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what are iso filesISO files can be created from any CD or DVD you have lying around. They’re called “disc images” because they’re an exact image of a disc. An ISO file contains an exact representation of the contents of a disc, allowing you to create backup copies of discs and store them digitally.

These ISO files can be used as if they were physical discs, making them particularly useful I you have a computer without a disc drive, such as an ultrabook What Is An Ultrabook & Can It Succeed? [Technology Explained] What Is An Ultrabook & Can It Succeed? [Technology Explained] Remember when the word laptop described virtually every mobile computer on the market? The choices were certainly easier back then (because there was simply less choice available), but today there’s a far wider variety including... Read More . You can also burn the ISO image to another disc, creating a copy of your original disc.

What Are ISO Files?

An ISO file is a complete copy of a CD or DVD. You can create ISO images yourself or download them from the Internet. For example, Linux distributions offer freely downloadable ISO files that you can burn to disc.

You can use an ISO image in a variety of ways. The ISO file itself is a backup of a disc, so you can use the ISO file if you ever lose or damage the original disc CDs Are Not Forever: The Truth About CD/DVD Longevity, "Mold" & "Rot" CDs Are Not Forever: The Truth About CD/DVD Longevity, "Mold" & "Rot" The digital age has revolutionized the way we handle information. Never before could humankind record and store so much information and in such diversity. While the amount of data has increased exponentially, the predicted life... Read More . You can also “mount” the ISO, which makes it accessible as if it were a physical disc – you can install software from the disc and access its files as if it were inserted in your disc drive. ISO files can be used to install software from discs on computers that lack physical disk drives.

The ISO file can also be “burned” back onto another CD or DVD, creating a copy of the original disc. If you want more detailed technical information, check out the ISO image article on Wikipedia.

Creating An ISO File From a Disc

We’ll be using WinCDEmu to create and use ISO files. It’s one of programs on our Best Windows Software page. There are many other tools that can create and use ISO images, but WinCDEmu is nice and simple.

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To create an ISO file after installing WinCDEmu, insert a CD or DVD into your computer’s CD or DVD drive and open the Computer window from your Start menu. Right-click the disc drive and select the Create ISO Image option.

what are iso files

WinCDEmu will create an ISO image from your disc. This make take some time, depending on how fast your disc drive can read the disc and the size of the disc itself. This process is known as “ripping” a disc.

what are iso files used for

Using An ISO

To use your ISO image and make your files accessible, locate the ISO image file on your hard drive and double-click it. This is known as “mounting” the disc image.

what are iso files used for

WinCDEmu will make the ISO image accessible at a new drive letter. You can use it as if it were a physical disc inserted into your computer. To “unmount” the disc image, right-click the new drive letter and use the Eject option.

what are iso files used for

WinCDEmu is just one of many options — you can use other programs such as DAEMON Tools Lite or Alcohol 52% to mount disc images 3 Free Alternatives To DAEMON Tools For Mounting Image Files 3 Free Alternatives To DAEMON Tools For Mounting Image Files Read More .

Burning an ISO

You can “burn” an ISO image back to a disc, creating a new copy of the original disc. Windows 7 DOWNLOAD The Ultimate Windows 7 Guide DOWNLOAD The Ultimate Windows 7 Guide Read More includes integrated support for this, so you don’t have to install any third-party software. Just right-click an ISO file and select Burn disc image.

what are iso files

Windows will allow you to select the disc drive you want to burn the image to. You can optionally verify the disc after burning to ensure there were no errors during the disc-burning process.


If you don’t have Windows 7 or a newer version of Windows, such as Windows 8, you’ll need to install another application to burn ISO files. InfraRecorder Burn, Erase & Fixate CDs & DVDs With InfraRecorder Burn, Erase & Fixate CDs & DVDs With InfraRecorder InfraRecorder is a free CD/DVD burning tool for Windows 2000 through 7. It's available as a desktop client or portable application for both 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems and has been translated to over 20... Read More is one good option, and you can other good options in the CD/DVD Tools section of our Best Windows Software page.

