder object, building up the markup for a bulleted list. Figure 3
shows this markup when viewed through a browser.
Listing 7: The non-folder entries in the LINQDemos.zip file are displayed in a bulleted list.
Figure 3: The contents of the LINQDemos.zip file are displayed in a bulleted list.
To extract a file use the
Extract method. You can extract a ZIP file entry to the file system or to a stream. By default, extracting an entry to the file system places it in the current,
working folder. However, you may optionally provide an alternate folder to place the extracted file in. Also, you can specify the action to take when extracting a file to a
location where there's alreayd an exsiting file with the same name.
For example, to extract the contents of
LINQDemos.zip to the
folder in the website, you could use the following code:
Listing 8: The contents of the LINQDemos.zip file are extracted, one-by-one, to the ~/LINQDemos folder.
The above code reads in the
LINQDemos.zip ZIP file and enumerates its entries. Each entry is extracted to the target directory
LINQDemos) with instructions to silently overwrite any files that exist in that folder with the same name.
ZipFile class also offers
methods for extracting one or more of its entries. For instance, the above code could be replaced with a call to the
ExtractSelectedEntries method extracts all entries that match a particular search criteria. The following code snippet shows how to extract only those
entries from the
LINQDemos.zip file that have the file extension
Listing 9: Only the .cs files are extracted from LINQDemos.zip
Putting It All Together: Extracting User-Uploaded ZIP Files
The demo application includes a page named
ExtractZIP.aspx that allows a user to upload a ZIP file from their computer to the website, where its contents are
extracted and saved to a folder on the web server's file system. There's also a textbox on the page for the user to enter a password, in the case that the ZIP contains protected
entries. After extracting the ZIP file's contents, a GridView control displays details about the uploaded ZIP file's entries.
The code that runs when the user uploads
their ZIP file follows. Note that the
ZipFile object is created by calling its
Read method and passing in the contents of the uploaded file as a byte
array. Next, the
txtZIPPassword TextBox is examined; if the user supplied a password then the
Password property is set
accordingly. Note that you do not need to specify the
Encryption property when extracting protected files - DotNetZip can automatically determine how each entry
Finally, all of the files in the ZIP are extracted to the
~/UserUploads folder using the
option. This option instructs DotNetZip that if a file with the same name is found then it should leave the existing file and continue with extracting the remaining
files from the ZIP. The GridView on the page is bound to the
Entries collection, showing the user the contents of the ZIP they
Listing 10: The contents of the uploaded ZIP file are extracted to the ~/UserUploads folder.
Figure 4 shows a screen shot of the
ExtractZIP.aspx page after the user has uploaded a ZIP file.
Figure 4: A GridView displays the contents of the uploaded (and extracted) ZIP file.
The ZIP file format is one of the most popular file compression and archival formats. It is so common that support for creating, reading, and extracting ZIP files is built
into both the Windows and Mac OS X operating systems.
Unfortunately, the .NET Framework offers incomplete support for working with ZIP files. If you need to work with ZIP
files in an ASP.NET application your best bet is to turn to DotNetZip, a free, open source option. As we saw in this article, DotNetZip offers a straightforward API for
creating, reading, and extracting ZIP files. And by setting a property or two, it's possible to create and read password protected ZIP files and to encrypt the entries using
either the standard Zip 2 encryption or 128- or 256-bit AES encryption.
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