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What is ImageX?

ImageX is a command-line tool that enables original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and corporations to capture, to modify, and to apply file-based disk images for rapid deployment. ImageX works with Windows image (.wim) files for copying to a network, or it can work with other technologies that use .wim images, such as Windows Setup, Windows Deployment Services (Windows DS), and the System Management Server (SMS) Operating System Feature Deployment Pack.

This topic includes:

  • Benefits of ImageX
  • Common ImageX Scenarios
  • Limitations of ImageX
  • Dependencies of ImageX
  • Technologies Related to ImageX

Benefits of ImageX

The limitations of sector-based imaging led Microsoft to develop ImageX and the accompanying Windows image (.wim) file format. You can use ImageX to create an image, to modify the image without extracting and recreating the image, and, finally, to deploy the image to your environment, from within the same tool. Because ImageX works at the file level, it provides the following capabilities:

  • More flexibility and control over the deployed media.
  • Rapid extraction of images to decrease setup time.
  • Reduced image size due to "single instancing," which means that the file data is stored separately from the path information. This enables files that exist in multiple paths or in multiple images to be stored once and shared across the images.
  • Non-destructive image application. ImageX does not perform an all-inclusive overwrite of the contents of your drive. You can selectively add and remove information.
  • The ability to work across any platform supported by Windows.
  • Two different compression algorithms, Fast and Maximum, to reduce your image size further.
  • The ability to treat an image file like a directory. For example, you can add, copy, paste, and delete files from a file management tool, such as Windows Explorer.

Many OEMs and corporations need to deploy and to install Windows as rapidly as possible, including all relevant updates, applications, and settings. Reduced deployment and installation time lower manufacturing costs for OEMs, and can decrease cost and scheduling risks for corporate deployments.

In the past, if OEMs and corporations needed to minimize the amount of time required to install Windows, they used sector-based imaging formats or the xcopy command to copy an installation of Windows onto new hardware.

The sector-based imaging format and the xcopy command have certain limitations. Sector-based imaging:

  • Requires that the destination computer use the same Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) as the master computer.
  • Requires that the destination computer boot from the same mass-storage controller as the master computer.
  • Destroys the existing contents of the destination computer’s hard drive, complicating Windows deployment scenarios.
  • Duplicates the hard drive exactly; therefore, the image can deploy only on partitions of the same type as the master computer, and are at least as large as the partition on the master computer.
  • Does not enable direct modification of imaged files.
  • Might require the purchase of third-party applications and services.

Common ImageX Scenarios

ImageX is a command-line tool that enables the creation, the modification, and the deployment of images, by using a shared imaging format across operating system images, including applications. The following scenarios are particularly compatible with the ImageX process.

If you intend to transfer a Windows image to a different computer, you must run sysprep /generalize, even if the computer has the same hardware configuration. The sysprep /generalize command removes unique information from your Windows installation, which enables you to reuse that image on different computers. The next time you boot the Windows image, the specialize configuration pass runs. During this configuration pass, many components have actions that must be processed when you boot a Windows image on a new computer. Any method of moving a Windows image to a new computer, either through imaging, hard disk duplication, or other method, must be prepared with the sysprep /generalize command. Moving or copying a Windows image to a different computer without running sysprep /generalize is not supported.

Creating an Image for Rapid Deployment

The most common scenario for ImageX is capturing and applying an image from a network location for rapid deployment. This scenario requires booting your technician computer into Windows PE, capturing the image with ImageX, putting the image on a network share, and then applying the image to the destination computers.

Modifying an Image File

Another common scenario for ImageX is customizing an existing image, including updating files and folders. This scenario involves adding, removing, editing, and copying files from your image by using the Windows Imaging File System Filter (WIM FS Filter) driver and a file management tool, such as Windows Explorer.

Limitations of ImageX

ImageX has the following limitations:

  • You can use ImageX only to capture and to apply a full version of the operating system and software applications. You cannot use ImageX to capture and to apply upgrades to the operating system or applications.
  • You can use only formatted Windows image (.wim) files to interact with ImageX. Previous images, created with third-party imaging tools, cannot be used with ImageX.
  • You can use only a single compression type for a .wim file. Appended image files must use the same compression type as the initial capture.
  • You can mount an image only from Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (SP2), Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 1 (SP1), or Windows Vista.


Although ImageX cannot mount an image from a computer running any other operating system, it can capture and apply images for any version of Windows Vista, Windows Server 2003, Windows XP, and Windows 2000 Professional.

  • You can mount a .wim file with read/write permissions only on an NTFS file system. This avoids the 2 gigabyte (GB) barrier that is imposed by FAT file systems and prevents data loss that is possible with FAT or other non-NTFS file systems.


Although ImageX can mount a .wim file with read/write permissions only from an NTFS file system, you can mount your image as read-only from NTFS, FAT, ISO, and UDF file systems. You cannot save changes to the image file while it is mounted as read-only.

  • You must use other Microsoft tools, such as Diskpart and Format, to prepare your disks for volume images. If you deploy the Sysprep image by using ImageX, you must deploy the image to the same volume.
  • ImageX currently does not support the following NTFS features:
    • Extended attributes.
    • Object IDs.
    • Reparse points that are neither symbolic links nor junctions. ImageX will fail to apply them.
    • Sparse files. (They can be captured and applied, but they are no longer sparse after they are applied.)

Dependencies of ImageX

ImageX has the following dependencies:

  • By using Windows System Image Manager (Windows SIM), you can create an installation image that you capture later by using ImageX.
  • By using Sysprep, you may prepare an image to be captured by ImageX. Running Sysprep on your master computer removes all user- and computer-specific settings and data, resets the product activation clock to 30 days, and enables the creation of a new security identifier (SID) upon restart. Once you have run Sysprep, you can boot your master computer into the Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE) to capture the image. If you deploy the Sysprep image by using ImageX, you must deploy the image to the same volume.
  • You must boot your technician computer into the Windows PE environment. From Windows PE, you can run ImageX to capture your image. After you create the image, start your technician computer, install the WIM FS Filter driver, edit your image, and then apply the image from a network location.

ImageX is related to the following technologies.

Windows Deployment Services (Windows DS)

If you do not use ImageX for deployment, you may use Windows Deployment Services (Windows DS). Windows DS enables companies to remotely administer and deploy the latest operating system and other .wim files, by using Windows PE and Windows DS Server. This deployment scenario can be fully unattended, and is customizable and scalable.


Windows DS replaces the existing Remote Operating System Installation (RIS) deployment technology.

Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE)

Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE) is a minimal Win32 operating system with limited services. Windows PE provides an environment from which ImageX can capture and apply images. Windows PE and ImageX are the primary tools used for Windows deployment.

Systems Management Server (SMS) Operating System Deployment Feature Pack

If you do not use ImageX for deployment, you can use the Systems Management Server (SMS) Operating System Deployment Feature Pack. The SMS Operating System Deployment Feature Pack enables companies to deploy the latest operating systems and applications in a customizable, centralized, and scalable way.

See Also


How ImageX Works
ImageX Command-Line Options