ISO image

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ISO image
Filename extension .iso, .img
Internet media type application/x-iso9660-image
Uniform Type Identifier public.iso-image
Type of format Disk image
Standard(s) ISO 9660, UDF

An ISO image is an archive file of an optical disc, a type of disk image composed of the data contents of every written sector of an optical disc, including the optical disc file system.[1] ISO image files usually have a file extension of .iso. The name ISO is taken from the ISO 9660 file system used with CD-ROM media, but what is known as an ISO image might also contain a UDF (ISO/IEC 13346) file system (commonly used by DVDs and Blu-ray Discs).

ISO images can be created from optical discs by disk imaging software, or from a collection of files by optical disc authoring software, or from a different disk image file by means of conversion. Software distributed on bootable discs is often available for download in ISO image format and, like any other ISO image, may be written on, or "burned" to, a CD or DVD with any capable software.


There is no standard definition for ISO image files. ISO disc images are uncompressed and do not use a particular container format; they are a sector-by-sector copy of the data on an optical disc, stored inside a binary file. ISO images are expected to contain the binary image of an optical media file system (usually ISO 9660 and its extensions or UDF), including the data in its files in binary format, copied exactly as they were stored on the disc. The data inside the ISO image will be structured according to the file system that was used on the optical disc from which it was created.

ISO files store only the user data from each sector on an optical disc, ignoring the control headers and error correction data, and are therefore slightly smaller than a raw disc image of optical media. Since the size of the user data portion of a sector (logical sector) in data optical discs is 2,048 bytes, the size of an ISO image will be a multiple of 2,048.

The .iso file extension is the one most commonly used for this type of disc images. The .img extension can also be found on some ISO image files, such as in some images from Microsoft DreamSpark; however, IMG files, which also use the .img extension, tend to have slightly different contents. The .udf file extension is sometimes used to indicate that the file system inside the ISO image is actually UDF and not ISO 9660.

Any single-track CD-ROM, DVD or Blu-ray disc can be archived in ISO format as a true digital copy of the original. Unlike a physical optical disc, an image can be transferred over any data link or removable storage medium. An ISO image can be opened with almost every file archiver. Native support for handling ISO images varies from operating system to operating system.

Hybrid disc formats include the ability to be read by different devices, operating systems, or hardware. In the past, one example of this use was for a disc that supported both Microsoft Windows and Macintosh installations from a single disk image (by containing several file systems). A more recent example is the release of hybrid ISO files that can be booted or started from both BD or DVD and USB flash drive devices when the image is written to any of these storage devices. This file format can be used to create Live USB environments through a low-level copy (for example with the Unix dd command) to a USB key.

An ISO can be "mounted" with suitable driver software, i.e. treated by the operating system as if it were a physical optical disc. Most Unix-based operating systems, including GNU/Linux and Mac OS X, have built-in capability to mount an ISO. Windows 8 also has such capability.[2] For other operating systems software drivers can be installed to achieve the same objective.

Since there is no standard defining the ISO disc image file format, the term "ISO image" is sometimes used in a broader sense to refer to any disc image file of an optical disc, independent of the format it uses.


A CD can have multiple tracks, which can contain computer data, audio, or video. File systems such as ISO 9660 are stored inside one of these tracks. Since ISO images are expected to contain a binary copy of the file system and its contents, there is no concept of a "track" inside an ISO image, since a track is a container for the contents of an ISO image. This means that CDs with multiple tracks can't be stored inside a single ISO image; at most, an ISO image will contain the data inside one of those multiple tracks, and only if it is stored inside a standard file system.

This also means that CD-Audios, which are usually composed of multiple tracks, can't be stored inside an ISO image. Furthermore, not even a single track of a CD-Audio can be stored as an ISO image, since audio tracks do not contain a file system inside them, but only a continuous stream of encoded audio data. This audio is stored on the same sectors that store a file system, but it is not stored inside files; it is addressed with track numbers, index points and a CD time code that are encoded into the lead-in of each session of the CD-Audio disc.

Video CDs and Super Video CDs require at least two tracks on a CD, so it is also not possible to store an image of one of these discs inside an ISO image file.

Formats such as CUE/BIN, CCD/IMG and MDS/MDF formats can be used to store multi-track disc images, including CD-Audio discs. These formats store a raw disc image of the complete disc, including information from all tracks, along with a companion file describing the multiple tracks and the characteristics of each of those tracks. This would allow an optical media burning tool to have all the information required to correctly burn the image on a new disc. For Audio CDs, one can also transfer the audio data into uncompressed audio files, optionally reserving the metadata, like WAV or AIFF. (See CD ripping)

Most software that is capable of writing ISO images to hard disks or writable (CD / DVD / BD) ROMS is generally not able to write ISO disk images to flash drives. This limitation is more related to the availability of software tools able to perform this task, than to problems in the format itself. One exception to that is PowerISO, which is able to write raw image files to USB flash drives starting at version 4.8 (since Jun 16, 2011). Most Unix-like systems can use the “dd” program for writing ISO images to both flash media and hard drives.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1] Definition: An ISO file, often called an ISO image, is in fact an "image" of an entire CD or DVD. The entire contents of a disc can be represented in a single ISO file.
  2. ^ "Windows 8 Explorer will support native mounting of ISO and VHD". ExtremeTech. Retrieved 2012-05-21. 

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