There are also other types of disc image files you may come across on the Internet, such as BIN/CUE, NRG, MDS/MDF, CCD, and IMG files. These work similarly to ISO files, but you’ll need different programs to work with them.

What do you use ISO image files for? Leave a comment and share any tips or tricks you have!

Image Credit: Laptop on White Background, DVD Disc in Drive via Shutterstock

  1. minnie
    March 18, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    so , is it advisable that each time i burn my videos from iMovie, i opt for ISO, rather than movie?

  2. LuckyBelly
    April 1, 2013 at 6:32 am

    I use another software named Any DVD Cloner Platinum to burn ISO file to blank DVD disc. It works amazingly.

  3. Walter Gilbert
    January 19, 2013 at 12:03 am

    Thank you for a clear explanation.

  4. david mccarroll
    December 28, 2012 at 10:07 am

    I did not know windows 7 could do this either.This will make storing cd's easier.

  5. careylili
    November 8, 2012 at 8:48 am

    To create ISO Image File for movie DVD, I think use a DVD copy software is more straightforward as it just requires a few clicks and all is done.

  6. Siddhant Chaurasia
    October 23, 2012 at 7:11 am

    WOW thx for this

  7. Debbie Strain
    October 22, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    Thanks, I was trying to find a program to burn ISO to a disk. I didn't know that windows 7 had this built in.

  8. De Muñoz Bañuelos
    October 22, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    For real? Relly nice, I'll start doing ISOs again!

  9. Boni Oloff
    October 22, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Nice idea, but i use daemon tools pro the modify ISO content so long.
    But, it is not free.

  10. Jérémie Fortin
    October 20, 2012 at 3:35 am

    They should had mentionned imgburn or clonedrive

  11. howard wolowitz
    October 18, 2012 at 5:07 am

    what does iso stand for?

    • tom hartnett
      October 19, 2012 at 2:41 pm

      Short answer: International Organization for Standardization

      From Wikipedia: "An ISO image (International Organization for Standardization) is an archive file (also known as a disk image) of an optical disc, composed of the data contents of every written sector of an optical disc, including the optical disc file system".

      • Chris Hoffman
        October 20, 2012 at 8:37 pm

        It's because CDs used the "ISO 9660" file system. It's not very interesting, sadly.

  12. howard wolowitz
    October 18, 2012 at 5:06 am

    when my cousin dumped a psp game (umd) it was in iso format

  13. Mike
    October 18, 2012 at 3:30 am

    thanks for this guide i needed to learn how to do this haha thank you

  14. Keith Swartz
    October 17, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    Great article! I love ISO Files!

  15. Jim Spencer
    October 17, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    I would tell people that UltraISO is superior to the Windows 7 version, but it looks like the built in version is an adequate choice for those who don't want to spend money on software! I have been using ISO storage for several years now, and one of its advantages for me, it is free of a virus threat! I back up all my movies in ISO, and it works flawlessly! Great article!

  16. Vicky Gregory Moss
    October 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    Awesome info!

  17. Kelly Buchanan
    October 17, 2012 at 2:53 am

    Unaware that this was already available in Windows 7.

  18. Edwin Williams
    October 16, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    Wow! I didn't know Windows 7 could do this on it's own! I normally use PowerISO!

  19. Myst Gunn
    October 16, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    I use ISO files to create an exact copy of my back up disc collection during my high school & early college years.

  20. Muhammad Rizwan Aziz
    October 16, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    waooo.i always used daemon tools...It was a hidden windows feature..:) nice

  21. Anonymous
    October 16, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    This is Great news. I use ISO's a lot. Thanks a lot

  22. Asim Ali
    October 16, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    yep ! great integrated application and utility ...

  23. salim benhouhou
    October 16, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    i use alcohol 120% on my PC . i think i should check this tool out .

  24. Sam Kar
    October 16, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    I use ImgBurn for all ISO work. Best tool in my view.

