IT for Donuts: how to open an ISO file

By: John McGarvey

Date: 15 August 2014

CD - how to open ISO file

How do you open an ISO file? For that matter, what is an ISO file?

We explain in IT for Donuts, our regular Friday feature where we answer tricky questions about business IT.

What are ISO files?

An ISO file is a disc image. This means it contains all the files and folders that were on a disc. You can think of an ISO file much like a ZIP file — it's lots of files and folders, packaged neatly into a single file.

ISO files are usually used to create CDs or DVDs. For instance, when you buy software online, you may get the option to download an ISO file. You can burn this to a CD in order to install the software on a computer.

So, how do you open an ISO file? If you've downloaded one to your computer and you're not sure what to do with it, you have two main options.

1. Create a disk from the ISO file

You can burn the ISO file to a CD or DVD. This will create a disc holding all the files and folders that are in the ISO.

If you use Windows 7 or 8, the included Windows Disc Image Burner software can do this:

  1. Put a blank CD or DVD into your computer
  2. Find the ISO file on your computer and right-click it
  3. From the menu that appears, choose Burn Disc Image
  4. The burn disc options window will appear
  5. Choose Burn to create your disc

After a few minutes, your CD or DVD will be ready. You can read this on your computer just like any other disc.

If you don't want to burn the file to a physical disc, you can instead open the ISO by creating a 'virtual disc' on your computer.

If you use Windows 8, it's simple to do this. Right-click the ISO file, then choose Mount. You'll then be able to access and browse the files held in the file.

On earlier versions of Windows, creating a virtual disc requires extra software. The best option is usually Microsoft's Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel.

2. Open the ISO file with compression software

Some pieces of software can open an ISO file without creating any kind of disc. This approach can be a good way to find a single file within the ISO.

Two good tools for this are WinRAR and 7-Zip. Both work in similar ways.

Once you've downloaded, installed and opened the program, use the Open option within the software to view the ISO file. Easy!

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