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|Type of format||Disk image|
|Type of format||Disk image|
The Windows Imaging Format (WIM) is a file-based disk image format. It was developed by Microsoft to help deploy Windows Vista and subsequent versions of Windows operating system family, as well as Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs.
Like other disk image formats, a WIM file contains a set of files and associated filesystem metadata. However, unlike sector-based formats (such as ISO or VHD), WIM is file-based: The fundamental unit of information in a WIM is a file.
The primary advantages of being file-based is hardware independence and single-instance storage of a file referenced multiple times in the filesystem tree. Since the files are stored inside a single WIM file, the overhead of opening and closing many individual files is reduced. The cost of reading or writing many thousands of individual files on the local disk is negated by hardware and software-based disk caching as well as sequential reading and writing of the data.
WIM files can contain multiple disk images, which are referenced either by their numerical index or by their unique name. Due to the use of single-instance storage, the more each successive disk image has in common with previous images added to the WIM file, the less new data will be added. A WIM can also be split (spanned) into multiple parts, which have the .swm extension.
WIM images can be made bootable. Windows boot loader supports booting Windows from within a WIM file. Windows Setup DVD in Windows Vista and later use such WIM files. In this case, BOOT.WIM contains a bootable version of Windows PE from which the installation is performed. Other setup files are held in the INSTALL.WIM.
ImageX is the command-line tool used to create, edit and deploy Windows disk images in the Windows Imaging Format. It is distributed as part of the free Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK). Starting with Windows Vista, Windows Setup uses the WAIK API to install Windows.
The first distributed prototype of ImageX was build 6.0.4007.0 (main.030212-2037). It allowed Microsoft OEM partners to experiment with the imaging technology and was developed in parallel with Longhorn alpha prototypes. It was first introduced in Milestone 4 into the Longhorn project, and used in later builds of Longhorn. Build 6.0.5384.4 added significant advantages over previous versions, like read-only and read/write folder mounting capabilities, splitting to multiple image files (SWM), a WIM filter driver and the latest LZX compression algorithms. It has been used since pre-RC (release candidates) of Windows Vista.
As of Windows 8, ImageX is replaced by another tool called DISM (Deployment Image Service and Management Tool). DISM is used to retrieve or modify information within an image. Its features include mounting and unmounting images, querying installed device drivers in an offline image, and adding a device driver to an offline image.
Just like ImageX, DISM can mount a WIM image as a new volume and assign a drive letter to it, so that its contents can be read or modified on the fly. A set of public APIs for manipulating WIMs allows developers to write their own tools for WIM.
Since April 30, 2012, an open source library dedicated in handling the WIM format, has been made available. This library can be used on UNIX-like systems as well as on Windows. Thanks to this project, GNU/Linux distributions have now their own imagex clone called wimlib-imagex which allows to mount WIM images and manage them (read/write) like any other file systems.