Winrar is a completely accessible file archiver similar to winzip or 7zip, created by rarlabs. The difference is that it not only handles rar archives, but it can be used as a general file explorer program, too, and that is what this article will focus on.

general usage

When you launch winrar, you are presented with a general file view similar to windows explorer. By default though, winrar offers more information than windows explorer does, and this is primarily the reason I like it. I know explorer can be adjusted to show more information, and winrar can also be adjusted to show less information as well by unchecking details in the settings menu on the file list tab, though I like it the way it is by default. Winrar will also start up using the same directory you were last viewing when it starts, though this is configurable via the settings menu. I personally like this option, since it allows me to leave winrar in a directory I use often, and know it will start there next time I run it. You can also add favorites to winrar, and even scan programs for viruses using any installed virus scanners already on your system. It's quite the versatile program, and the fact that it's 100 percent accessible is simply a huge plus.

Just like explorer, you'll have all the items on your computer, cd drives, hard disks, and any usb drives you've plugged in, as well as any network shares you've mounted. Navigating winrar is as simple as using the arrow keys as well as page up and page down to move up and down the list of files. First letter navigation is also possible, just press any letter of your choice, and winrar will jump to the first file/directory with that letter. Pressing it again will move to the next one in line and so on. When you get to a directory or archive file you want to navigate into, simply press the enter key, and the view changes to the new directory. To get back out of the directory you're currently browsing, you can either scroll to the top of the list, then press enter on the two dots there (this means parent directory), or you can simply use the control-pageup key to get back much more quickly). By default, directories are listed first, then files (sorted by extension) with archive files being listed first. This means that if you have multiple files with the same name, but different extensions, they will show up in different parts of the list. I like this arrangement, but if you don't, it's possible to change this behavior by changing the sort order via the menus.

winrar capabilities

Winrar will launch programs (just like windows explorer), load text or doc files into word or notepad, or open pdf files using adobe, just like windows explorer does, but the real power of winrar becomes apparent when you get to an archive you want to manipulate.

working with archives

When you find an archive file you'd like to view, simply press enter on it, and winrar will treat the file just like it's a directory on the disk, allowing you to use the archive file (zip, rar, arj, 7z, and so on) exactly as if it were just another directory on the drive, even to the point of viewing documentation, and executing programs. The problem though is that if you use this method to run an executable, it may or may not work, depending on the program, and how it handles it's data files (if any), because of being executed from within the archive. Winrar will execute programs not inside archives just fine. Winrar will allow you to extract a text or doc file, edit that file, then resave it back into the archive when you're done, which makes for some handy disk usage savings.

In most cases though, when you're working with archive files, you will want to extract those archives so that you can work with them or install the programs, or whatever it is you want to do, and lucky for us, winrar has lots of ways to do this.
One of the reasons winrar is so accessible, is because it has keystrokes for nearly every function you'd ever want to perform. For example, extracting an archive is alt-E or alt-W (depending on whether you wish to specify where it is extracted to or not), and creating an archive from the currently highlighted directory or file is alt-A. alt-T will test an archive, alt-R will perform recovery on an archive, and many many more. In fact, you can accomplish nearly everything you need to do using just key combinations, it's almost never necessary to use mouse or screen reader functions to accomplish what you need.

let's do a walk through

So, just for tutorial purposes, let's create an archive, and lock the archive against tampering.


,locking archives is only available in the registered version.
First, we'll select a directory. Any directory will do, I'm going to use my documents directory for this example, but this will work for any directory you like. First, navigate to your documents directory, then press enter to enter the directory. Verify that this is the directory we want. Once you've convinced yourself that you're in the right place, winrar has a nice keystroke that will take you back to the directory so you don't have to page/arrow up to the top, then press enter to get out of the directory, and that is control-pageUp. Once you're back on the documents directory, just press alt-A (or use the applications key, and select add to archive). Winrar will prompt you for the archive name, which will default to documents.rar. Now, at this point, press tab and you can work your way through all the various options for creating your archive. You can select the archive type (rar, rar version 5, and zip are the defaults). Yes, rar can create zip files too. Rar5 is the new archive type for rar, which is not compatible with earlier versions of rar, so if you or whoever receives the file doesn't have winrar version 5 or later, they won't be able to uncompress the file. This may or may not be what you want, depending on how security conscious you are, so feel free to choose whatever option you like, as long as you know the possible down sides to selecting them.

