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An ISO image (as prescribed by ISO standard ISO 9660) is a file that represents a one-to-one copy of a specific computer filesystem, most widely used for the compact disc medium (i.e an entire CD or DVD-ROM).
It is for this reason that many Linux, BSD, or other free operating systems are distributed for download using the ISO image -- file permissions and other filesystem metadata is not lost in the transfer. Also, it is possible to loopback mount the image under many of these systems, and then quickly change files without special tools or even the need for a CD burner.
One can download an ISO image from the Internet. It is recommended because of a CD's large data capacity that a user wishing to download an ISO image of a CD to use a download manager, which prevents data loss if the system crashes of the server goes down. Repeated abortive download attempts consume mirror bandwidth.
After downloading, one can burn these images to a CD. If the burned CD includes an operating system that doesn't need to be installed to the hard disk (this is, can be used from the CD), it is sometimes called a LiveCD. Such an example of these are the Gnoppix, Knoppix and Morphix Linux distributions.
See also: Disk image, Nero Burning ROM
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