An ISO file is a complete disc image of a CD or DVD bundled into a single file. You can mount an ISO file to make it available as a virtual CD or DVD, allowing you to convert physical discs to virtual ones.
ISO files are particularly useful if you want to use old game or software discs on a modern computer that doesn’t have a disc drive. Although, you should note that some DRM copy protection schemes won’t work with ISO files, unless you jump through additional hoops. ISO files are also great for things like providing a disc to a virtual machine program, or just saving a copy of a disc so that you can recreate it in the future if you need to.
Windows doesn’t have a built-in way to create ISO files, although modern versions of Windows— Windows 8, 8.1, and 10—can all natively mount ISO files without any additional software.
To actually create an ISO file from your own physical disc, you’ll need a third-party program. There are lots of tools that can do this, but you need to be careful because many of them are packed with junkware.
As always, we recommend Ninite as a safe place to grab tools of all sorts. On the ISO front, Ninite includes tools like InfraRecorder, ImgBurn, and CDBurnerXP. Just be sure to download them through Ninite. Some of these programs—like ImgBurn—do include junkware in their installers if you get them from elsewhere.
After you choose and install one of these tools, all you really have to do is insert a CD or DVD into your PC, click the option for reading a disc or creating an ISO, and then select a location to save the ISO file.
On a Mac, you can use Disk Utility to create images of discs. To open it, press Command+Space to open the Spotlight search box, type “Disk Utility”, and then press Enter.
Insert a disc, click the File menu, and point to New > Disc Image from [Device]. Select “DVD/CD master” as the format and leave encryption disabled. Disk Utility will create a .cdr file from the disc. On a Mac, this is practically as good as an ISO file. You can “mount” it from within the Disk Utility application by clicking File > Open Disk Image.
Assuming you just want to use the .cdr file on a Mac, you can leave it as a .cdr file. If you want to convert it to an ISO file to use on other operating systems, you can do so with a Terminal command. Open a Terminal window and run the following command:
hdiutil convert /home/username/original.cdr -format UDTO -o /home/username/destination.iso
Replace “/home/username/original.cdr” with the path to the CDR file and “/home/username/destination.iso” with a path for the ISO file you want to create.
In many cases, you may be able to rename the .cdr file to an .iso file and be done with it, but this method doesn’t always work. We recommend sticking with the terminal command.
On Linux, you can create an ISO file from the terminal or with any disc-burning utility your Linux distribution may include. For example, Ubuntu uses the Brasero disc-burning utility. Open the Brasero Disc Burner, click “Disc Copy,” and then you can copy an inserted disc to an “Image File.” Other Linux distributions and desktops may include similar tools. Look for a CD/DVD-related utility and it should have an option to copy a disc to an ISO disc image file.
Note: Brasero was removed from the default installation in Ubuntu 16.04, so you’ll need to install Brasero from the Ubuntu Software Center.
Creating an ISO file from the terminal is as simple as running the below command:
sudo dd if=/dev/cdrom of=/home/username/image.iso
Replace “/dev/cdrom” with the path to your CD drive—for example, it may be “/dev/dvd” instead—and “/home/username/cd.iso” with the path to the ISO file you want to create.
You can mount the resulting disc images with the “mount” command in a terminal or with graphical tools that basically just provide a prettier interface over the mount command.
Once you have your ISO files, you can copy them to a computer’s hard drive, store them on a USB drive, or make them available on the network. Any computer without a disc drive can read them and use them as a virtual disc.
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