The next option is the type of archive. I won't go into detail here, but real quick, the options are:

In general, these options range from no compression at all, to give me the most compression you can, so that my archive is as small as possible. Each option takes more memory, and longer to execute.
The next option is dictionary size, and without getting into a lot of technical details which most people don't care about, the dictionary size determines how effective rar will be when compressing data, if it finds duplicate data in the each block, it can compress it better, so in general, the larger the block, the better the compression, with the trade off that the larger the dictionary, the longer it will take to actually do the compressing, because it has more data to search through each time it wants to compress a new piece of data.
It's generally best to leave the defaults here (on my machine using best compression, it's 4 megabyte blocks), but that will vary depending on compression type, and other factors.

the next two tabs are an option to split your archive into specific sizes. For example, if you're compressing a large video file that is several hundred gigabytes, and you only have 4 gigabyte dvd disks to save it on, rar can split the file into multiple chunks, so that you can copy each individual chunk to a different disk and store it that way, or if you are trying to upload a file to dropbox or some other online file storage system, and they have a file size restriction, winrar can solve that problem for you by making the archive the exact size you need, and splitting it into multiple files.
The first one asks you the size, and the second one asks whether you specified the size in bytes, kilobytes, megabytes, or gigabytes. So, if you are using the split option, this gives you a way to designate the archive size precisely so you won't have any confusion over the actual archive sizes.

The next set of options are various options that will affect either the archive, or the files you're archiving. You have options such as:

After you've configured your new archive the way you want it, tab to the ok button, and away it goes.
While the archiving is taking place, winrar will present you with three buttons,

  1. Background (which will move winrar to the system tray, and remove it from the alt-tab sequence
  2. Pause (pauses archiving if you need to do something else temporarily)
  3. cancel simply aborts the process
  4. .
When the archiving is complete, you will now have a new file in the current directory with the name you selected in the previous step, and if you selected background, winrar will then reappear in the alt-tab sequence, and also show you any errors it encountered during the archiving process.


This is the only inaccessible part of winrar, for some reason, the view used to show errors isn't accessible to NVDA, but you can use the log function to see any errors.

That's all there is to it. Winrar is easy to use, and has some very nice features that make it a great general file viewer, as well as an excellent archive maintainer.
If you'd like to get a complete list of winrar functions and settings, F-10 will do it, it presents you with a nice organized multitab settings view that allows you to view or change virtually everything about winrar and how it works.

winrar functions

Below are a list of the more common functions and their key combinations. These key combinations are usually available from anywhere, though occasionally, they will work when winrar is in particular modes (for example, the extract archive obviously won't work if you're not looking at an archive file). Most of these functions are also available using the applications (or context if you prefer) key which is the one on the right side of the space bar between the alt and control keys on most windows keyboards.
functionkey stroke
delete file delete
rename fileF2
Print file control-i
Settings menucontrol-s
Change drivecontrol-d
set passwordcontrol-p
Add files to archivealt-a
Extract to specified directoryalt-e
extract without confirmationalt-w
Lock archivealt-l
add comment to archivealt-m
Repair archivealt-r
protect archivealt-p
Test archivealt-t
show informationalt-i
View filealt-v
If you forget any of these keys, you can use the menus to find the options you want. (of which F10 is only the master menu key)
alt-ffile menu
alt-ccommands menu
alt-stools menu
Some functions are only available in the registered version, but since I've been a registered RAR user for many years now, I have no idea which functions aren't present in the non registered version.
I realize this was a rather quick and dirty examination of winrar functions, but I hope it was enough to convince you that winrar is well worth taking a look see to verify for yourself whether it can handle your file browsing and archiving needs.
If there are questions, or comments, feel free to send them to me, and I'd be glad to update this article with modifications and additional information that folks would like to see.
Feel free to repost this article where you like, as long as you give credit to me (Travis Siegel) as the originator.