What is the difference between .iso files and .dmg files? Why are they used differently?

  • 1
    – Moab
    Sep 3, 2012 at 15:38
  • 1
    – Moab
    Sep 3, 2012 at 15:38
  • Please ask different questions in different posts. Either ask about the differences of the formats or how to mount them in a Windows VM — those are two entirely different things. I removed the second part since your current answers just relate to the first question.
    – slhck
    Sep 3, 2012 at 17:10
  • point taken. will do Sep 3, 2012 at 21:40

2 Answers 2


ISO files are files containing a disk with a ISO 9660 filesystem. This is a filesystem optimised for read only access on a slow disc. (Specifically it was designed for a CDROM).

ISO files are limited in quite a few ways. E.g:
You can not write to an ISO filesystem. (You can create a new FS though)
You could not create directories more than 8 levels deep. You could only use file names following the DOS 8.3 standard.

Note that not all ISO files follow this behaviour. Many programs allow you to write file names with a length of 32 characters, which will work in many cases, but not all. (e.g. a disk with such filenames will fail to work with DOS). There are also several extentions to ISO 9660, including the Rock ridge and the Joliet extensions.

DMG files are disk images. They are treated by OS/X as real disks. You can read and write to these.

  • ok, so say i have a .iso i want to mount on my Windows VM, how would i do that? in OSX i can just double click it, but windows XP doesn't even recognize the file type. Sep 3, 2012 at 15:52
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    That is because OS/X understands how a ISO file works. For windows you would need some software which understands loop-back and iso9660. or you could just use a program such as Deamon tools, alcohol 52% or Magic disk.
    – Hennes
    Sep 3, 2012 at 15:58

An ISO is a bit-for-bit image of an ISO-9660 (CD-ROM) disk. You can write it directly to a CD and use it directly. A DMG is typically the Universal Disk Image format, kind of like an image of a hard disk partition. They have different layouts, but are similar in that they hold an image of a file system with files accessible after mounting by the operating system.

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