How to open an ISO file

Opening, unzipping, or mounting an ISO file is as easy as 1-2-3 whether you’re using built-in features in Windows, macOS, Ubuntu or additional third-party software such as WinZip, WinRAR, or 7-Zip.

Brief explanation of ISO files

If you’ve previously used an ISO file, you already know what the handy archive format is all about. But if you’re new to ISOs, they may present a bit more of a challenge. Without a drive, a system cannot be re-installed using a classic installation disc or recovery CD. In that case, computer users are usually prompted to download and launch an ISO installation file with the corresponding memory image. So, what exactly is an ISO file?

ISO stands for the CD-ROM standard format ISO 9660 or 13346 and refers to files that serve as a 1:1 storage image of optical media. These could be installation files, programs, folders, music, videos as well as games that you would usually use, install, or burn via optical media. With an ISO file you can create an identical image of this type of content and make copies in the form of CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays, hard disks, and USB sticks. The contents are not compressed, but transferred to the ISO format with all their properties, structures and in the same memory size. This is practical when you want to backup your data, media, or entire systems.

How to open and mount ISO files

If you want to open an ISO file, the first question to ask is: Is the ISO file a backup file of your folders and directories, or is it an ISO installation medium with systems to install or mount, such as a bootable USB stick or ISO disc. To unpack file folders saved as ISO with documents, photos, music, or videos, use appropriate packing programs such as WinZip, WinRAR, or 7-Zip. Alternatively, you can use the tool integrated in Windows, macOS, and Linux to unpack and open ISO files. The same applies if you wish to mount an ISO file with file systems or install or reboot a system via ISO files.

Open an ISO file: here’s how

Third-party software isn’t always required to open an ISO file. Nowadays, most common operating systems are suitable for installing, unpacking, and opening the ISO format. If you rarely use ISO formats, you probably won’t need to download any additional software. However, when you want to create ISO files, using special software is advised. Most external applications are suitable for opening and creating ZIP files, ISO files, and many other formats for backups and memory images.

Below are various options to open ISO files depending on the operating system you use.

Windows

As of Windows 8, you no longer require a third-party program to open and mount ISO files. The function is now included in Windows. Simply connect your ISO storage medium or access the desired, downloaded ISO file in Windows Explorer and right-click on it. Click “Deploy” to auto-create a virtual drive for the ISO file. From this drive, depending on the type, you can now mount the ISO file and integrate it in your system. Alternatively, you can unpack the files it contains and copy them to your hard disk or another storage medium.

macOS

macOS makes it just as easy to open and run ISO files. Navigate to the “Applications” in the Finder. Select “File” from the “Utilities” and then “Disk Utility”. Here, you’ll find the command “Open Image”, which brings you to the location of the ISO file and mount or unpack it.

Freeware programs

Freeware such as WinZip, WinRAR and 7-Zip provide even more features beyond simply opening and running ISO files. Freeware can be used to create ISO files and other file formats for free. They’re easy to install and are compatible with most commonly used operating systems. For users of Windows 8 or below, freeware makes it easy to unpack their ISOs. Programs like Daemon Tools and Virtual Clone Drive simulate a virtual drive to mount an ISO file.