Tip: open ZIP files on iPhone in Apple’s Notes app

By , Feb 16, 2016

Notes iOS 9 El Capitan teaser 001

Although neither Apple’s Safari nor Google’s Chrome browser can extract files from ZIP archives on iOS, it has been discovered that Apple’s Notes app lets users view the contents of ZIP files by taking advantage of iOS’s built-in file attachment viewers.

In iOS 9, Notes has received several new features, among them support for adding content to a new or existing note through iOS’s multi-purpose Share menu in apps like Safari, Maps, Pages and more.

As it turns out, you can also use iOS’s Share menu in conjunction with the “Open In” feature to add a downloaded ZIP file to a note on your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad.

How to send ZIP files to Apple’s Notes app on iPhone and iPad

1) Launch Safari on your iOS device and open a webpage containing a ZIP download link, like this one on the University of Colorado’s website.

2) Tap a ZIP link to prompt Safari to download the file.

3) Since Safari cannot handle ZIP archives, it will open a blank page with an “Open In” option at the top. Tap it to access the services and apps in the Share menu.

4) You can now select an app on your device that can handle ZIP files. In our case, we’re going to tap on the Notes icon in the menu.

iOS 9 Safari send ZIP file to Notes iPhone screenshot 001

5) A Notes share sheet pops up. You can optionally add text to accompany your note and choose whether you want to add the ZIP file to a new note or existing one by tapping Choose Note. I’m going to add this particular ZIP archive to a new note.

6) Tap Save to send the ZIP file to Notes.

7) Now launch Notes on your iOS device and tap your newly created note.

8) You will see the ZIP archive’s icon in your note. Tap it to extract and view its contents.

iOS 9 Notes ZIP file attachment screenshot 002

As seen in Mail, iCloud Drive and Notes

This also works in the new iCloud Drive app and Mail.

To test this feature, I created a new ZIP archive on my Mac with three images and uploaded it to the “My Documents” folder in my iCloud Drive. Then, using the stock iCloud Drive app, I tapped the ZIP file on my iPhone.

iCloud Drive view attachments iPhone screenshot 001

Sure enough, iOS’s data handler kicked in, allowing me to swipe through the images in the ZIP archive. Tapping the Attachments button reveals the full contents of the archive, as shown below.

iCloud Drive view attachments iPhone screenshot 002

For good measure, I tried sending another ZIP file containing an image and a text file from iCloud Drive to Notes. It, too, worked like a charm. In case there are multiple, different file types in a ZIP file, the system viewer will let you swipe between the files in the archive that iOS understands.

Unfortunately, iOS’s file attachment handlers won’t let you extract ZIP files to a destination like a folder in your iCloud Drive or another app—you are limited to viewing contents of supported file attachments in read-only mode.

iOS file attachment support

Just to be sure, the same feature is present in Apple’s Mail app but that’s hardly a surprise. According to Apple, iOS file viewers support the following types of file attachments in apps like Mail, iCloud Drive and Notes:

  • .jpg, .tiff, .gif (images)
  • .doc and .docx (Microsoft Word)
  • .htm and .html (web pages)
  • .key (Keynote)
  • .numbers (Numbers)
  • .pages (Pages)
  • .pdf (Preview and Adobe Acrobat)
  • .ppt and .pptx (Microsoft PowerPoint)
  • .txt (text)
  • .rtf (rich text format)
  • .vcf (contact information)
  • .xls and .xlsx (Microsoft Excel)
  • .zip
  • .ics

Hat tip goes to iPad musician Octave Express, who first reported on downloading and extracting ZIP archives on iOS by using the Notes app as a file manager, without using any third party app.

Watch the video tutorial below.

Basically, he was able to download and unzip a Garage Band file in Notes and then use it to open the project in Garage Band for iOS

What do you think about Notes’ built-in support for ZIP files?

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  • Ángel Javier Esquivel

    Well, thats a super useful tip

  • That’s awesome! I’ve always used iFile to view downloaded images and text files packaged in zip which isn’t always practical

    • Marcus

      I’ve been doing the same thing. This is really cool!

  • QP

    Thank you so much! didn’t know it 🙂

  • Woah that’s insanely useful!

  • Guilherme 

    Great tip. Thank you!

  • Kunal Barchha

    It’s not working on iOS 9.3. “Download Failed”, “Safari cannot download this file”

  • crcking

    useful tip Thank you

  • Nick

    Wow, how you do discover something so useful like this? Thanks for the article.