    I use ISO files as a backup of the discs that I have.

  25. Ashwin Ramesh
    October 16, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Oh! Never knew about this! I always used to use Daemon tools!

  26. vineed gangadharan
    October 16, 2012 at 10:57 am

    thanks for the software ...i was in search of alternative iso maker other than daemon tools!

  27. Andy Bristow
    October 16, 2012 at 7:24 am

    IMGBurn for creating & Burning ISO's
    WinCDEmu for Vitual Mounting ISO's

  28. Movva Deepak
    October 16, 2012 at 6:07 am

    personally iam a fan of daemon tools.. i never used other softwares...

  29. Zhong Jiang
    October 16, 2012 at 4:54 am

    Does the windows built in burner select which speed it'll be burning towards? If it burns too quickly, the data will be corrupted. I once used Poweriso to burn an image at 16x speed, the data was corrupted due to verification problems and now the cd is just useless for installation.

    • Chris Hoffman
      October 20, 2012 at 8:36 pm

      Yeah, I think with some drives or blank CDs there can be speed problems. I think you'll have to use a third-party program if you want to select a burn speed.

  30. kumar raja
    October 16, 2012 at 4:40 am

    Since 2year I have heared that ISO but i dont no exactly what it is now i Have understood this thanks to makeuseof

  31. Terry
    October 16, 2012 at 12:18 am

    For those who may not already know Mac OS X and Linux have the basic ISO tools already built in.

  32. Drew Butler
    October 16, 2012 at 12:04 am

    Thanks for the article. Saves me some time explaining it to folks lol. Now I can just shoot them the link :)

    • Chris Hoffman
      October 20, 2012 at 8:34 pm

      Thanks! I tried to make it as simple as possible.

  33. Terry
    October 16, 2012 at 12:04 am

    I have used ISO files to install games that use the annoying DRM method of making you insert the CD/DVD at every launch so I just installed those right from the ISOs and leave them forever mounted with a middle of the alphabet drive letter.

    I mostly use ISOs for tech tools and many many Linux Distros. :)

    • William Henry
      October 16, 2012 at 3:55 pm

      How exactly do you eliminate the DRM annoyance and make it forever mounted with a middle of the alphabet drive letter? I have the disks, but as you say it gets frustrating when you have to keep changing disks for each game. I have use some mods but the upgrades are coming out more faster than the mods.

      • Terry
        October 16, 2012 at 4:24 pm

        I haven't done this in recent years but Here is what I did:

        1. Ripped the disks to ISO images then put the ISOs in a good permanent location.

        2. Mounted an ISO with a drive letter not likely be be needed later.

        3. Installed the software from the mounted ISO.

        4. Run the software at anytime.

        I just never unmounted the ISO. So the computer believes the original disk is always still inserted in the optical drive that was used for the install.

        • Terry
          October 16, 2012 at 4:26 pm

          Forgot to mention repeat for each piece of software using a different drive letter. The My Computer showed quite a few disks.

        • Chris Hoffman
          October 20, 2012 at 8:34 pm

          More or less. Some game discs have DRM that won't work with some ISO-mounting programs, so you may need a program like Alcohol 52% to mount them properly. It's definitely a lot nicer than swapping discs all the time.

      • illegal3alien
        October 16, 2012 at 8:04 pm

        You can use Alcohol 52% along with a script addon that will automatically create a virtual drive, mount an iso, and launch the game/program. On the downside it uses the SPTD driver which is known to cause BSODs.

  34. Deji Greg
    October 15, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    Also good to know windows 7 has a built in ISO burning tool....didn't know about this till now. Good work, Thanks much.

  35. Deji Greg
    October 15, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    One more good thing is viruses don't affect ISO files...

  36. Yash Desai
    October 15, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    i had no idea windows 7 had this built in, ive been using poweriso for the longest time

  37. Sadden
    October 15, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    i have been looking to learn this for YEARS! MAKEUSEOF has saved me heaps of time and hair! Thanks!!!

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